Then, as now, a brand-spanking new issue of Rod & Custom caused a rush of excitement while flipping through the crisp pages, but the magazine could also stir a moment of angst from the pre-driver's license set. Here for perusal were the latest mouth-watering automotive efforts from builders everywhere in the USA, but a young teen stood about as much chance of constructing or owning a hot rod as a snowball in Bakersfield.
After all, in real life, there was an adult world of Ward Cleavers who regularly lectured on the illogic of building an old car, frustrating even the most enthusiastic teen. Then, too, there were usually other roadblocks. For instance, most had zilch for tools, zero dough in the piggy bank, and a total lack of experience, other than changing the spark plug on dad's Allstate lawnmower. Gee whiz! What was a car-crazed kid to do to satiate his hot rod desires?
Unknown to the frustrated youths, a remedy, a placebo, was on the way, arriving in hobby shops in the fall of 1962. It was Monogram's fabulous red roadster in a colorful box, the perfectly crafted Big T, in 1/8 scale, for a barely affordable $10.98.
Now, Monogram's engineers didn't just sit down at the drafting table and whip out a set of plans for an all-new kit, then whisk them off to the production department. No, the criteria for the Big T was that the model had to be as accurate as possible, utilizing currently available parts that hot rod builders of the day employed in real-life versions. However, Monogram was in the model business, not in the business of full-size car construction, but they needed fully operational vehicles to test their plans. What they wanted was someone with the expertise to build a well-crafted prototype that was not only functional but would be capable of winning trophies at car shows and be very photogenic for promotional purposes.
They didn't need to look any further than Wichita, Kansas, home of the young bubbletop wizard, Darryl Starbird. True, the T roadster was mundane compared to Darryl's other creations, circa 1961, yet Monogram knew his reputation for execution, craftsmanship, and attention to detail which kept the Star Custom shop busy with customers coming back for updates.
Recently, Darryl Starbird talked about the development that led to the building of the 1:1-sized Big T in those thrilling days of yesteryear. "Monogram had possibly started the Big T project as early as 1960. They had an engineer who was about a halfway hot rodder, and he really liked the Kookie T that was on the TV show 77 Sunset Strip at the time. The guy loved the car magazines. That's what he wanted them to build a model of. Problem was, they didn't know some of the hot rod tricks, like channeling, for instance. Monogram didn't make very much progress on the model. That's when they hired me sometime in 1961."
At this point in his career Starbird was establishing himself as a customizer of future legend status, but had he done any hot rods at Star Custom? "Oh yeah, I'd chopped some '32s and a '34 Ford pickup. Also, I knew a guy who was building a rod at home, and when he'd hit a problem he couldn't solve, he'd bring it to the shop. I ended up finishing the roadster for him, did the paint and details, so hot rods weren't anything new to me. However, the Big T was my first ground-up turnkey hot rod. Monogram wanted a nice T roadster, so I built one that looked good to me. You've got to remember back in 1962, you didn't pick up the phone and order all the parts like you can today, though I did order a fiberglass body from Speedway. Other than that, the rectangular steel tubing chassis was built in my shop. Of course, I had to scrounge the salvage yards for the rest of the parts, which were basically all pre-'49 Ford, except for the '37 Buick transmission and the 283, which also came from the wrecking yard.