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Featured Technical Looking to buy a t-bucket, trying to distinguish between deferred maintenance and actual problems.

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by cuzwhat, Mar 5, 2023.

  1. cuzwhat
    Joined: Mar 5, 2023
    Posts: 13


    Seller claims drivetrain is a “51 mercury flatty with dual carbs and a ‘39 toploader”

    Seller also claims “I think it needs a new set of water pumps”. When pressed for why, seller says that the hoses never seem to get hot, but the gauges suggest the engine is properly warm headed to overheat.

    I’ve done a cursory search of this fine forum and I’ve found lots of full-system overheat threads, but little about poor circulation. This is a fairly newish build (seller claims a shop in Kansas City did most of the work) so I have to assume it was sorted ten or fifteen years ago when it was likely built. I know the OE pumps are of questionable reliability, but I’m afraid the lack of circulation is a symptom of a bigger concern. Any thoughts from those who have actual experience with these engines?

    The car also has what looked and felt like an underfloor Wilwood brake and clutch pedal set. When the seller backed it out of the garage it was in, the clutch wasn’t fully disengaging. Seller assumes the hydraulics just need a bleed, but like the cooling concern, I have some nagging doubts.

    I’m wanting to find a toy that I can make live again with just a little time and attention. I don’t need another basket case / project. These concerns seem like pretty simple fixes for a guy whose garage suggests he is handy with the tools and knows his way around the car (he’s got a nice model A and fairly stock model T truck along with several bits and bobs in there, at least). Part of me thinks that he’d get a lot more out of the car with those details ironed out…so why hasn’t he? Another part of me knows that sometimes it’s just best to let someone else do the fine tuning.

    The car has a lot of very decent looking parts on it, so it’s likely worth the asking, and if I could have driven it home today, I probably would have bought it. But the devil is in the details, and this is new ground for me (I’m a mini trucker and import guy who has always loved the classic rods and can finally kinda afford to play with one).

    Thanks for reading my novel. Looking forward to any insight you folks can offer me.
  2. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 32,629


    I'm thinking that those what should be little nit picking things (except the water pumps) should be a one Saturday project to knock out for most guys but don't get addressed when a car that has been sitting for a while looses it's place in the garage and comes up for sale. T buckets seem to be one of the more shoved over in the corner after a season or two and forgotten types of rods too. Maybe because for a lot of folks it is too easy to find an excuse for not driving it than a reason for driving it.
    Outside of a very few engines the cooling system circulates Through the block and heads, up out the thermostat housing past the thermostats and up the upper hoses, down though the radiator and back into the radiator though the lower hoses to the water pumps and back though the engines. If everything works right the lower hoses should be a lot cooler than the upper hoses but won't be cold. With any cooling system no matter what it is on it all comes down to three basic things, Coolant system capacity, coolant flow and maybe more important air flow. Meaning does the radiator that is on the T look up to the task of cooling the flathead? Does the car have a fan that is set up properly to pull enough air though that radiator. Now throw in the simple fact that all too many guys concept of "running hot" on a hot rod is that the temp is acutally just up in good operating temp but the pointer on the gauge is a little bit over around 1 oclock rather than straight up at 12 oclock. Unless it is puking coolant all the time it probably isn't running hot.
    As for the hydraulic clutch not being bled or the brakes not being bled so you can actually make a trip around the block even if you are in the passenger seat rather than driving there isn't any solid excuse for that unless the seller is physically unable to get the task done. Bleeding the clutch usually takes five minutes unless you have some tricky way that you have to fill the reservoir or reach the bleeder screw. Screenshot (1246).png
    cuzwhat, alanp561, Just Gary and 2 others like this.
  3. ProtoTypeDesignFlauz
    Joined: Jul 29, 2007
    Posts: 1,385


    Any hot rod that is purchased, even if it is a completely finished vehicle, becomes the next owner's new project build. That is just how it is. Buy it, dig in and learn about hot rods. :)
  4. twenty8
    Joined: Apr 8, 2021
    Posts: 1,690


    If the seller has not had the enthusiasm to at least bleed the clutch before trying to unload this thing, I would be very wary of the whole shebang. Low-ball the hell out of the offer and see what his reaction is. If he was after top dollar, he would surely have put a little more effort into having it as ready for sale as it could be. Sounds to me like a quick unload is his plan.......... Be careful.

  5. Duncan71
    Joined: Jan 17, 2022
    Posts: 47


    I sure haven’t bought many hot rods…. But I have bought ton of cars and trucks. Every time someone has said to me “oh it just needs this bled or that adjusted” what they actually meant was “I know this component is completely shot, and will likely need a full replacement or risk damaging everything, but it hasn’t grenaded yet so I’m gonna claim it as a small problem and not reflect it in the asking price.” I’d lowball him or if it’s a high value car ask and request the problems are taken care of prior to purchase or agree to purchase contingent on inspection. Imagine he’ll either drop his price knowing the gremlins will be discovered (not a bad thing) or agree to an inspection / fix.
  6. Happydaze
    Joined: Aug 21, 2009
    Posts: 1,574


    I like the deferred maintenance v actual problems viewpoint! The difficulty with hotrods, compared to factory cars, is that its difficult to know if something has ever been right. So many issues, like driveability / suspension, are dismissed with the ubiquitous 'they're all like that'.

    Never know a clutch, or brakes just needing bleeding without there being an underlying cause. That cause might be simple, or not.

    Bid accordingly.

    Squablow, Atwater Mike, SS327 and 2 others like this.
  7. indyjps
    Joined: Feb 21, 2007
    Posts: 5,349


    If this is not sellers only hot rod, it could have definitely been shoved in corner.
    If seller is flipping it, or selling for friend, who knows.
    If seller is old as F. Bleeding the clutch may be the only thing it needs, but he really just doesn't feel like doing it, because he's old as F.

    Like mentioned above, bid accordingly, could he to your advantage.

    If you're not comfortable assessing a potential car, or the thought of doing repairs on a hot rod are intimidating - find a fellow hot rodder to help you, either a favor or paid. That will cost you less than buying while uninformed.
  8. jim snow
    Joined: Feb 16, 2007
    Posts: 1,696

    jim snow

    X2. Good advice right there.jmho. Snowman ⛄️
    cuzwhat likes this.
  9. Jmountainjr
    Joined: Dec 29, 2006
    Posts: 1,531


    I agree that any hydraulic brake and / or clutch issue is typically an easy fix that isn't going to run into a big expense. The cooling issue could be a red flag, but something tells me that the seller isn't a mechanical type. Water pumps leak, but seldom does the impeller fail to move coolant. So to instantly blame the WP for a circulation issue doesn't make sense to me. Plugged radiator core, stuck thermostat, collapsed hose, etc., all would be things to check first. Start it up with the radiator cap off and see how much coolant flow is happening. If it's an electrical temp gauge, that could be the issue and the flow is OK. But like others have said, if you can't do some more trouble shooting on it before purchase, bid low. Very low.
    irishsteve, SS327 and cuzwhat like this.
  10. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 53,352


    fill out your profile all the way, so we can see your location....then someone nearby can go take a look at the car with you, and help you figure out what's up with it.

    Could be a decent car, but of course we can't get any "feel" for it without pictures, at the very least.
  11. Dustin 257
    Joined: Aug 20, 2021
    Posts: 268

    Dustin 257
    from Dallas

    I have flipped everything from time to time with an engine. Reading the seller is the most important part. And unfortunately that’s hard to do over internet. A lot of times people have spent so much time and energy they are just done with it. And want it gone.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 6, 2023
  12. alanp561
    Joined: Oct 1, 2017
    Posts: 3,434


    In the first post, the OP doesn't say the water pumps leak, just that the seller doesn't think it gets up to temperature.
    cuzwhat likes this.
  13. midnightrider78
    Joined: Oct 24, 2006
    Posts: 1,255


    Or simply beat down(by the project or other factors) and feel overwhelmed (feel "old as F").
    cuzwhat and alanp561 like this.
  14. cuzwhat
    Joined: Mar 5, 2023
    Posts: 13


    He started the car for me and let it idle awhile. I didn’t watch the gauge and it was fairly cool outside so the engine never really warmed up in my presence. But the upper hoses did not seem to warm up at all and the lower hoses were only slightly above ambient. Seller seem to lean harder on lack of proper circulation and engine-side heat rather than full-system overheat. He did run the electric fan the whole time (on a switch, not a thermostat), which is probably overkill for the ambient temps and the lack of actual driving.

    Thanks for the input!
    alanp561 and Baumi like this.
  15. cuzwhat
    Joined: Mar 5, 2023
    Posts: 13


    I get that…because I too feel that way about a few of my longer term projects. That’s part of the reason I’m looking for a more turn-key toy in this venture.

    I just don’t want a “just needs a couple pumps” to turn into “just needs a compete rebuild because the block is plugged and shot.”
    alanp561, Blues4U and midnightrider78 like this.
  16. cuzwhat
    Joined: Mar 5, 2023
    Posts: 13


    I get that, fully. And I am ok with doing some bits and pieces to get it that last 10% to make it reliable and roadworthy. I’m just out of my depth enough to not be totally sure of the likelihood of it being maintenance or repair, and I’m just not shopping for repair right now.
    alanp561 and Blues4U like this.
  17. caprockfabshop
    Joined: Dec 5, 2019
    Posts: 369


    Not only is the electric fan overkill for the ambient temps, but running a constant fan like that actually can be harmful to the engine. All the fluids are meant to perform at operating temps, so if the engine is never getting to 165-200°, then they're not able to operate at peak.

    Furthermore, if the fan is keeping things so cool that the thermostats aren't opening, then there is no water being circulated by the system, and some would argue that can result in hotspots throughout the engine because water isn't moving.

    I'd recommend stopping by and having him unhook the wires to the fan (they typically have a quick disconnect for the easy removal of the radiator anyway).

    Share some pics of the car, even if just from the ad, can really help us ID any concerns or red flags more than typing can.

    cuzwhat likes this.
  18. jimmy six
    Joined: Mar 21, 2006
    Posts: 13,081

    jimmy six

    Since you joined yesterday and don’t us much about you and your 47 I’ll assume you don’t have much flathead experience. A drive train such as one you’re describing is not common to what most here know as a T-Bucket. Photos will help along with what the seller is asking.
    Flatheads with a 39 trans using a hydraulic clutch is not common and may have never worked properly or correctly.
    I won’t comment on the temp situation as I’m not a flathead V8 guy. The better the car you buy needing the least to be driven will be a better fit. I don’t know where you live or it’s weather but T -Buckets are not very popular and should be pretty reasonable with a modern drive train. Good luck..
    alanp561 and cuzwhat like this.
  19. cuzwhat
    Joined: Mar 5, 2023
    Posts: 13


    Ok, I’ve responded to a few answers and I appreciate the info all of you have offered. I’m adding a couple pics of the car that are probably a few years old, but I can’t find any significant alterations to the car as it currently sits.
    The seller is probably in his late sixties and just had a knee replacement, so I can totally understand a “I just want this thing gone, and I’m not gonna fix it” attitude. His price seems very decent for the pieces that are in this car. It’s not a rat built from swap meet parts, or if it is, it was the nicest swap meet I’ve ever seen.

    I’ve caught deals where “it just needs a starter” turned into “the entire timing set is in the oil pan”. The fact that this car starts, runs, and sorta drives is a great boon, and if I could have driven it home, I’m pretty sure I would have written the check. But, since I’m gonna have to go get my truck and trailer…and then I’m gonna have to throw a few hundred bucks and a couple afternoons at it just to get it ready for a proper shakedown, I start feeling hinky about it. If I were in his position, and a few hours of labor would gain me 20% on the sale, I’d be real eager to do that work.
    If the seller was an obvious know-nothing (image a doctor or lawyer selling a toy their wife had tired of), I’d get it….but this dude is talking about and pointing at the next flathead he’s going to build for the other project in the garage. Seller was cool, but the situation felt weird. Or maybe I’m just too skeptical and cynical.

    Anywho, enjoy the pics and feel free to offer more insight. I still think I want this, i just want to go in as prepared as possible. E9C672C7-253F-4763-88F9-BD815D62932C.jpeg 1205D6CE-3E54-4E0D-B1CE-66B12424FF14.jpeg 467680C3-807A-450F-9F7D-00E382AEF1EF.jpeg 39B3BDD7-2D02-4A41-95DD-7526BAC11239.jpeg
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 6, 2023
  20. cuzwhat
    Joined: Mar 5, 2023
    Posts: 13


    Thanks! I really hadn’t considered the idea that the overcooling fan would keep the thermostats closed…which would certainly restrict circulation.

    I’ve added some pics to another comment.

    hell, it’s entirely possible that this car is already known around here, I guess .
    alanp561 and SS327 like this.
  21. Koz
    Joined: May 5, 2008
    Posts: 2,606


    Thanks for the pics! That is one very fine roadster, (It's not a T Bucket), that was obviously built by someone who knew more than a little about rods. The giveaway is the proper Ackerman and the details on the chassis etc. I don't know what he's asking but it most certainly looks like a car well worth investigating.

    In my opinion, any roadster with a flatty and a very small radiator is going to need to have everything at it's best to run cool. Not saying its a problem just that it will need to be worked a bit to function well. There are few and far rods that run like a Kia or something when you hit the key. They are finicky. It's just part of the fun. If it's something with the clutch external, no big deal. Internal, not unheard of, takes a little more effort. This is a super easy drivetrain to work on.

    I get more than a little upset everytime a thread comes up with a purchase question the answer is always "low ball him". That's a great way to lose a great car and in all honesty, the seller is more than likely taking a bath on the car anyway. They seldom sell for what they cost to build. Let's just agree to leave that crap to the TV shows. Negotiate a fair price for all concerned, yes.

    This one would be high on my list.
    alanp561, SS327 and cuzwhat like this.
  22. jaracer
    Joined: Oct 4, 2008
    Posts: 2,000


    It looks awfully nice. It would take a good amount of money to build something like this. I do have one question, have you sat in the driver's seat and is it comfortable? I wouldn't have a hot rod that I didn't feel comfortable in the driving position. If it is comfortable and his price is right, I would be tempted.

    The last completed car I bought was my 57 T-Bird. I spent the first 4 or 5 years making it reliable. The person who restored it put on a lot of new mechanical parts many of which were partially installed or installed wrong. The next 22 I spent driving it; still do.
    alanp561, Blues4U, jim snow and 3 others like this.
  23. cuzwhat
    Joined: Mar 5, 2023
    Posts: 13


    thanks for the kind words and the education. I guess I need to brush up on what separates the roadster above from the first car I missed by a couple hours (pics below). In my mind, roadsters were usually A-car based moreso than T-truck based. Seller listed it as a bucket, but that might just be a better search term than roadster.

    As for the deal…it does seem pretty decent. As noted above, i know just enough to know that this car has some decent parts in it. The wilwood pedal assembly and front disks are intentional investments, not just random parts. Seller claims to have $50k in it, and is selling it for less than half.

    …which is part of what keeps tripping my skepticism.

    thanks again!

    Attached Files:

  24. cuzwhat
    Joined: Mar 5, 2023
    Posts: 13


    I have not sat in it and agree I would need to before I pulled the trigger, especially if I’m needing to operate the clutch effectively.
    I knew I would move heaven and earth to get it bought immediately if I sat in it on first brush, all reason heading right out the window.
  25. If it was me, I would pass. I can’t add much more than what’s been said.

    1. It’s not a T-bucket but appears to be a severely cut down Model A with 27 T windshield posts grafted on, with a molded in A or homemade bed.
    How much filler is in it to do all that sculpting?
    2. You need to sit in it and try to drive it. How tall are you? You may look like you’re sitting on it rather than in it. Looks like your knees will be windshield height! Can you easily get on and off the pedals?
    3. That flathead needs some love but is certainly nicely put together. It looks great!
    Is the overheating from bad pumps, stuck ‘stats, not enough coolant capacity, wonky electric fan, or something like what I just went through: cracked block from a valve seat to the cylinder. I chased a random overheat problem, until mine finally blew up.
    4. Have you looked underneath at the 39 box with hydraulic clutch? Is the setup wonky or is the fluid just low? Is there a sign of a leak at the slave cylinder? Or is something binding? Or is there not enough piston travel to disengage the clutch?

    If he’s asking half of what he says is invested, I would still pass. Too much, IMO. Sorry.
  26. cuzwhat
    Joined: Mar 5, 2023
    Posts: 13


    you bring up some excellent points. I’ve been so worried about the unfamiliar drivetrain that I’ve overlooked the body shape and how…I guess… not-T, it really is.

    The taillight areas are clearly sculpted, and while I didn’t knock on the body, I feel like it’s mostly metal, as opposed to fiberglass.

    that being said, how much is metal and how much is bondo is anyone’s guess.

    thanks for the counterpoint!
  27. ProtoTypeDesignFlauz
    Joined: Jul 29, 2007
    Posts: 1,385


    It has got AutoLamp 430 headlights, Plymouth wavy front axle, and and a flathead engine. :D What more would a beginner hot rod owner ever need. Plus it looks cool. I would buy it, if I was in a position to afford it.
    XXL__ likes this.
  28. Happydaze
    Joined: Aug 21, 2009
    Posts: 1,574


    Based on the first pic I had your checkbook out and stared writing! I then stopped when I saw the subsequent pics. Whilst it has the appearance of a nicely built car it to me is way too cartoonish, with some clown thrown in. Even a dwarf would be sitting on not in. Im asuming you'd wish to drive it some, and for it not to merely be a garage trinket/ novelty. A great shame as it appears nicely done.


  29. I would not think the block is plugged and shot , I would also not be hopefull that a couple water pumps and some fiddling with the clutch gets you mobile .

    I would anticipate a tear down of the engine and some re-engineering of the clutch .

    Not huge issues , but time and money . I am always the hopefull one , silver lining and all that shit . It never works out in my favour .

    but the odd time I don’t get as screwed over as I should :D

    If the price is right and you like it , anticipate a “ worst case scenario “ anything better than that is a win .

    Cool car , keep us posted .
    alanp561, spudshaft and jim snow like this.
  30. bantam
    Joined: Oct 16, 2006
    Posts: 357


    That seating position will make this a “15 minute trip” car, not a “road trip” car. How do you want to use it? Maybe in your town everywhere you want to go is 15 minutes away. If so, cool. This will meet your needs.

    Now when you go to sell it, next buyer will have these same concerns and this may limit your resale opportunities.
    alanp561 and Tman like this.

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