Taking Total Performance’s King T In Some Low-Dollar Directions
The T is making a comeback. Pushed out of popularity for a while by Models As, Deuces, and ’33-34s, Ford’s earlier model is elbowing its way back into popularity among hot rodders and street rodders. The revival of interest, especially in roadsters, owes a lot to the return to traditional rodding in the last several years. There was a time when Ts were the most prevalent hot rods around, and any list of historical hot rods is going to include some of the most famous T roadsters from the early days.
Some of those T’s are: Norm Grabowski’s Kookie T, Tommy Ivo’s 12-second Nailhead-powered ’25 T-bucket, Blackie Gejeian’s wild ’27, Frank Mack’s timeless ’27 track-style roadster, and Ed Iskenderian’s ahead-of-its-time ’23, first built in 1939. Walk through any hot rod show today and it’s pretty obvious that Isky’s roadster set the standard almost 70 years ago.
The reason Ts were popular then is the reason they’re popular now. In addition to an appearance that screams hot rod, the smaller size and generally cheaper price tag on Model T raw material makes them the perfect choice for anybody looking for a low-budget, entry level rod project. One guy who has helped keep it that way is Mickey Lauria, the owner of Total Performance. For 35 years, Mickey has been making a successful living selling aftermarket Model T packages and components to enthusiasts looking for a simple, economical hot rod. You’d think the man would be out of ideas by now, but guess what? When we saw him at the NSRA Street Rod Nationals in August, he was debuting his newest Model T package, which he calls the King T.
We asked Mickey what inspired a new addition to his long-established line-up. “I’m a real hot rodder from the old school, and I wanted to get back to a low-dollar hot rod. We’re known for putting a package together that any customer can build and I wanted to continue that, ” Lauria said. “Part of the inspiration came from the emergence of all these so-called rat rods, which they’re really not; they’re real hot rods in my opinion.”
The King T is different than other T-bucket packages available from Total Performance. The track nose, satin finish (Harley-Davidson Black Denim), and Moon discs on the roadster prominent on TP’s promotional material (and shown here) is an instant clue that Mickey’s imagination is calling upon some styling elements from way back when. It’s just a no-frills, minimal chrome, nothing-fancy hot rod-the kind everybody likes.
Even the King T name is intended to evoke a sense of nostalgia, based on the idea that the Model T was and is the “king” of hot rodding.
Original plans called for using the complete Total Performance ’23 T chassis, but as the ideas evolved, Mickey decided to construct a completely redesigned, longer-wheelbase chassis for the King T. The jig-welded frame comes with all bracketry welded in place and all holes drilled. The front suspension uses Total Performance’s on-the-shelf T-bucket components, including dropped axle, spindles, four-leaf spring, friction shocks, tie rod, and radius rods, as well as the complete steering system with the column and steering wheel. The rear four-bar suspension includes coilovers, Panhard bar, and TP’s 8-inch Ford rearend housing. The brake pedal, pad, dual master cylinder, and pushrod, plus a T-bucket fuel tank, are also part of the package.
The effort that went into redesigning the chassis was necessitated by the radically redesigned body. You probably noticed that the fiberglass King T body combines the increased dimensions of a ’26-27 Model T with the smaller cowl area of a ’23. The result is a larger, more comfortable car with the popular, aggressive front end treatment-not to mention a full three-piece hood and track nose with grille shell and insert. The newly designed windshield is shorter and wider, but utilizes TP’s existing straight or angled posts. A molded dash, floor, and trans tunnel come with the package. Brian McAllister at Total Performance calls the King T “a redesign of things we’ve been doing for a long time to achieve a look we’ve never offered before.”
Brian emphasizes that the King T will not be the final package for a lot of Total Performance customers, but the starting point for getting creative. “If you can weld and know how to fabricate, you can take our package and do your own thing, ” he says. “It’s cool to see what guys are doing to our stuff. The way this car is assembled and built, it doesn’t have to be a Bonneville car, but it could be. It doesn’t have to be a traditional rod, but it could be. It could just as easily be high-tech. This can be the launching point for whatever you want the car to be.”
We decided to take a closer look at the idea of building the King T in different directions, but with an emphasis on keeping it relatively low-buck. The Total Performance package, including just about everything except the interior, rolling stock, and drivetrain, starts at just under $7, 000, which is a pretty economical start.
We wanted to get some ideas about finishing the car in a way that would keep the rest of the budget under control.
Earl Kane is the designer/illustrator who worked with Mickey Lauria to turn Mickey’s ideas into a real vehicle Total Performance could manufacture. We asked Earl to create some additional illustrations for the King T in a few popular styles that could be built on a real-world budget. He obliged with a bunch of cool dream car concepts centered on this new King T roadster.
There aren’t many changes from the “out-of-the-box” King T package on Earl’s simplest, most traditional-looking ’50s hot rod. Notable features on this roadster are the lowered headlights, which are Total Performance lights dropped down to the axle-a simple change. The headers could be homebuilt with straight pipes and an aftermarket flange-it doesn’t get easier. Earl selected a tilted windshield, available from TP.