In the peak of the glory days for hot rods and customs Joe Cruces built what was come to be known as the "Tall-T". The Tall-T's first letter of recommendation came when it won the "People's Choice Award" and the "Best Street Coupe" at the 1960 Oakland Roadster Show. Joe Cruces went on to be an industry standard to this day with award winning cars at Pebble Beach in the 70's, which reached a zenith with his 1979 win of "Best of Show."
For Tall-T its fame would grow over the next two years. Possibly this hot rod's 'life time achievement award' would be a special invitation to the 1960 Seattle World's Fair. This represents something unusual as only five cars were displayed at the fair.
In a short time it would grace the cover of automotives most prestigious journal Hot Rod Magazine in October 1960 and by 1962 it was on the cover of Rod & Custom Magazine October 1962. In their end of year Best Hot Rods Magazine Big Daddy Ed Roth showed it to be one of his 5 favorite cars in an article entitled, "Ed Roth's Showcase of Show-Stoppers." Therein Big Daddy gave it another name the "China Closet on Wheels." Certainly no matter whatever this unique hot rod was called it became one of the most popular cars ever!
In this issue of Rod & Custom Magazine was included a feature article and the first ever car featured in the new article-series "Build the Model"-a brand new magazine concept. Let's hear how The Editors put it: "MANY READERS have written us, asking for specifications and details on some of the cars featured in the magazine. These readers said they wanted to make models based on our photographs-and could we please supply them with information and drawings of the model kits involved? (Tall-T was the first to be featured.) We'll try to pick the car of widest interest to both model enthusiasts and general automotive fans." The article showed a full schematic breakdown of the car and told readers where to glean the model kit car parts from AMT to Monogram parts were identified. Do you remember this article? Bill Maunder was first to finish the creative handmade model and today it can be viewed at the International Model Car Builder's Museum.
Aurora's 1/32 scale model "T for Two": And if the little Tall-T's fame hadn't risen high enough in 1963 Aurora Plastics Corporation made the cars fame never-ending by the model kit "1921 Ford High-Coupe, T for Two" was released to model builder all over the world. Yes it was made into an "all plastic assembly kit" 1/32 scale. It is reported to have sold 1 million copies in some 6 months. Thus according to reports becoming one of the 'fastest and probably biggest selling model car kits ever.'
More About the Tall-T
The car is a 1921 Model T Ford coupe which was purchased as an original car for $25 by Joe Cruces of Vacaville, CA. To say the least the next 3-years would give the car 'a face lift.' It received many customized and reengineered details. After it was polished, molded and ground it started its career with a Grand Sweepstakes trophy at the San Francisco Custom Rod and Antique Show in 1960.
Joe Cruces performed the majority of the expert work done on the Model T. The only worked that Joe did not do himself was the chrome plating and upholstery work. In the case of the interior it was all white and red leather, along with the top of the coupe. Even the running boards and the battery box were done in white and red. Right down to the engine compartment newspapers said, "Immaculate engine...The full-Mercury engine, with its four carburetors, is lavishly chrome-plated." The same newspaper stated, "The entire underside of the auto is completely chrome-plated! Over 175 hours of grinding and molding went into the body...All of this sparkle is set off by the 21 coats of black lacquer.
When Joe Cruces was asked the total cost of the transformation he said: "About $725 in materials and $4000 in my own labor." How do you like those prices compared to today's prices?
Condition of Car Today
The car today is sitting where it has sat for 20 some years in the good hands of its current owner. Over these years it has had random appearances at shows on the West Coast. The car's condition is probably the most bizarre twist in the story. It has never been rebuilt! The body has the original black paint which is virtually in perfect condition, but with enough patina to establish its historicity and authenticity. Wait there is much more! The interior of the car is still intact; it is not cracked or destroyed. You can still get in and feel the original excitement that Joe Cruces felt when he first drove his new hot rod.
The undercarriage chrome is still in its original pristine condition ready for the next Grand Nationals Roadster Show win or will it be débuted at Del Mar or maybe Blackie wants it indoors next year? We'll have to wait and see what its new owner does with it. Oh yeah, the frame paint is still original, wheels original and those way-out exhaust pipes that looked like nerf-bars are still ready for reinstallation on the motor.
What kind of power plant will be installed in the Tall-T? The new owner will have a choice. The car featured a Mercury flathead with 4 Stromberg 97's when it won the Oakland Roadster Show in 1960 is available. BUT also by 1962 when it appeared on the cover of Rod & Custom Magazine it had a fuel injected 283 cubic inch Chevy. For your information in case you still don't have the Aurora Model Kit, the kit had the modern Chevy engine with special side ported injection stacks-do you remember that nice touch? Both engines are interchangeable for this historic dream car.
And not to be excluded it still has what was called a "scattershield" fixture around the Ford rear end which gave the appearance of a fully chromed Quick Change rear. Was it a real scattershield, you'll have to come see for yourself.
Exterior: Still has the original 21 coats of black lacquer, color sanded after each fifth coat. Final details include the original side lamps and front headlights, but the electrical was replaced with a modern 12 volt system. On the hood Joe shows off an original radiator cap to retain the car's special flavor.
Engine: This car comes with the original 283 Chevy fuel injected engine (punched out to 301 c.i.) as pictured in the later issue of Rod & Custom Magazine. Algon injectors sit atop a '60 Corvette mill with Jahns pistons, Schiefer flywheel, F.I. valves and Edelbrock adapter to the Lincoln transmission. The crazy exhaust work was done by Buck Dennk a Vacaville, CA native.
It also comes with a complete flathead with 4-deuces which 1st as it first appeared in the Hot Rod Magazine. The '48 Merc engine takes an Iskenderian camshaft, milled Speedway heads, Weiand intake manifold with a quartet of Stromberg 97's. Power moves through an Auburn 11-inch clutch into '39 Zephyr 26-tooth transmission.
Driveline, etc: The driveline is all original. Front axle and suspension are modified from '40 Ford while the steering is '343 Ford. The car is in its original stance where the bounce came from '56 Cadillac shock absorbers. 'Quick change' rear end (see note) and a '39 Zephyr 26-tooth transmission. Brakes are compliments of an older model Lincoln. [Note: Joe Cruces famous hot rod builder made a scattershield and chromed it; the rear end is actually a stock '48 Ford with 4.44 gears.] The car is finished off with chromed wire wheels from a '54 Buick Skylark. The T has a stock body height but lowered suspension and a dropped axle up front.
Contact information: The Tall-T is represented by consultant Don at 619.804.8033.
Location for viewing: Monterey California area.