In 1955, Norm Grabowski began building a hot rod that was based on a 1931 Model A V-8 but quickly changed to a 1922 Model T touring car that he mated to a Model A pickup bed.
Taking things a step further, Norm mounted the front axle ahead of the front crossmember in what was soon to be known as the T-bucket, this style of car would become the most popular type of hot rod in the history of automotive customization.
At the time, California vehicle code required fenders for vehicles over weighing over 1,500 pounds, Norm had to get the weight down until the car tipped the scales a few pounds under the mark. He called it the “Lightning Bug.”
Originally painted a sinister black, the car began to make it into magazines and on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine in 1955. Norm added Dodge Royal blue paint and a flame paint job to the rod, highlighted by pinstriping by Dean Jeffries, which adding to the bad boy look. Next he swapped out the GMC 3-71 blower with a four deuce manifold with four Stromberg 97s bolted to the top of the powerful Cadillac overhead valve engine.
Shortly after, he added more rake to the body and tilted the windshield back. In this configuration the car appeared in Car Craft and Life magazines. Norm’s Lightning bug became a star when it was chosen to be the vehicle driven by the Ed Byrnes character Gerald “Kookie” Kookson in 77 Sunset Strip. The car was referred to as the Kookie Kar after that.
Grabowski rented the car out to several movie and TV shows after that. Norm sold the hot rod in 1959 to show-car enthusiast Jim Skonzakis and unfortunately the original car has gone through several owners and has been repainted and hacked beyond recognition. Franco “Von Franco” Costanza built two highly accurate clones of the car. The Kookie Kar clone, now owned by John LaBelle, is a living tribute to one of hot rodding’s most iconic cars.
Lightning Bug Specs:
- 20-inches removed from the rear frame
- Rear rails supported with Z configuration
- Front frame extended five-inches
- Steering column mounted near vertically
- Body channeled six-inches over the frame
- 1952 Cadillac V-8 with a GMC 3-71 supercharger
- Black paint
- Red rolled and pleated upholstery by Tony Nancy
- False rails covering the patched frame