Most folks can cite certain events when what they were experiencing would affect them for the rest of their life. So you might call it an epiphany, or perhaps kismet when, in 1956, a young Mickey Himsl had tagged along with his three older brothers (Joe, David, and Art) to the Grand National Roadster Show in Oakland, California. The only way they'd take him along is if he'd promise not to say anything to them while there, but that was about to be taken care of when Mickey first spied Norm Grabowski's T-bucket.
While the older Himsls walked the entire show, Mickey was slack-jawed at the sight of Norm's T-so much so he sat down in the aisle of the arena in front of the car and stared at it until his brothers came to get him to leave. Mickey had already seen hot rods at that early age (his brother, Joe, had owned a channeled '34 coupe, and, in '52, was driving a Barris-chopped '41 Ford around town), but he wasn't prepared for Norm's hot rod concept.
Not too many people can envision...
Not too many people can envision a Flattie looking this sharp, but Mickey Himsl did. It's a 1948 59AB with a larger Merc crank and bigger pistons to have an overall displacement of about 276 cubes.
Years later, Mickey can only speculate that event was what turned him into a lifelong fan of the Model T Ford, a car a lot of folks just aren't into. But Mickey looks at Norm's T, TV Tommy Ivo's bucket, and even Ed Iskendarian's old T as some of the best-looking, most influential hot rods ever built.
Over the next few decades, Mickey will have owned more than 20 of them, including the Moonshine T, which was on the cover of the June '63 issue of Rod & Custom. But having a soft spot in his heart for Ts has led him to buy, sell, and trade many of them over the years. The side effect of all that trading was Mickey being able to build up a pretty good stash of parts and pieces.
A few years back, Mickey heard about a T tub that had once belonged to metalman Jack Hagemann, who had in turn sold it to Bay Area rodder Bob Munroe. Jack had not yet worked his magic on the car before he sold it and it was pretty rough, so Mickey came up with the cash when Bob put it up for sale. Mickey then located an A frame close to his home in Concord, California, and it even came with a Flathead and a complete rearend. But, as he soon found out, the gears were blown up in the rear and the motor needed to be gone through. As luck would have it, Mickey then found a good frame from Bob Westbury, and soon had enough parts to start the build.
Mickey added the motor mounts to the A frame for the Flathead, located a '36 Ford rearend, and changed the rear wishbone to one from 1940, which allowed him to move the spring over the axle instead of behind it. Monroe shocks were used all the way around, and '40 Ford brakes went in up front while '48 Ford drums were used out back.
For steering, Mickey pulled a '56 Ford truck box off his shelf and made his own steering column out of muffler tubing. The fuel tank, made by Bob Munroe, is a 9-gallon unit that is hidden under the back seat. The car rolls on stock '35 Ford spoked wheels (powdercoated red) and wrapped in Firestone 700- and 560-16 skins.
As far as Mickey is concerned, Flatheads look great between the framerails of a hot rod, and this car would be no different. Starting with a '48 59AB block, he dropped in a 4-inch Merc crank, 3 5/16-inch pistons, a Potvin 3/4 race cam, and milled .080 off the heads for a final compression ratio of 7.5:1. Not a fire-breather, but it gets the job done! Up top, a pair of 97 carbs is bolted to an Edelbrock manifold, and homemade headers extract the spent gasses. (For the headers, Mickey was heavily influenced by a set he'd seen on the cover of a '50s-era Hop Up magazine, and the design has stuck with him ever since). The transmission is a '39 Ford box, which Mickey had gone through and replaced the bearings.
Contra Costa Auto Upholstery...
Contra Costa Auto Upholstery did the fine pleat work on both bench seats using oxblood-colored Naugahyde and stitched the top, too. The steering wheel is a '39 Deluxe unit, bolted to a homemade column.
When it came to the body, Mickey had thought about using a pristine original '32 shell he had for this project, but couldn't muster the gumption to cut it up, so he used a Brookville Roadster shell and an insert from Speedy Bill and chopped both 4 inches to make it fit his ride. Russo's Automotive in Pittsburgh, California, did all the bodywork, and, after it was in primer, Mickey thought it might look great as a rat rod.
But the bodywork Joe Russo did turned out so good that, when Mickey's brother, Art (the well-known Hall of Fame painter/pinstriper), saw how nice it turned out, he convinced his younger brother to go with a gloss. So Art found some beige in a can he had at the shop, mixed some other stuff into it, and came up with the Mickey Beige you see on the car today.
Traditional hot rods almost always have some kind of pinstriping on them, but neither Art nor Mickey knew what to do with the tub. That is until one night at 3 in the morning when Art woke up out of a dead sleep with an idea, went out to his shop, and laid it out right then and there. The red, Tommy "The Greek"-inspired chicken scratches look good on the firewall and King Bee headlight buckets, but it's what Art did on the back panel of the tub that's really extraordinary.
Art went all out with his pinstriping brush, designing what he would eventually say reminded him of a "portly" gentleman. Not knowing for sure if Art was making fun of his weight, Mickey accepted the new name Art had bestowed on his ride: Tubby.
With the gloss on, Mickey took his tub to Contra Costa Auto Upholstery in Concord, California, to have a tan cloth top made up but also oxblood-colored Naugahyde added to the twin bench seats. With a little bit of homemade wiring and the addition of three Stewart Warner gauges, he was ready to blast down the open highway-err, maybe at least get up to 60 with a good tailwind and steep decline! Well, fast wasn't the reason Mickey built his phaeton, and he does have to bundle up when driving it after the sun goes down, but, to him, the car represents what he has known all these many years-Model Ts are cool!
The idea for the design on...
The idea for the design on the back of the tub came to Mickey's brother, Art Himsl, in the middle of the night when he got out of bed, went out to the garage, and laid it out before he could forget it.