Ron Kregoski

Part 1: A Significant Emotional Event
Ronald Kregoski


car sketch1

It was an unusually warm day for a Michigan April that Saturday in1957. Saturday meant collection day. I had just made my regular midday stop at Well's Drug store in Allen Park. The drugstore marked the two-thirds point of my Detroit Free Press paper route and held the promise of salvaging what remained of a sunny Saturday afternoon. But Wells Drugs was also an oasis of sorts. Planted in the middle of a sea of post war ranches it was the only watering hole for 10 blocks in any direction. A place where I could get a cherry coke, escape the torturous noonday sun and lose myself in the latest hotrod magazine.

That was where I spied that Car Craft on the magazine rack. The adrenalin began to flow when I realized that it was a new edition.  When I removed it to check out whether it


held anything worth separating me from the required 25 cents, I experienced a significant emotional event. Grinning back at me from the cover was the coolest car I had ever seen!

It was a roadster that personified everything that had come to mean 'Hot Rod' to me. There was a special, street mean attitude about it. Perched on a chromed wishbone spring it was severely kicked up in the back, giving it a rakish 'leaning-into-the-attack' stance. It sort of reminded me of one of those cartoon bulls readying for the charge; head down, butt in the air with its legs about to flay the ground for traction. Up front, the radically chopped deuce grille captured your eyes and led them back to the red caddy engine sporting finned valve covers and topped by four gleaming Strombergs. Their red-throated frog stacks were like flared nostrils eager to feed the hungry beast.

Everything about the little car was unique and smacked of contradictions. On one hand it looked street mean, while at the same time the pair of chromed struts supporting the windshield suggested a certain fragility. And who could imagine a luxury Cadillac engine in a modest Model T? The yin and yang of that juxtaposition alone set it apart from the rest of the flathead fare of the day. And it wasn't really a car. It had a pickup truck bed, which was severely shortened. Wow!


Red & orange flames fading to yellow, found their way back from the stainless firewall licking along the dark blue body to the doors outlined in pin striping.  Inside it sported a milk wagon style steering column. And looming high out of the lipstick red interior, perched atop the ridiculously tall shift lever; an oversized skull leered out at the world; SO COOOOL! The chromed pipes were capped

and ran along side of the body and then mysteriously wound out of sight under the rails only to reappear as high tailpipes that arched over the rear wheels. COOL, COOL, COOOOL! I was transfixed!

The whole package shouted, ‘I'm Bad, Don't Mess With Me!’; a message easily resonating with any rebelling 15 year old of the day. For the better part of an hour I read and reread the article held captive by the few available photos and searching in the hopes that there were more photos buried in the back of the magazine. I couldn't put it down, the magazine's hypnotic grip on me only being broken by the druggist’s query, “You gonna buy that? We’re not running a library here!”

I willingly gave up the quarter, remounted my now hopelessly-less-than-adequate bicycle and finished my rounds, stopping periodically to pull out the magazine for another rush of adrenalin. I was in a fog. It completely occupied my mind the rest of the afternoon and I’m sure some customer along the way didn’t get his correct change. It was the birth of an obsession.

Sometime later that same year I came across the car again in Life magazine. Anyone around at the time will remember the full-page picture of Norm Grabowski and friend gnawing on a Bob's Big Boy, the skull shift knob grinning with approval. I remember begging my folks to allow me to cut out and preserve this work of art. It hung in a place of honor in my bedroom, only taking on an even greater reverence as it yellowed with age.

From time to time the car that spurred my passion appeared in other car magazines. And then one day it came to life. I was watching 77 Sunset Strip on TV and all of a sudden there it was in the hands of Ed 'Kookie' Burns, the hip parking lot attendant who was the only reason I watched the show in the first place. I was torn between taking in the brief scene and trying to explain the significance of the car to the adults in the room. Didn't they realize they were witnessing the Holy Grail of cars? Like others in my age group, I tuned in to that

B+W Norm at car show

Norm Grabowski at a Car Show

77 sunset Strip

show week after week in the hopes of getting another glimpse of the object of my obsession

The years passed and I grew up with a focus on college, graduate school and a career substituting for my car passion and the less practical things in life. It wasn't until I was 52 that my passion for street rods was rekindled. But by this time rods had become more sophisticated. Now, rod shops churn out mass quantities of exotic parts; the parts, which were once wrenched from junkyards or fabbed in the garages of America. Today the cars appearing at the Detroit Autorama and Oakland Roadster Show are smooth works of art with chassis’s more detailed than the ones coming off Detroit assembly lines.

But, no matter how exotic the design or detailed the builds you can see today, nothing interrupts my breathing and dilates my pupils the way Norm's car did to that teenager over 50 years ago. To me it will always loom as the quintessential street rod; an archetype and icon of what a hot rod ought to be.

So, after waiting fifty years, I decided to act on my obsession and clone the Grabrowski 'Kookie’s Car'.  I tracked down Norm Grabowski and have been consulting with him on the project. And it has taken over three years to locate some of the hard-to-find parts, but we are there.

While there have been a couple of Kookie’s clones built in past years, they have been lacking in accuracy in some way. I am committed to making mine the closest possible to that little timeless classic that first grinned back at me on that hot April afternoon and have it ready for Autorama March, 2009. I will share the trials and tribulations of that journey over the next few weeks.

Think a good thought and don't forget to put off puttin' off.

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