Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? And how the tortoise outwitted the hare by being methodical and patient? For 35-year-old Bill Kestener, his approach to the hot rod hobby was a lot like the tortoise. And Bill's patience and fine attention to detail helps him in his day job, too, as an elevator mechanic (you don't want those guys rushing through their work!).
Bill didn't grow up in a hot rodding family, and his father wasn't really into cars. But his aunt worked at one of the most famous automotive museums in the country: The Briggs Cunningham Museum in Costa Mesa, California (since closed). Growing up in Southern California, Bill's grandmother would take young Bill to visit his aunt at the museum, and he remembers being very impressed with the cars, even at an early age. In fact, he still has the photo that was taken of him when he was 3 years old and sitting in a scaled-down Bugatti parked next to the fullsize version inside the museum.
During high school (he graduated in 1985) Bill became more interested in things mechanical and took a few machine shop and fabrication classes. Since he was living in Southern California, he became immersed in the area's car culture and, in the early '90s, restored a '69 El Camino, adding a beefed-up 402 motor in the process. But after working on an old car with old metal, Bill figured he'd like to build something from the ground up, with fresh, clean parts and pieces. After checking out a few car shows and reading his copies of STREET RODDER, Bill decided to build his first hot rod, and made a T-bucket his choice.
Bill soon found California Custom Roadsters (CCR), the T-bucket manufacturing company that has been in business in SoCal since 1970. After hooking up with Jerry Keifer (CCR's owner), Jerry told Bill about a new body style they were working on: a '23 T with a lengthened body and an opening passenger door (the body is about 8 inches longer overall). Bill ordered the new body (he eventually got the first one out of the mold) as well as a complete chassis from Jerry, and then set about building an engine for the project.
Kestener is one of those guys who believes Ford's engines should be found in the front of Fords, and that Chevy motors are for Chevys. So when he wanted a built 302 for his new project, he went back to his friend, Jim Grubbs of Valencia, California. Bill and Jim became friends when Bill used to check out the 1/3-mile oval racing at Saugus Speedway, just north of Los Angeles. Grubbs was building race engines for the competitors and, the more Jim talked, the more Bill realized Grubbs was the guy who'd help him get the most out of any engine project he had. Jim first worked with Bill when he built the big-block for that '69 El Camino, so Bill knew Grubbs was the right guy for the T engine, too.
Jim started with a '70 302 and bumped the displacement to 306 cubes by boring out the cylinders. Compression was dialed in at 10:1, and a custom 7-quart oil pan was added to the base of the block. A short Ford SVO water pump was also used, as were pulleys from Ford Motorsports. Aluminum Air Flow Research heads (1.90/1.60) were bolted up along with aluminum 1.6-ratio rockers, and twin Edelbrock 500-cfm carbs feed the V-8, which breathes through a Billet Specialties air cleaner equipped with a K&N air cleaner. Sanderson headers extract the spent gasses while a polished C4 trans handles the automatic shifting needs of the powertrain.
While the motor was being built, Keifer was busy getting the chassis together, setting Bill's up on an 103-inch wheelbase. The rear end is a Currie 9-inch unit (3.25:1) set up with Ford Explorer disc brakes plus a set of Aldan coilover shocks. The front suspension centers around a 4-inch drop tube axle, CCR hairpins (used on the rear, too), and a seven-leaf spring. Rollers are simple: 15x5 and 15x10 chrome steelies wrapped in 195/60R15 and 275/60R15 rubber, respectively.
After the body was popped out of the mold, it went to David Prukop's place in Huntington Beach, where it received the appropriate bodywork before being sprayed with PPG black paint. When the body was lowered onto the chassis, the ride was then taken to Pete Engel's Westminster Auto Upholstery shop in Anaheim, California. There, Pete created a custom bench seat, then covered it and the rest of the interior with blood red leather. Black wool loop carpet was laid out, and a few of the interior's shiny pieces (such as the Billet Specialties steering wheel and Flaming River stainless tilt column) were then added. After the six SVO gauges were wired up and the Model A headlamps attached, the T was about to get fired for the first time. But since Bill already had engine dyno numbers from Jim Grubbs (334.2 lb-ft of torque 4,400 rpm, 344.4 hp at 6,200 rpm), he already knew the engine would work well!
Now with a couple hundred miles on his T under his belt, Bill is satisfied with the way his first hot rod turned out. He's already looking ahead at another project, possibly a '32 roadster pickup using Brookville Roadster's body but, for now, he's happy with the outcome: a tortoise's plan with the hare's speed!