Andy Brizio’s Instant T – T-Buckets Go Mainstream
Editor’s note: As the final edits on this column were being completed, word came to us that Andy Brizio, affectionately known as the “Rodfather,” had passed away at age 91. His contribution to street rodding was incalculable, from his T-bucket exploits and his wildly popular picnic to his leadership in the Bay Area Roadsters. Moreover, he was a close friend of Goodguys founder Gary Meadors and he helped propel the early success of Goodguys. He defined what means to be a Legend of Hot Rodding. He will be dearly missed.
The Deuce highboy. The ’40 Ford coupe. The ’34 Ford coupe. The ’36 Ford roadster. The woodie wagon. All iconic mainstays of hot rodding. Oh, and one more – the T-bucket, those cartoonish machines festooned in big-and-little rubber, oversized powerplants and undersized interiors.
Norm Grabowski’s “Kookie” T-bucket and Tommy Ivo’s T kicked off the T roadster trend in the late 1950s, thanks in part to publicity in, of all things, Life magazine. T-buckets were simple, and at the time there was a plethora of Model T tin.
One of the most historically significant T-bucket deserves mention, Andy Brizio’s “Instant T.”
First, a bit about Andy. Born in 1932 to Italian immigrants in San Francisco’s Mission District, Brizio lived the usual California lifestyle, which meant an interest in cars fueled by the era’s cheap gasoline and car-crazy climate. During high school, he moonlighted as a milkman, squeezing out enough cash to pick up a ’41 Plymouth and a ’31 Ford three-window coupe. Soon enough, Brizio found himself clutching the starter’s flag at nearby Half Moon Bay dragstrip, where he dropped the green on such legends as Don Garlits and Tommy Ivo.
Andy was good buddies with Cub Barnett, who owned the prominent San Francisco performance parts purveyor Champion Speed Shop. The friendship dated back to Brizio working a part-time job at Champion, where he mounted wheels.
While toiling at Champion it dawned on Andy that T-bucket popularity was picking up speed as if Andy had dropped the flag on the trend. So, sensing an opportunity, he started Andy’s Roadsters inside Champion’s shop. He first became a distributor for the fledgling T-bucket kits offered by Dragmaster, before offering his own version. He recruited Northern California chassis builder Pete Ogden to build the prototype chassis for what was called Andy’s Instant T.
Instant, as in instantly popular. From 1966 to 1980, Brizio sold hundreds to Instant T kits. And, according to Andy, the reason was simple.
“Once you bought the $595 chassis, you could find the rest in our catalog,” he once explained. “That was my gimmick: Get the chassis, then anything else you wanted, you’d have to buy from me, because I made the parts that bolted on.”
Later, Andy offered a complete kit with a fiberglass body for $795. He also teamed up with drag racing chassis legend Kent Fuller to develop a chassis for a VW-powered T-bucket pickup, with the little German flat-four engine tucked beneath the bed’s tonneau cover.
Andy’s T-bucket drive was also fueled by another Brizio idea, a gathering of hot rods in a central location. He called it Andy’s Picnic, and the inaugural edition took place in 1966 at Crow Canyon in Northern California and drew more than 200 rodders. The final Andy’s Picnic, in 2017, drew more than 700 hot rods.
It’s fitting that the most famous Instant T ended up being Andy’s own personal ride. Built from early Dragmaster parts, the car was a full-fendered T-bucket powered by a heavily chromed blown small-block Chevy V8. A stylish white top and chrome headers added to the appeal.
But the highlight was the mind-blowing, psychedelic-themed paint scheme created by DeVilbiss maestro Art Himsl. It featured multi-colored swirls and swoops and ribbons across every panel, even on the engine scoop. “Andy’s” was painted across the cowl in a font that could best be described as Haight-Ashbury Bold. In other words, if Ken Kesey owned a hot rod, this would have been it.
The car’s appearance at the 1970 Oakland Roadster Show caused a sensation. The judges easily crowned it America’s Most Beautiful Roadster, and the media fell in love, too. The instantly famous Instant T adorned the July 1970 cover of Rod & Custom magazine.
But the car was roadworthy, as well. When the first Street Rod Nationals was held later that year in Peoria, Brizio and friend Cub Barnett wedged themselves inside the T and embarked on a 4,500-mile trip to the Land of Lincoln and back.
Former Googduys PR director and Gazette editor John Drummond once wrote, “Andy Brizio is one of the top five most influential figures in hot rod culture. Nobody has driven more road miles in a roadster, and nobody has ever matched his ability to unite early Ford fanatics for rallies, rebel rousing, and road trips.”
In other words, the man – just like his famous AMBR-winning T – was a true Hot Rod Legend.