Norm Grabowski, the man who literally invented the T-Bucket with his famous “Kookie Kar” has passed away. Grabowski’s creation launched hundreds of thousands of copies and even entire cottage industries over the years which is certainly not what the talented craftsman and hot rodder had in mind when he built the car in the early 1950s. The car’s look was revolutionary for the time and featured a pieces from a 1922 Model T, the shortened bed from a Model A pickup truck, a Cadillac engine, and lots and lots of time and fabrication work to make it all look “right”. Grabowski showed and drag raced the car. His success at the strip was so inspirational that Tommy Ivo himself managed to sneak into Grabowski’s garage when he wasn’t home to get measurements and details to built a ‘bucket of his own to take to the drags. We all know what happened with that Ivo character!
The car became literally famous as a member of the cast of the show “77 Sunset Strip” where it was driven around by a character named Kookie, hence the car’s name. So influential was the car that it appeared on the cover of Hot Rod in 1955, Car Craft in 1957, and during the same year it appeared on the cover of Life magazine in an issue where lots of space was devoted to both it and Norm. Why would Life write a cover story about a hot rod and the rodder that built it? Because this single car ignited a craze to build machines just like it around the country. So often in this hobby, things can’t be traced back to a specific point but more a gathering of smaller pieces onto trends and movements that drive things in one direction or another. That’s not the case with T-Buckets. Ground zero was Grabowski’s car, no disputing it.
As the car got famous, so did Norm and he had an acting career for years because the car had opened the often tightly shut doors of show business to him. Grabowski was in many televisions shows and movies over the years. Along with his skills as a hot rodder and actor, Grabowski was a very gifted wood carver and his various artistic creations are highly coveted among hot rod collectors and enthusiasts. Norm was a hot rodder to the end working on a bunch of cool projects and being the generally awesome dude that everyone who knew him says that he was.
Norm joins too many of the foundation level hot rodders that have left us this year. There’s one more bitchin’ ‘bucket hauling ass down the big strip in the sky today.