A new expression entered the lexicon about half a dozen years ago: the bucket list. It refers to the list of things a person wants to do before they kick the bucket, so to speak.
Like most people, Mark Colby has a bucket list. Until recently, though, his was far different than most other peoples' bucket lists: it had only one line. For as long as he can remember that one line had one thing on it: Dick Hampton's T-bucket. "We all used to go on rod runs together when I was a kid," Mark recalls. "I remember staring at it out the back window of my dad's 1947 sedan. I wanted it so bad."
And for good reason: Hampton's car was one of the archetypes of the T-bucket—it was loud, it was fast, and it was outlandish. And because it was made entirely of parts from production cars it looked unlike any other T-bucket. But alas, Mark was resigned to merely admire it. He was just a kid, after all.
About this time is when most stories go on to explain how the kid with the dream grew up to painstakingly recreate the one that inspired him decades earlier, but this isn't one of those stories. Mark got the real thing. Yep, this is it.
And about this time is when most stories go on to explain what lengths he went to gather all the pieces the car shed over the years. But this isn't one of those stories either. It'll never see the grass but this car is nearly Pebble Beach faithful to the way it was when Mark coveted it from the back seat of his pop's sedan. See those tires? They're at least 35 years old. They came with the car. In bags. Never mounted.
The car has quite a long history. According to Mark, Kalispell, Montana's Scott Young first built it in 1967. And early photos show that the car acquired a great deal of its unique characteristics from the onset.
It started as a 1926-27 Ford body. Even in photos taken prior to its completion the car has the cross-ram Dodge, brass taillamps, and homemade hairpins between the 1957 Olds axle and cut-down Model A frame. The lower windshield half came from a late-1920s Dodge Brothers roadster. The upper windshield frame appears to be the lower part of a Model A roadster flipped upside down.
A photo taken presumably immediately after Young got the car running shows the four-port Cal Custom scoops, a late-T radiator, and small-diameter King Bee headlights on the distinctive stands on the car today. The characteristic 1942-48 front axle was there, albeit at this point a split wishbone mated it to the chassis. It got a pair of sweeping T-bucket headers. The body, frame, and engine wear metallic blue but the car lacks an interior.
Another photo of the car as a driver shows the wooden keg fuel tank, five-spoke wheels, and a brass radiator. By this point Young made the distinctive front hairpins. The top hides a button-tufted gut.
According to Mark, Young sold the car to Hampton in 1977. "I rebuilt the car when I got it," Hampton recalls. He refinished all painted parts in deep crimson and had a number of things re-plated. Over the years he replaced the headlights, cowllamps, and radiator with Wellbaum's Brass Designs pieces. Rather than build the headlamps with sealed-beam bulbs as Wellbaum intended, he used later Ford reflectors and ground down old tractor lenses to make them appear early.
He built the engine in the car today. "It came with a 361 but I rebuilt a 440 for it," he says. He had the 1969 block bored 0.090-over to 4.41 inch. "You couldn't get Dodge pistons that size at the time so we had to use oversized (460) Ford pistons," he says. He also went the extra mile by fully polishing the 727 transmission case. A pair of chrome Sanderson headers replaced the black swept-pipe jobs.
It was in Hampton's stewardship that the car acquired its hallmark wheels and tires. Even in vintage photos the 14x6 front wheels wear now-obsolete 145SR15 Michelin X tires. Firestone called its 7.00/17.5-15 Super Sport GP—the largest it made in the series—a Big Jelony. The company intended them for sprint car racing, they found an appropriate home on the gargantuan 15x14 slots. Anticipating their obsolescence even when they first got them, Hampton and his friend Ralph Turley bought multiples. "Between the two of us we got 13 sets," he admits.
It's a good thing he invested in tires, too. "I put 90,000 miles on that car when I owned it," Hampton reveals. "He went everywhere," Mark marvels. "We hear incredible stories about Dick and the car everywhere we go.
"I always dreamed about owning this car and told Dick that if he ever wanted to sell the car to let me know," Mark continues. He got that opportunity in 1998 but couldn't take it. "I thought my dream would never come true.
Hampton sold the car to Dick Barr but the car didn't spend much time on the road with him. "[He] drove it for a year before tearing it down for another restoration," Mark says. In fact the car didn't spend much time with Barr period, according to Hampton. "I bought it back from him a few years later," he says. "I think he just lost his steam."
Prior to reassembling it, Hampton hired Jerry Taylor to refinish the car in what has to be the most appropriate color name for a flamboyant T-bucket: PPG's "Oh So Sexy Red". He had Bradford's Balance and Machine clean up the block and heads and replaced the early Carter AFBs with Edelbrock's 500-cfm versions. About the only non-period items on the car are the Lokar shifter, Stewart-Warner revival Wings gauges, Painless Performance wiring kit, and a Jensen multimedia head unit.
Hampton didn't finish the car either; his health stalled near the end. "He knew he wasn't going to be able to complete it," Mark says. "I moved back to Kalispell in 2007 and mentioned to Dick that I would work with him to get the roadster back on the road."
Hampton did one better. In September 2008 he offered the roadster to Mark. "I was there in 20 minutes," he says. "It took me four truck loads to take home the parts he accumulated over the years." Among them, the last pair of N.O.S. Firestone Big Jelony and Michelin tires Hampton had—the ones in the bags. Mark and his dad, Melvin, immediately set about tying up the loose ends and sent the car to Dad's Valley Upholstery where Ron Francis replicated the trim in black vinyl.
Dick Hampton's roadster hit the ground running in time for the 2009 Glacier Rod Run and hasn't skipped a beat since. Not even a recent addition to the Colby family cuts into seat time; Mark's wife, Tina, pilots the kid-friendly fuchsia mayflower we featured in the May 2013 issue. To date we haven't seen one without the other and we've seen the Colbys everywhere.
Mark Colby is in an enviable position now: he fulfilled the one thing on his bucket list. And that raises a question: What's next? Give him time. We're sure he'll want something else one day.