Norm Grabowski

Norm Grabowski
Born February 5, 1933
Died October 12, 2012 (aged 79)

Norm Grabowski (February 5, 1933 – October 12, 2012) was an American hot rod builder and actor. The heavy set crew cut-wearing Grabowski appeared in minor roles in many films produced by Albert Zugsmith and Walt Disney. He was Polish-American.[1]

In 1952, after leaving military service, Grabowski built a hot rod based on a shortened 1922 Ford Model T touring car mated to a similarly extremely shortened Model A pickup truck bed. With a powerful Cadillac overhead valve engine that came from his parents' sedan, the vehicle that resulted had a unique appearance and stance which inspired many hot rods created afterward. The car was first featured on the cover of the October, 1955 issue of Hot Rod Magazine and then underwent further modifications, including a greater rake, tilted windshield and blue paint with flames when it famously appeared in color on the cover of the April, 1957 issue of Car Craft magazine as well as in the April 29, 1957 issue of Life Magazine.[2]

Grabowski's hugely influential T-bucket hot rod, which became known as the Kookie Kar, was used in the television show 77 Sunset Strip. The car was owned and driven in the show by the character Kookie who was played by Edd Byrnes.[3]

As a consequence of the magazine exposure, Grabowski was approached about renting the car out to appear in movies and television shows. The contacts he made in this way led to an acting career for Grabowski. He appeared in television shows, including The Monkees, Batman (episodes 39 and 40 in 1966) and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and films such as High School Confidential (1958), The Beat Generation (1959), The Big Operator (1959), Girls Town (1959), College Confidential (1960), Sex Kittens Go to College (1960), The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964), Roustabout (1964), Girl Happy (1965), The Monkey's Uncle (1965), Out of Sight (1966), Blackbeard's Ghost (1968), The Towering Inferno (1974), Hooper (1978) and The Cannonball Run (1981).

Grabowski was known as a wood carver, and many hot rods and custom cars feature his unique hand-carved skull gearshift knobs. He retired from acting in the 1980s after The Cannonball Run.

Grabowski died the morning of October 12, 2012, at the age of 79.[4]


  2. p.165 Vincent, Peter Hot Rod: The Photography of Peter Vincent 2004 Motorbooks
  3. p.74 Grushkin, Paul Rockin' Down the Highway 2006 MBI Publishing
  4. Taylor, Thom (October 12, 2012). "Norm Grabowski - Father of the T-Bucket and Hot Rodding's Clown Prince". Hot Rod. Retrieved 2012-10-15.

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