- Credited with starting the T-bucket craze
- Hot Rod magazine cover in October 1955
- Featured on TV in “Mr. Kagle and the Baby Sitter” in 1956
- Paint, crab-claw flames and pinstripes by Dean Jeffries
- Car Craft cover: April, 1957
- Starred on the TV show “77 Sunset Strip,” in 1958, and was called “Kookie’s Kar” after show character Gerald “Kookie” Kookson III
- Sold to Jim “Street” Skonzakes for $3,000 in 1959
- Later painted Rose Pearl with Candy Red flames by Larry Watson’s House of Style
- The original, unforgettable and one-of-a-kind “Kookie’s Kar”
|Vehicle:||1922 Ford Model T Roadster Pickup|
|Number Produced:||165,356 1922 Runabouts (roadsters)|
|SCM Valuation:||$484,000 (this car)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$250|
|Chassis Number Location:||N/A (sold on a bill of sale only)|
|Club Info:||Goodguys, National Street Rod Association (NSRA)|
|Alternatives:||Any mid-’30s-era period Ford hot rod with magazine cover history|
This car, Lot S114, sold for $484,000, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s Indy 2018 Auction, held May 15–20, 2018 in Indianapolis, IN. It was offered with no reserve.
One of the most popular TV Shows in America in the late 1950s was “77 Sunset Strip,” starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Smith. But the show was stolen by Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, who played a breezy valet car jockey. Byrnes was suave, good-looking, constantly talking in colloquial “jive,” and forever combing his swept-back hair. His personal ride was this radically rodded ’22 Ford Model T roadster pickup, which at the time featured a fully exposed Caddy V8, curly crab-claw flames by Dean Jeffries, a tall white top, exposed headers and exhaust stacks.
Birth of the bucket
Model T hot rods had been popular before this car, but then-22-year-old builder Norm Grabowski devised a radical new look. He took a Model T body and placed it precariously on a shortened, wildly raked and Z-ed Model A frame, with a suicide front end and a tubular axle. The ’52 Cad V8, originally with a 3-71 GMC blower, gave the lightweight plenty of power. A Ross steering box was borrowed from a milk truck. The steering column was mounted almost vertically.
When this T appeared on the cover of Car Craft in April 1957, Grabowski retained its chopped windscreen and added that snappy white top for an almost cartoon-like profile. Tornado headlight brackets were topped with tiny lights that flanked a filled and bobbed ’32 Ford grille shell. The blower, which had been borrowed from a friend, was replaced with a rare four-carb Horne intake, backed by a Jackson Roto-Faze distributor. The Cad was bored to 354 cubic inches and stuffed with a Winfield 7111 cam, and Studebaker rockers ensured it would rev nicely. The ’39 Ford gearbox — trashed after the hot T turned 103 in the quarter-mile — was about to be replaced with a sturdy La Salle 3-speed.
When it first appeared on the cover of Hot Rod, in October 1955, it was called the “Lightning Bug.” After the updates, Car Craft named it “Charmed Chariot.” The Bug’s basic black paint had given way to hot red and yellow flames by Dean Jeffries. And it was pictured in a famous article in Life magazine with Grabowski chomping on a hamburger at Bob’s Big Boy.
Kids all over America (me too!) tuned in to “77 Sunset Strip” just to see “Kookie” wheel that crazy T into the parking lot, vault over the side and run a comb through his hair. “Kookie” and that unforgettable rod were the essence of cool. Edd Byrnes left the TV series for a time toward the end of the second season, and “Kookie’s Kar” was retired after Grabowski sold it to Ohio’s Jim Skonzakes, better known as Jim Street, for $3,000 in 1959.
The more things change
Jim Street, who fancied show rods and customs, wanted his own look. He had Larry Watson repaint the “Kookie T” in Rose Pearl with black-tipped Candy Red flames and white pinstripes. The interior was redone in then-fashionable white pearl button-tufted leather. Street toured the country with the “T” and the “Golden Sahara II,” a futuristic custom Lincoln Capri convertible by George Barris that had appeared in the 1960 comedy film “Cinderfella.”
Unable to resist updating the “Kookie Kar” once more, Street added garish dual headlights, twin superchargers and dual rear slicks. Aping the worst custom practices of that era, he fitted high-back bucket seats and “Zoomie” dragster-style exhaust pipes mounted at 45-degree angles and extending to the top of the windshield.
Meanwhile, “TV” Tommy Ivo built a competitive T-bucket in 1957 and match-raced Grabowski a few times. Countless hot rodders nationwide took T roadster bodies, added big engines, fashioned an impudent stance, and the T-bucket style became immensely popular. They could be built quickly and cheaply. Fiberglass bodies made it even easier. Andy Brizio on the West Coast and Mickey Lauria back East sold components and even complete T-buckets by the hundreds.
After briefly touring both his famous show cars again, Street squirreled them away in his Ohio garage. I talked to him a couple of times, and he was willing to let me see the cars, but regrettably, I never took him up on his offer. Both the Kookie T and the Golden Sahara languished for 50 years until Street (Skonzakes) passed away.
Enter Ross Myers, who owns a superb collection of hot rods, racing cars and classics in his private Boyertown, PA, museum. “I remember the “Kookie Kar” as a kid,” Myers says. “I’d watch “77 Sunset Strip” just to see it. We didn’t have hot rods where I grew up outside of Philadelphia, so I was glued to the TV. I thought that car was so cool. The first hot rod I ever saw, it really started my interest in hot rods. But I thought it was long gone.”
Myers went to the Mecum Indy sale to buy another car, “but when I saw it, I had to have it. I think four guys were bidding on it. They probably all remembered it on TV.” Myers has commissioned Roy Brizio to restore the famous T exactly the way it was on “77 Sunset Strip.” “Roy was out of his mind when I told him,” says Myers, “and then he showed me a photograph of himself in the ‘Kookie Kar’ when he was 6 years old.”
Roy Brizio told me the “Kookie Kar” is largely complete and says they can find any missing pieces. They plan to have it ready for the historic hot rod cover-car class at Pebble Beach in 2019. Brizio’s shop did the award-winning restorations of the Tom McMullen ’32 Ford roadster and the ex-Jack Calori ’36 Ford coupe, so they know the drill.
Nearly 500 grand to buy it and probably half again as much to restore this car represents a princely sum. But how do you put a price on a genuine icon? Given the “Kookie Kar’s” TV notoriety and lasting fame, I think the price paid was a good deal. And like many gray-haired guys nationwide, I can’t wait to see it restored again.
(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)