Remembering My Uncle Norm

Norm Grabowski: “El Polacko”

Norm Grabowski — El Polacko — was larger than life, an icon, one of hot rodding’s most engaging, most pioneering, most memorable characters. His gushing vitality was undeniable and everlasting. He was my Uncle! He passed from this life on October 12, 2012. He is missed by friends and family, near & far!

His Caddy powered ‘27 T-Bucket brought national attention to the hot rodding scene when it was featured in the April 29, 1957 issue of Life Magazine. It wasn’t long before the car caught the eye of Hollywood types, who rented the car from Norm for $50 a day for movies and TV shows

The car appeared in a handful of hot rod B-movies in the mid-’50s, and more importantly, in the hit TV show 77 Sunset Strip. Ever since, Grabowski’s T-bucket has been known as the Kookie Kar. Norm and the car went on to bring celebrity status to hot rodding. As his hot rodding exploits gathered steam, he took on work as a Hollywood stuntman and appeared in several mainstream movies including Cannonball Run and many others (see filmography).

In 1994, Norm debuted a new Kookie - a ‘33 Ford phaeton tub, dubbed “Kookie II” which he took on a national tour with the car and Norm ultimately landed on the cover of STREET RODDER Magazine. His latest project, “The El Polacko” 1937 Ford flatbed truck shows off many Norm attributes including his wood working prowess and his humor with a “Boogie ‘Til Ya Puke” slogan emblazoned on the side. Through his larger than life personality, his many hot rods and hot rod hijinx, Normie Poo has served the hot rodding hobby well over the years! Thanks Norm! We all luv ya!

Grabowski on the Origins of the T-Bucket

Back when Norm Grabowski built the "Kookie Car" he didn't know what he was doing, so he just told people what he wanted (including a Dean Jeffries flame job). Since then his mechanical skills (and his résumé) have increased considerably. The car was good for Norm, and even better for hot rodding.

Until his death, Norm lived in semi-retirement in Northern Arkansas, carving radical skull shift knobs out of wood blocks. But his contribution to the hobby lives on... every time a T-bucket turns a wheel in anger.

[Check out for an excellent gallery of Norm's skulls.]


According to Street Rodder Magazine, the Oct. '55 issue of Hot Rod was Norm Grabowski's first magazine ink with his roadster, which the editors dubbed, "Lightnin' Bug." Note Tim Miller's Ardun-powered '25 T from Portland, Oregon, sharing the cover, which the editors christened "Frightenin' Freighter." There are similarities and differences between the two, but in the end, only Norm's style would go on to become the "T-bucket." Note, too, that for lack of a better description of open Model T's with truncated pickup beds, they were called "Tailgate Torpedoes."


Legendary page No. 137 from the April 29, 1957 edition of Life, not the cover as popular folklore dictates. Life photographers had followed Norm around for quite some time, but he was blissfully unaware until he pulled into Bob's Drive-in in Toluca Lake, California, for a snack. Boy, did he have a surprise coming.

The Kookie Kar
Norm Grabowski, The Kookie Kar, and Everything

Grabowski T: Profile of a Hot Rod

Uncle Norm's car became known as the "T-bucket," and

emerged as one of the most popular in hot-rodding history.

(See the Wikipedia Listing Here)

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