Rod & Custom Feature Car
Rod & Custom Magazine
Speedway Motors Tribute T
I guess it depends on your age or build-style preferences, but if asked to name the first T bucket that comes to mind, it's a fair bet most R&C readers will name Ed Roth's "Tweedy Pie", "TV Tommy" Ivo's or Norm Grabowski's T, or an over-the-top Fad T such as Randy Bianchi's "Sunkist". OK, OK, don't email us with your pick, we said "most" readers; we know there'll be others. Regular readers will have followed the build of our Speedway Motors Tribute T over the past few months, and right from the outset, Rob Fortier's concept for the car had a traditional bend. Why else? This is R&C after all! While we strayed a little from Jimmy Smith's original illustration, mainly for practical and packaging reasons, we came pretty close, and the finished result bears a little more than a passing resemblance to Ivo's T, roof and Buick engine notwithstanding.
We also strayed a little from the kit as supplied by Speedway Motors, but only because we wanted to add a pickup bed to the T. This involved cutting the bedsides to clear the suspension and rearend, but the Model A–style crossmember fit inside it, the rear of the chassis providing the perfect place to add mounts for the pseudo-tailgate. The reason the gas tank protrudes through the bed cover? It simply wouldn't fit under it, as the chassis kick-up and buggy spring take up most of the room. Besides, we think it looks kinda cool!
Despite the T's period appearance—one or two components aside—we made no alterations to the Speedway chassis. In fact I was adamant from the beginning that I wanted to build the car as a kit, meaning no welding to the frame at all. We had it powdercoated as soon as we received it, for this reason. Sure, some fabrication was required, but any brackets or components added to the frame were bolted in place, and we drilled and tapped the chassis rails for this purpose. If you can't weld, there's no reason you can't build one of these Ts! You will, however, have to bend brake, fuel, and trans cooler lines, as these aren't at this time available pre-bent for this kit. The raw materials and tools to do so, are, however, available from the Speedway Motors catalog, as are almost all the parts we used.
Though the wheels and tires were sourced from Coker Tire, the entire drivetrain came from Speedway, namely the Blueprint crate engine, the B&M TH350 transmission, and the Currie rearend. The latter is supplied complete with all necessary suspension brackets already welded in place, meaning our rolling chassis was assembled in very short order! If you've spent months getting to the rolling chassis stage on a project, this is definitely a boost to morale. Blueprint Engines has a vast selection of GM, Ford, and Chrysler crate engines, in pretty much any stage of tune or displacement you may require, though we opted for their 355ci base small-block Chevy. With iron heads, four-bolt mains, a one-piece rear main seal, hydraulic flat-tappet cam, and a compression ratio of 9.5:1, this engine is rated at 310 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque. However, each engine is supplied with its own dyno sheet, and ours made peak horsepower of 328 at just over 5,000 rpm. Plenty for what is essentially an oversize rollerskate...on bias-plies. Check out www.blueprintengines.com for more information and pricing. Just make sure you use an intake manifold with an 1987-95 bolt pattern, as earlier SBC intakes won't fit!
The Tribute T chassis can be ordered from Speedway with mounts for either a Flathead V-8 or a small-block Chevy. Ours is obviously the latter, therefore the transmission crossmember has a pad to mount a Turbo 350. Speedway supplied the B&M trans and Tork Master converter, both of which are pressure tested by B&M after assembly.
We really did tackle this project as a kind of 1:1 scale Monogram "Big T", painting parts before assembling them, then moving onto the next section. Though Speedway Motors offers an instruction manual for its other T kits, much of it is not relevant to the Tribute T, as it's so different from the others, so the analogy of building a 1:1 kit stops when it comes to the instruction sheet. We couldn't get away with painting parts with a brush either, so Romance With Rust in nearby Orange handled the paintwork on the body, while Eddie Motorsports powdercoated the frame and suspension parts. Though an interior panel kit is available (two side panels and a rear panel in faux carbon-fiber black vinyl), we opted to take our T to Loyola Auto Interiors for a black and white pleated Naugahyde interior, in keeping with the period "feel". Luis Loyola perfectly matched the color of the engine block and rearend, not to mention the Auto Meter gauges.
This kit really is a great way into hot rodding if you're worried about limited tools or ability, or even if you're experienced and want a quick, easy build. Admittedly, we had all the parts and components on hand, the inability to purchase everything at once being one of the main reasons projects can stretch out over several years, but a similar T could be assembled using used running gear and wheels, keeping costs down. Our T was completed in a little over five months, in what would have amounted to working on it every weekend and a few evenings per week if we weren't able to build it during working hours (I know, cool job huh?!), and was done just in time to display it in our booth at the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, this past August.
So what happens to it now? In the following months, we'll document the steps in which to legally register (in California) our "special construction" vehicle. Stay tuned.