After owning one of the fastest T-buckets in the country in his youth, Craig Date decided to build one even faster 15 years on

As a young and impressionable teenager Craig Date had a love affair with rotary-powered vehicles. However, that all changed one night cruising the streets of central Auckland when a wild-looking T-bucket pulled up at the lights next to him. That bucket belonged to local chassis builder extraordinaire Terry Bowden and had run as fast as 10.0 down the quarter mile. Obviously Craig was well and truly thrashed at the traffic lights that night, and it was from then on that he had a love affair with that vehicle. Luckily for him, it wasn’t too long before the car came up for sale. Whether he could really afford it or not, he knew he had to have it and sold everything he could to get his hands on it. Craig owned the car for three years, adding new heads and a different nitrous setup to it and running a best of 9.3 at 143mph in it before life got in the way and the car was sold on. Eventually it found its way to Australia, and more recently has returned and been completely rebuilt by a friend of Craig’s, but that’s another story.

Five years ago, Craig found himself in a position where he wanted a distraction from life, and another bucket was just the thing. Better still, long-time friend and owner of an automotive fabrication shop, Brendan Halpin of Rad Rides, happened to have one partially built sitting in the corner. The box-section chassis had been built with an impressive 12-point cage and a massive 17-inch rear kick to get it sitting down super low, but Brendan didn’t have a motor for it, nor the motivation to see it through to completion.

It didn’t take long for the pair to come up with a deal, which saw Craig supply a motor and the pair share joint custody of the vehicle. Not too far into the build, Brendan wanted out to free up time and money, so Craig wisely bought the chassis and set about completing it himself.
He worked on the car for two hours a night and half a day on the weekends with the intention of debuting at Beach Hop 2007. One week out from the event it was obvious the car wasn’t going to make it, until his boss at the time pulled all the staff off the customer jobs and put them on to the bucket. With minutes to spare and a serious lack of sleep, the lads made it to the event and the car ran like a dream… a slightly warm one, however.

Running the car with open headers, some flat black primer on the body and with plenty of finishing still required gave Craig the motivation to see the car completed. The big block Chev which powers the machine is an impressive bit of gear, and Craig is fast to let everyone know that he could never have achieved such a strong combination without the help of George Painton at Painton Racing who screwed it all together.

The Gen 5 four-bolt block is fitted with a steel crank, I-beam rods and Ross Racing pistons to displace 468ci. With CNC ported alloy Airflow Research heads, a pair of 660cfm centre squirter carbs and an Aeromotive fuel system, the combination has pumped out 700hp on the engine dyno. T-buckets are far from being the heaviest cars around, in fact, this one weighs just 925kg all up, so with 700hp on tap it’s a seriously rapid machine. Light weight aside, a solid driveline was needed to ensure the power could make it out to the massive 31.5x18.5x15 Mickey Thompson rear tyres without breaking anything on the way.

George was tasked with the job of toughening up a Turbo 400 trans and fitting it with a 4000rpm stall converter and shift kit. The 9-inch diff that Brendan had in the car originally remains, although is now fitted with Strange axles. After the Beach Hop debut, Craig continued to drive the car a bit more before worrying about the looks of it. When the time came though, his fiancé Sarah was a big help in stripping the car back down to a chassis before the body was sprayed in its new coat of gloss black by Dave and Leigh at Ultimate Coast Customs. 

That gloss black was recently added to by the legendary Steve Levine, who painted ‘truefire’ style flames on both sides of the tub. Adding to the flamed-up theme is a flame-style stitch on the seats, which was done by Cut Loose Upholstery.

With Craig’s fabrication abilities and attention to detail, the build has gone remarkably smoothly, with the only difficult thing to date being the seemingly impossible task of keeping the engine cool. Three radiators later and Craig seems to have found the solution in the form of an Aussie Desert Cooler radiator and electric water pump.

With the cooling sorted, he’s given the car a few fun runs down the strip, with an impressive 9.3-second pass straight off the trailer. Not bad at all for a street legal and street-driven car on its first pass! The nitrous bottle and 250hp fogger kit is a recent addition which hasn’t been put to use as yet, but will see the car run deep into the 8-second zone. Engine builder George is keen to build up a 500-plus cubic inch motor for the car too, but with a power-to-weight ratio of near on 1hp/kg as is (including nitrous) even Craig can see that may be a touch too much.
Life seems to go full circle, as these days it's Craig who can be found cruising in the T-bucket on the streets of Auckland, and many young Japanese car drivers looking on in admiration as he did all those years ago. The only difference being, at this stage at least, he’s certainly got no thoughts of selling the car to any of them. He’s made the mistake of selling his dream car once already and has vowed never to do it again. 

  • Engine: 468ci big block Chev, steel crank, Ross Racing pistons, I-beam rods, Gen 5 4-bolt block, ARP fasteners, electric water pump, SFI balancer, CNC machined Airflow Research heads, Earson roller cam, Harland Sharp roller rockers, Holley 660 centre squirter carbs, Pro Shot 250hp nitrous fogger, Holley Pro Dominator tunnel ram, Aeromotive fuel pump, Aeromotive 4-port regulator, MSD 7AL ignition, custom headers, Aussie Desert Cooler radiator
  • Driveline: Turbo 400 trans, shift kitted, 4000rpm stall, 9-inch diff, Strange axles, Brute Force driveshaft
  • Suspension: 4-link, suicide front end, SuperBell axle friction shocks, QA1 rear shocks
  • Brakes: Wilwood discs and callipers
  • Wheels/tyres: 15x3-1/2 and 15x14-inch Weld Superlite rims, 31.5x18.5x15 Mickey Thompson tyres, Michelin front tyres
  • Exterior: Fibreglass body, shortened tray, gloss black, ‘truefire’ airbrushing
  • Chassis: Box-section rails, 17-inch rear kick, 12-point cage
  • Interior: Hurst Pistol Grip shifter, Auto Meter gauges, carbon-fibre dash, 
  • Performance: 700hp + nitrous, 9.3 at 146mph (no nitrous)
  • Owner: Craig Date
  • Age: 39
  • Occupation: Panelbeater/fabricator
  • Previously Owned cars: Roof-chopped RX-7, RX-3, Terry Bowden’s old T-bucket, GTR Skyline
  • Why the T-Bucket? I used to own one and know how good the power-to-weight feels. At 925kg, it goes hard!
  • Build Time: Five years and counting
  • Length of ownership: Five years
  • Craig Thanks: George Painton at Painton Racing, Dave and Leigh at Ultimate Coast Customs, Steve Levine at Imaginairing, Brendan Halpin at Rad Rides, Sarah my wife to be, for her hard work helping strip engines and prepping stuff for paint

This article originally appeared in NZV8 Issue No. 76. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below:

Todd Wylie

Todd Wylie has been involved with NZV8 magazine since before the first issue was printed, and has been the editor for the last eight years. Growing up in the heyday of the Jap-import scene, he's not adverse to Japanese vehicles, having worked for NZ Performance Car previously, as well as owning a few well-known examples. These days he cruises at a slower pace in a 1956 Cadillac Coupe and dreams of building a Model A tudor.