Ron Kregoski

Part 3: Getting Down To Business
Ronald Kregoski


car sketch1

Now the problem with cloning a street rod from the middle part of the last century .... Geeees that makes me feel old to say that…. is you spend half your time trying to determine how it was done and the other half finding the parts. So it was to be with the cloning of the Kookie Kar.

Thus far, I had settled on Reno Rod & Custom in Oklahoma City to do at least a rolling chassis if not the complete build and had located the forward half of a ’22 Model T Touring sedan like the original.

Next, I tracked down Norm Grabowski who built the original car.  Norm no longer lived in Sundland, California, and now resided in Lead, Arkansas. I could hardly believe I was going to be talking with the guy who is considered to be the father of the T-Bucket if not the builder of my obsession.

He answered the phone with a matter-of-fact, “Hi, this is Norm”.  And it wasn’t long before it was just one Polack talking to another. The next hour or so was filled with what I was doing, why I was doing it and could I call him from time to time for information. Norm answered, “anytime”, and I promised to send him some polish kielbasa and pierogies to him. Hey, what do they know of such delicacies in Arkansas?

Next, I linked up with von Franco, the Northern California striper who cloned Norm’s car in the 1980’s. Franko was as obsessed as myself and did a great job on his clone. It has been seen in many magazines including most recently, Rodder’s Journal. He was a help with some specs and in pointing me in the right direction for other stuff. 

Franko had also, with the help of some of Norm’s photos, produced a DVD called The Car That Ate My Brain. It depicted the history of Norm’s car with moving footage from the ‘50s.  The DVD went on to chronicle how Franko built his Kookie clone as well as Norm’s earlier version which was coined ‘Lightning Bug’ and first graced the cover Hot Rod magazine, October 1955. 

This is a great DVD and will be appreciated by any t-bucket lover and rodder, old school or not. It can be had for the modest sum of $22.95. Google the title and it will lead you to several sites that offer a trailer of the DVD’s highlights. This is well worth looking at whether or not you buy the DVD from

The Body

The guys at Reno jumped on the body and had it torn apart in no time. The first pics they sent me made me think why I risked my life getting this tub in the first place. However, seems it was in better shape than I originally thought and would only need one panel replaced. Besides, I was committed to the use of original Henry’s metal like Norm did.

In an attempt to determine the correct specs, Johnnie and his gang had accumulated every magazine where the car appeared and built an image board. They then took comparison measures. You know, if you know a door is such and such a dimension, you use that in determining the height of the grille shell or set backs etc. It works, but is very time consuming and Gordon spent a lot of it time them. I was told he went to bed at night dreaming of the Kookie Kar and how it went together. Now that’s passion.


First the tub was dismembered.

The Engine

Norm originally used the ’52 Cadillac engine out of the family car. He convinced his dad that the engine was worn out and needed to be replaced and that his dad should get a new one and give the old one to him.  I picturing me asking my dad for the family car’s engine at that age……it wasn’t pretty!

Reno had located a ’53 Caddy and we struck a deal to buy it for $800. The engine was pulled and the body sold off and the engine sent out to be rebuilt with a mild cam added.

My Job

While Reno was cast as the ‘first chair’ builder of the Kookie Kar, I was anxious to get my hands on some part of the build and thought about going down to Oklahoma for a couple weeks. Timing turned my role into a parts chaser for the hard-to-find parts, negotiator for donated parts/devices and builder of some subcomponents that it made sense for me to do and ship there.

A few things which were going to be difficult to locate included a Horne 4x2 manifold for an early Caddy, a Jackson Roto-faze Dualpoint distributor and, as it turned out, the large skull shift knob.

Horne Manifold

As I said earlier, I wanted to use original ford metal in the build to the extent we could and was pleased to locate an original ’32 Ford grille shell.  I sent it along to Johnnie after knocking out the major dents. It needed some more work but I wasn’t sure if they were going to use lead or putty and most of the serious damage was on the bottom. In as much as the original grille was chopped, the lower, damaged area would be cut away anyhow. It made for considerably less money than an original, good ’32 grille usually demands.


The Horne 4x2 was difficult to find

Next, I began putting out feelers for the Horne manifold. But, it wasn’t long before Johnnie called me all excited to exclaim he had located one. I was delighted because I hadn’t been very successful.

It seems that there were very few Horne 4x2’s made before the company was sold to Cragar and recast with their name. The hook was that the guy who owned it wanted to make a mold so that he could now cast them under his company’s name. The price was a bargain, however it took a year of

 persistence and follow-up before we finally wrenched it from his claws. I am grateful to him for letting us have it let alone for the $400 price. After I took the big scratche4s out, It was sent to Patmai for polishing and then to All Metal Finishing for powder clear coating

The Pickup Bed

I located an original pickup bed in Ohio. It needed some work, but was cheap. I had it bead blasted and knocked out the dents. I thought about repairing the damage in the lower front and then remembered that Norm covered the outside of his bed with sheet metal so, again it wouldn’t be seen anyway. I chopped it a little shorter and sent it on its way with a batch of parts I had painted.

Skull Shift Knob

Next in my sites was the skull shift knob. This was a signature feature of the car. However, obtaining one was to prove to be challenging. 

It seems Norm purchased his at Disneyland when he took the little pickup to a car show there. After spending a full two days on the phone talking to everyone at Disneyland save for Walt himself I finally found someone who knew what I was talking about and learned a few things.

First, the skulls were made of industrial plaster by the Randotti company. The owners, Randy and Dotti, were long deceased and the skulls haven’t been available for over 22 years. Great!!! After much searching and eBaying to no avail, I decided to make one. As things happen, after going through the trouble of forming a pretty good copy of a Randotti, I came across a Randotti relative.  She had the remaining original stock and was willing to sell me an original 1960’s skull of


My attempt at reproducing a Disney Skull


An original Randotti skull on modifies shift rod.

the right size and model.. After, lengthening the shift rod 4” and chroming it, then adding the proper blood streaks and an acorn cap, it was sent to Reno.

Johnnie had found some NOS valve covers, I located the finned regulator cover and oil filter canister. After, polishing them and painting the lands the proper shade of red and clear coating everything they joined my locker at Reno Rod & Custom. By now I had earned my own parts locker…..I was becoming a player.

The Bucket

By this time Johnnie’s team had torn down the bucket and replaced the backrest sheetmetal . After reassembling it and adding a fresh wood kit they reinforced the backrest with steel tubing. It was starting to resemble Norm’s little bucket.


6 A Jackson Rotofaze Dualpoint distributor; the Holy Grail of Old School gofast equipment.

Jackson Roto-faze Dual Point Distributor

An item I knew would be difficult to locate was the Jackson Roto-faze Dual Point Distributor. They were made in Southern California in the late 50’s and at that time were the state of the art. I contacted the company, which still exists, and talked with Joe Panek, the son of the originalator. It seems they still made high quality racing distributors but nothing like the original Roto-faze, which had a large cast base with dual coils and 4-wire caps feeding each bank. 

Joe said he hadn’t seen one in years and didn’t even have enough parts to build one. However if I found one in any condition he could repair it. The quest began. Little did I know that quest would stretch to 2 years and take me to New Zealand.

After, putting out feelers to every old school rodder and every rodder who was old that I knew, including Squeak Bell in California, I began to be concerned. It seems these units were built to order for the racing community and it was possible that only 36 or so were ever made. The few I tracked down were in early build street rods and considered sacred. I even found one guy who had one in a glass case in his trophy room. He refused to even let it out just so we could get the specs.  I was considering ways we could fabricate something to resemble one, but without specs or even good photos which showed the whole unit, we were groping in the dark. Then it happened!

After placing a $200 reward on H.A.M.B. for anyone who could lead me to one or enough parts to fabricate one, I received an email. It was from Craig Cote of Traditional Speed Supply and the Kiwi Connection in New Zealand.

“Do you still need one of these original twin cap Rotofaze dissys? I have a customer with one, which he will sell if it is going to a good cause. It has apparently been fitted but not used.”

Craig was great. Not only did he help negotiate a reasonable price from the owner who thought he was selling a body part but, he offered to bring it with him to the US.  He further offered to drop it off at Joe Panek’s shop to be refitted for our Caddy when he was here for Speed Week. I am grateful and very indebted to Craig for all his kind assistance.  I am also appreciative of Joe Panek who weaved his magic in converting it to a user friendly companion for our early Caddy engine.

So, things were starting to come together. Next time you’ll learn about the chassis and some special fabrication. Until then, think a good thought and don’t forget to put off puttin’ off.

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