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Tumblin’ dice: from nuts and bolts to showstopper!

2 June 2016


It may have started as a pile of leftover junk, but Aaron Carson’s T-bucket is now one of the best looking in the land!

We never cease to be amazed by what some people have hidden away in their sheds. However, a handful of hot rodders out there have even more in their sheds than most — a lot more. These collections, amassed over a lifetime of well-planned collecting, trading, and bargain hunting, include now unattainable and unimaginable parts. One such bloke is Auckland’s Chris Piaggi. Chris is well known in hot rodding circles as a guy who has either got or can find, rare period-correct spare parts, having a shed full of weird and wonderful items beyond most people’s wildest dreams.

Eight years ago, when fellow Aucklander Aaron Carson was itching to get his hands on a hot rod project, a mutual friend played matchmaker and put him in touch with Chris, thinking Chris might be able to help out. He was correct: on Aaron’s first visit to Chris’s workshop, he saw, tucked away at the back, a rough T-bucket project. As rough as it was, Aaron loved the way it sat and knew that it was for him. It was essentially the bones of a full car, just sitting in among Chris’s parts stash.

The more the two spoke and got to know each other, the more comfortable Chris became with selling the bits to Aaron, knowing he wasn’t going to wreck the T-bucket by building it half-arsed. In fact, the initial meeting went so well that Chris was soon on board to help out with the build, with labour, parts, and advice. Aaron knew there were very few local people who really understood traditional hot rods, so it was a match made in heaven. 

The plan was to create something unlike most local drag-style T-buckets. For inspiration during the build, Aaron pinned pictures of Norm Grabowski’s and Tommy Ivo’s iconic ’50s-style Model T cars to his garage wall — in fact, they are still there! Ironically, the closest local vehicle in style belonged, and still belongs, to John Pavlovich — the friend who played matchmaker to begin with — and, you guessed it, Chris himself! Chris and John built their Model T roadster in the ’80s, and it’s still as it was then.

While Chris got stuck into finishing off the already started 2×4-inch box chassis and mounting the body, Aaron began the search for the rest of the parts.

When the heavy fab side was completed, the car was returned to Aaron’s home garage, where most of the build would take place. Aaron had a good plan of what he was after but not instant access to the perfect parts, so the build would take place in stages, continuing to evolve at the same time. Some eight years on, that evolution hasn’t stopped, and looks unlikely to do so for some time yet.

The initial build took around two years, and it saw Aaron spending countless nights in the garage — some, he admits, spent just looking at the roadster and thinking, others skinning his knuckles and getting dirty.

Having long been involved in the bike world, Aaron turned to a fellow rider, Dale Cragg, when it came time to paint — and we’re sure you’ll agree that it was one of the best decisions he could have made. Dale sprayed the body and custom deck with no fewer than 15 coats that included a silver base, transparent candy red, red flake, and countless layers of clear. The finishing touch — although it didn’t take place till some time later — was pinstripe work by Charlie ‘Chaz’ Allen. 

Although the paintwork plays a big part in the look of the car, what really sets it apart is its overall stance and the fact that the body is channelled down over the chassis. The windscreen was always going to make or break the look; thanks to Aaron’s decision to run with a low and laid-back set of chrome-plated cast-bronze windshield stanchions, he has nailed it. 

The use of chrome plating has been extended to plenty of other parts of the car, Aaron going so far as to chrome the whole front end suspension. The look works well with the gold-painted engine block and polished stainless firewall. 

The engine is a 289ci Windsor that’s been rebuilt with fresh internals and topped with period-correct mechanical fuel injection.

Aaron hunted long and hard, in vain, for a Hilborn injection set-up, then, when he was in America, he mentioned to fellow Kiwi Squeak Bell what he was looking for, and Squeak made a call that resulted in a find. A deal was done, and Aaron’s been smiling ever since. The set-up’s been through a few plumbing configurations, but it now works in conjunction with a Hilborn pump and custom baffled fuel tank constructed by Bruce Thompson from Fraser Cars.
Finding the injection was hard work as well as luck, but obtaining the genuine Berry & Chung (B&C) rocker covers was pure fluke. Purchased cheaply, the covers that had been spray-can painted black by their previous owner turned out to be genuine B&C items that came up great with a polish.

As cool as the covers now look, it’s the combination of the injection stacks and the custom-built weed-burner exhausts that really lets people know this isn’t your average engine combo. Whenever it’s fired into life, that bark turns heads! Sure, it may not be the most user-friendly intake set-up, but the cool factor sure makes up for that.

The car’s not all just wild looks and impracticality, though; knowing it had to be driven, Aaron made sure to sort out decent suspension and brakes. Up front is a suicide, sprung I-beam drop axle mated to Rotoflo shocks, while out the back is a ’56 Customline diff mounted to a Model A spring. On the brake side of things are ’40 Ford front drums and F100 rears. Attention to detail has seen the backing plates chromed and the front drums replaced with polished Mac’s Speed Equipment items and scoops. 

The wheel and tyre choice is pure old-school hot rod up front in the form of 15-inch ’40 Ford centres grafted into VW hoops — to create the narrow fronts required — and baby Moon caps. The rear wheels are 15-inch Thunderbird rims, again fitted with Moon caps. The Hurst whitewall cheater slicks aren’t exactly the most practical of tyres, but Aaron couldn’t care less; he likens the car to a riding a motorbike, stating that it’s always on the edge of reason and sanity. It’s not practical, it’s not overly comfortable — in fact, there’s nothing sensible about it — but it’s perfect. We couldn’t agree more — not only has Aaron nailed the style he was after, but he’s also opened plenty of eyes to the fact that there’s still potential to have a T-bucket that looks good and stands out from the rest. 

1923 Ford Model T Roadster

  • Engine: Ford 289 Windsor, double-row timing chain, ported stock Ford iron heads, original 1960s Hilborn mechanical fuel injection, custom fuel tank, Hilborn pump, modern twin-point internals installed in period-correct distributor and cap, vintage coil pack, generator, custom weed-burner headers, custom radiator, original vintage B&C valve covers, Moon breathers, 
  • Driveline: C4 transmission, seriously rebuilt, shift kit, reverse-pattern valve body, rebuilt ’56 Customline diff
  • Suspension: Dropped I-beam axle, suicide spring, Rotoflo shocks, Model A rear spring
  • Brakes: 1940 Ford front brakes, Mac’s Speed Equipment finned drums and scoops, Ford F100 rear brakes
  • Wheels/Tyres: 15-inch steel 1940 Ford centres with VW rims, baby Moon caps (front), 15-inch steel Ford Thunderbird rims with baby Moon caps (rear); 560-15 Firestone whitewall cross-ply (front) and Hurst whitewall cheater slick (rear) tyres
  • Exterior: Custom deck lid; solid bronze chrome-plated cast windshield stanchions; chrome peep mirror; old and rooted rear-vision mirror; custom trans tunnel; polished stainless firewall; ’39 Ford tail lights; silver base, trans candy red, red flake, custom pinstriping
  • Chassis: Custom 2×4-inch box section chassis
  • Interior: Grant Superior vintage wheel, Moon horn button, Hurst shifter, Model A handbrake, Moon tach, Stewart Warner gauges, custom cast dash insert by Mac’s Speed Equipment, Gibson Les Paul volume knob for light switch
  • Performance: Untested

Driver profile

  • Owner: Aaron Carson
  • Car club: Scroungers
  • Age: 44
  • Occupation: Self-employed
  • Previously owned cars: Lots of old Fords and Holdens, 1955 Chevrolet
  • Dream car: You’re soaking in it!
  • Why the T-bucket? Excitable boy
  • Build time: Eight years — it’s still evolving
  • Length of ownership: Eight years
  • Aaron thanks: Chris Piaggi, John Pavlovich, Dale Cragg, Jim Gordon, Bruce Thompson, Scott Wood, Graeme McNeill

This article originally appeared in NZV8 Issue No. 130. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: