Norm Grabowski and Kookie II (from Feb. 2002)

At this year’s Turkey Run in Daytona we were not only delighted to see all the cool cars and great friends we have come to expect from the biggest show in the southeast, we also had a special guest....Norm Grabowski. It was a good experience on many levels. Not only is Norm one of the pioneers of hot rodding, he is also one heck of a nice, and entertaining guy. Throughout the course of the weekend many people came up to our booth to not only meet Norm himself, but to also check out his latest ride, Kookie II. Yet to fully understand where it came from a little history is needed.

Norm got an early start in the hot rod world. After leaving the service in 1952 he purchased a 1931 Model A with a V-8 for $100. Soon it was decided to replace the Model A body with that of a ‘22 T touring up front, and a shortened Model A pickup bed out back....a style that was brand new at the time. To get the proportions that he liked, the rear frame rails were shortened about 20 inches, and the front extended about 5 inches. There where a whole list of other modifications as well, all of which resulted in a new and unique looking car....which has since been dubbed the “Grand daddy” of all T-Buckets, and replicated many times over. Once complete, the black painted car was then featured on the October, 1955 cover of Hot Rod magazine. A couple years later Life magazine was doing a hot rod themed issue, and after tracking him down, a full page photo of Norm inside the car at Bob’s Drive-In ran in the April 29, 1957 issue.

About this same time there was also interest from Hollywood studio types about renting the car to appear in movies, to which Norm agreed. Though it had already been in other things, many of you will no doubt remember the car as the real centerpiece of 77 Sunset Strip, a TV detective show which debuted in 1958 staring Ed Byrnes as “Kookie” (though young viewers were always waiting to spot the T-Bucket, which was now painted blue with Dean Jeffries flames). Through these experiences Norm also wound up in approximately 34 movies himself, some of which included two Elvis movies, a slew of Beach Party movies, Monkey’s Uncle, Hooper and Cannon Ball Run (with Burt Reynolds), Son Of Flubber, The Towering Inferno, and many more.

Getting back to the present, let’s fast forward about 30 years, when Norm set his sights on yet another of his unique creations....Kookie II. It is an all steel 1929 Ford 2-Door Sedan which was salvaged from a rusty donor, complete with bullet holes (the ones in the back were left for effect). The top was cut off, and Merlin Berg of Iowa took on the amazing task of getting the body back into shape. It now wears a laid-back ‘33 Dodge grill shell, a hood by Zipper Motors, and one of the first DuVall windshields made for a ‘29 Ford. Underneath is a stretched ‘32 Ford frame by Pete & Jake’s, which has a Super Bell front axle and disc brakes concealed by finned rotor covers to keep the nostalgic appearance. The body was painted Dodge Stealth Blue with vintage style flames, and the wheels are one-off billet units by Boyd Coddington, with Norm’s design input, which are now painted PPG Bitchin’ Red wrapped in wide whites.

Under the hood is a 500 cubic inch Cadillac bored .030 over, and topped by a B&M supercharger and Holley throttle body. A Turbo 400 automatic leads back to the 9 inch Ford rear end equipped with 3.00:1 gears. The unique exhaust came from Sanderson supplied materials, to which Lou Berger of Stainless Specialties then added the eye-catching side pipes.

Inside Harvey Hollman from Indiana lent his expertise. The seats actually started out as wood Italian office chairs, which were then reinforced with steel tubing and made to recline. A hand formed rear seat was fabricated, which conceals the custom stainless steel fuel cell fabricated by Tanks Inc. Everything was then covered in Corvette red leather, and given a retro rolled and pleated look. Norm himself crafted many of the interior accent items, including the hand formed dash, aluminum gauge bezel, one-of-a-kind wood door handles, and the aluminum, brass and wood steering wheel (with help from his good friend Herb Estes who did the brass engraving). Of course he also topped the long-shafted shifter with one of his now famous far-out carved skull creations, tying the whole unique package together with a decidedly Grabowski flair.

Kookie II was the focus of a full buildup in Street Rodder, and graced the cover of the January, 1994 issue upon completion. The car was brought down from Norm’s Arkansas residence to the Turkey Run inside the “Kookie Monster”, a transportation vehicle that is certainly unique in its own right too, though still under construction. It started as a Mac Tools truck, which Norm then modified, and fitted with a ‘37 Ford front end and mock DuVall windshield.

Norm still regularly makes appearances at various major shows, where his personality and past draw large crowds. Plus he is still turning out some of the best woodworking you have ever seen (trust us, we looked through his photo album of projects). If you’re interested in one of his wild shifter knob creations (each of which take a week or more to be hand carved) give us a call at (407) 290-3026 and we’ll relay the message to Norm. We just felt lucky to have Norm at the Mike Kelly’s Cruise News booth for the Turkey Run, and have just a little of his fun-loving personality rub off on us and brighten our days. Hopefully many of you reading this got a chance to stop by and meet him too, an experience you are will likely not soon forget. CN