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Ferndale car lover to showcase custom hot rod at Autorama

March 6, 2013

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George Farley’s T-Bucket didn’t look like much before Farley and his friend, Jerry Dodson, began their three-year customization project.
Farley, of Ferndale, will be showcasing his 1926 Ford T-Bucket at the 61st annual Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama at Cobo Center in Detroit from March 8-10.

George Farley’s journey to transform his 1926 Ford T-Bucket into his own personalized vision was over 40 years in the making.

The 64-year-old Ferndale resident first purchased the car in 1971, shortly after being discharged from the U.S. Army. But not long after he began customizing his new prized possession, it became apparent that he would have to put the project on hold.

“After about three years, I decided to buy a house and stop dumping all my money into this car,” Farley explained. “It ended up sitting in my garage for 35 years pretty much untouched before I decided to dust it off in 2009. It was like a garage find that I found in my own garage.”

Farley will be proudly showcasing the completed car at the 61st annual Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama at Cobo Center from March 8-10. A lifelong automobile aficionado, he worked as a body shop manager for three decades before his retirement a few years ago. He estimated that he has owned at least 15 different show cars and motorcycles in his life, but the T-Bucket marks the first time that he has ever worked on a hot rod.

“When I was a kid, one of my neighbors rebuilt an old T-Bucket, and I always wanted to have one for myself,” he said. “They’re such small, fast, lightweight cars that come in all different shapes and sizes. The fundamentals stay the same, but the personal details are totally different for each and every car.”

Once Farley recommitted to fixing up his 1926 T-Bucket, he worked on it for nearly three years with his friend, Jerry Dodson, a retired Chrysler engineer, hot rod builder and car show judge. According to Farley, the project was a labor of love, as he and Dodson exchanged plans for the old hot rod via phone and email, then executed them by transporting the car back and forth from here to Kentucky, where Dodson lives.

Farley was adamant about rebuilding the T-Bucket by hand using only vintage Ford parts. Many of the components came from Shelby Mustangs and other vehicles from the early- to mid-1970s era that Farley so dearly admires. Some modern touches were added, including a 2010 Ford Racing motor with more than 400 horsepower, and the finished creation was given an eye-catching candy-apple red paint job and plenty of flashy chrome to make it shine.

“Jerry and I had so much fun working on this car together,” Farley said. “He is full of so many great ideas, and his taste for detail is just like mine — we both like to go way overboard. I wanted this car to have a feeling of nostalgia, to be built to the best standards of that era, and be as clean and detailed as possible. It’s a total hot rod from top to bottom.”

The project was finished about a year ago, and since that time, Farley has enjoyed the positive reactions from fellow car lovers whenever he takes his T-Bucket out on the road.

“I’ve put about 1,400 miles on it, and I’ve been having a ball driving it all over town,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that these cars need to be driven, not just sitting in a garage waiting to be displayed at a car show.”

Still, that’s exactly what Farley will be doing when Autorama rolls into the Motor City this weekend. This year’s event will feature a significant milestone: the 50th anniversary of the nationally renowned Ridler Award. All 50 winners from past years have been invited to bring back their winning rides on Ridler’s Row, and at press time, around 30 had been confirmed to participate.

“This will be a once-in-a-lifetime event, because when else would these cars all be together in one place at one time?” said Linda Ashley, spokesperson for Autorama. “It’s been a two-year effort on the part of the organizers to get all these people together in the same place at the same time, and it took some investigative work to track them all down. It was a challenge, but it’s going to be outstanding.”

To appear in Autorama, a vehicle must meet the high standards of the Michigan Hot Rod Association, the show’s co-producer alongside Championship Auto Shows. This year, there will be more than 1,000 exhibits, from rare vintage vehicles that have been beautifully restored, to more contemporary cars that have been customized in unique ways.

But to qualify for the Ridler Award, a vehicle must be appearing in the show for the very first time. A panel of judges will examine each car with a fine-toothed comb, awarding points for creativity and workmanship. Eight finalists will be selected and awarded a $1,000 prize. The winner of the Ridler Award will then receive $10,000 in cash, plus a custom trophy and jacket. 

“The Ridler Award is key to what makes this a unique custom car event,” Ashley said.

Al Bergler, the winner of the first Ridler Award, will be in attendance this year, bringing with him two supercharged dragsters: the Ridler-winning More Aggravation and Motown Shaker. He will rev them up for the “cacklefest,” an outdoor demonstration that will get Autorama off to a thunderous start.

Three Batmobiles — the 1966 model used by Adam West, the 1989 car from the first Tim Burton film, and the Tumbler from the 2005 Christopher Nolan reboot, “Batman Begins” — will also be on display. So will 10 specially invited ’50s creations in the Cavalcade of Kustoms, and a collection of two-seat SS Thunderbirds from 1955-57 in Ford’s First Feather, all hand-selected by Chuck Miller, a past Ridler winner and renowned car customizer.

For car junkies like Farley, nothing quite compares to the three-day weekend of Autorama. “This is as good as it gets,” he said. “Autorama is the hometown car show, and it draws the best of the best from all over the country.”

This year represents the 17th time in the last 35 years that Farley has showcased a custom vehicle at the event. Looking back on the 40-year voyage that it took to bring his beloved T-Bucket to completion, he would love nothing more than to find himself in the winner’s circle at Autorama.

“Just being accepted into this show is a victory in itself,” he said. “It’s a huge honor just to be invited. But I would really love to win an award for this one. To go to the best hot rod show in the country with a hot rod and end up on the podium would be a dream come true.”

The 61st Annual Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama will take place at Cobo Center in Detroit from noon to 10 p.m. March 8; from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. March 9; and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. March 10. Admission at the gate is $18 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, and free for kids ages 5 and younger. Discount tickets are also available through O’Reilly Auto Parts. For more information, call (248) 373-1700 or visit

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