Norm Grabowski's 1922 Ford
1922 Ford Model T Roadster owned and built by Norm Grabowski of Sunland, California. Known as "The Kookie Kart," Norm’s T-Bucket hit the scene like an atom bomb in the mid-1950s, and it started a T-Bucket craze that spread across the nation like wildfire.
- 1 The Lightning Bug
- 2 The Kookie T
- 3 Life Magazine appearance
- 4 77 Sunset Strip
- 5 Peter Gunn - Sisters of the Friendless
- 6 The Skonzakes Iteration
- 7 Dual Headlights and Superchargers
- 8 Out of Storage
- 9 Clones
- 10 The Car That Ate My Brain
- 11 SOLD - $440,000 USD
- 12 Restoration
- 13 Movie and TV Appearances
- 14 Magazine Features and Appearances
- 15 References
The Lightning Bug
In 1952 Norm bought a fenderless 1931 Ford Model A V-8 roadster for $100. The A body was swapped for the front half of a 1922 Ford Model T touring with a shortened Model A pickup bed. 20 some inches were removed of the rear framerails, starting six inches forward of the cross member. Up front, Norm installed a Ross steering box from a milk truck. A Bell three-spoke steeringwheel was then installed nearly in a vertical position. Once completed, it steered backwards, so Norm drove it over to Valley Custom Shop for a fix. Neil Emory did also make a special raked-back and shortened windshield for Norm's bucket. Valley Custom Shop did also give the car a black paint job before Norm had Tony Nancy stitch a red rolled and pleated interior.
Because California law required the use of fenders on all vehicles weighing over 1500 pounds, there was some question as to whether Norm's rod would qualify as legally fit. Fortunately for Norm, the car tipped the scales a few pounds below the mark. The build was completed in 1955 amd it was in its first black version that the car caught the eyes of TV producers. This version of the car was featured in The Ford Television Theatre - Season 4, Episode 36, - Mr. Kagle and the Baby Sitter.
The Kookie T
By November of 1956, Norm had added a four deuce manifold and a wild flame job to the car. Valley Custom Shop gave the car its 1956 Dodge Royal Blue paint job, while Dean Jeffries applied the flames and pinstriping. Later on, Norm told Richard Noble that he made the grill for this version of the car out of heavy gauge wire that was woven. He took it apart to polish before he had it chromed. Richard asked Norm where he found the wire, but he couldn't remember that at the time.
Life Magazine appearance
A photo of the Kookie T appeared in Life Magazine April 29, 1957. It was taken under the lights at Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake, with Norm wolfing down dinner. Posters were later made showing the car on the cover of that magazine.
This version of the car was the version that appeared as the car of Beatnik-lingo valet Edd "Kookie" Byrnes on the TV series 77 Sunset Strip. This is the car that launched the T-bucket craze, as well as Grabowski's long career as a character actor, usually playing good-natured oafs named "Moose" or "Bronko."
Norm and the Kookie T appeared in an episode of the show Peter Gunn in 1958. It was on TV for three seasons, and Norm and the Kookie T appeared in episode number 13 in season one, in an episode entitled "Sisters of the Friendless."
The Skonzakes Iteration
In 1959 Norm sold the roadster to Jim Skonzakes of Dayton, Ohio. Jim purchased the car for $3,000. After buying it, he brought it to Larry Watson at Watson's House of Style for a cosmetic makeover. Larry gave the car a Rose Pearl paint job with Candy Red flames. The flames featured black tips and white pinstriping. Inside it received a white pearl-button tufted interior.
Dual Headlights and Superchargers
After touring the car for a while, Jim had it fitted with dual headlights, dual superchargers, dual slicks, and zoomie headers as tall as the windshield. In 2017 Norm's bucket was still owned by Jim Skonzakes, kept in storage next to The Golden Sahara.
Out of Storage
Several clones of the car have been built over the years. Von Franco has built two perfect clones of both Grabowski versions of the car.
In 2008 Piero DeLuca created a documentary movie about the famous Model T Roadster called The Car That Ate My Brain. In the movie Von Franco tells the history of Norm’s car along with never before seen home movies and pictures.
SOLD - $440,000 USD
In March of 2018 Mecum Auctions announced that the Kookie Kar would cross the block at Dana Mecum's 31st Original Spring Classic Auction in May. The auction was held May 19, 2018 at Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the Kookie Kar was offered without a reserve. The car received several bids, and the auction ended at $440,000 USD. Ross Myers of Pennsylvania was the lucky bidder, adding the car to his collection.
Movie and TV Appearances
Magazine Features and Appearances
Car Craft July 1957
Trend Book 143 Restyle Your Car
Rods Illustrated August 1959
Rod & Custom September 1959
Rodding and Re-styling January 1961
How to Hop-Up Your Engine January 1962
Rodders Journal Number 36
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