HomeNews and Events'Kookie’s Kar' rejoins Golden Sahara II at Mecum’s Indy auction

‘Kookie’s Kar’ rejoins Golden Sahara II at Mecum’s Indy auction


Norm Grabowski built and Jim Skonzakes modified the famed ‘Kookie’s Car’ | Mecum Auction photos

Those of a certain age grew up watching 77 Sunset Strip each week on ABC and, long before there was a Fonzie of Happy Days, they encountered Kookie, a slick-haired parking-lot valet and would-be private eye who drove a stunning 1922 Ford Model T-Bucket hot rod.

The car, originally built by Norm Grabowski and called the Lighnin’ Bug, made the covers of Hot Rod, Car Craft and even Life magazines, but became famous as “Kookie’s Kar” because of its television-series popularity and that of its owner, Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III.

Edd Byrnes, the actor who portrayed the character, became so popular with young viewers that he left the show in a demand for more money. Byrnes would return, and in an even larger role. However, in the meantime, Kookie’s car was sold by Grabowski to Jim “Street” Skonzakes, who revised the hot rod and toured it alongside his Golden Sahara custom car before locking them both away in storage.

Both cars were found after Skonzakes’ death late last year and Kookie’s Kar will be offered for sale alongside what has become known as the Golden Sahara II at Dana Mecum’s 31st Original Spring Classic auction scheduled for May 15-19 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.

“This (car) is the catalyst of the T-Bucket Craze,” Mecum Auctions noted in its news release, “the very car that launched a massive movement among early Hot Rodders to achieve that signature look: the two-seater Model T-style body, dramatic forward rake and of course, the oversized, exposed engine to ‘drive’ the whole package home.”

However, the auction house added, “Street — famous for his wild, over-the-top customizations — wasn’t satisfied with merely owning the celebrated car; he had to get his ‘signature’ on it as well, and so, he took the car to Watson’s House of Style for a makeover,” Mecum Auctions notes in its news release.

Grabowski built the car in the early 1950s on a 1931 Ford Model A roadster chassis using the front half of a 1922 Model T and the shortened rear half of a Model A pickup, Mecum said. For power, Grabowski installed a 1952 Cadillac V8 and supercharger.

Grabowski also chopped out various sections of the frame and made other alterations to get the car’s stance just so. He installed the steering box from a milk truck, but installed it backward so that turning the steering wheel left would cause the hot rod to turn right, a problem that was fixed, but not until he’d driven the car that way from his home to a custom car shop.

The car made its television debut in the Mr. Kagle and the Babysitter series in 1956, but it was damaged during filming. Grabowski made repairs, and also removed the supercharger, adding instead four Stromberg 97 carburetors. The car originally was black and red with a rolled-and-pleated leather interior, but Dean Jeffries was enlisted to paint it Dodge Royal Blue with flames and pinstripes.

After Skonzakes took ownership, he had it done in Rose Pearl with Candy Red flames with black tips and white pinstripes, and the interior was done in white pearl-button tufted leather. He later added dual headlamps, dual superchargers, dual slicks and high-back bucket seats and “Zoomie” exhaust pipes.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. I don’t like being the one to tell you, but this car is not the real Kookie Car. The real Kookie car was restored at Arizona’s, Arizona rod Shop 20 years ago. Fred Wagonal owned it then and Rod Palmer restored the original car and stayed true to the way it was built the first time by Norm Grabovski, I don’t know who built this car but whoever wrote this story is full of crap. This car isn’t even close to the original, Yal better get your facts straight before you put out an article that isn’t true.

    • Lance, I checked with Rod Palmer of Arizona Street Rods fame and his recollection is that the car that was worked on at his shop was a copy, built in Mesa AZ at Squeeg’s Kustoms, of the original Kookie’s Kar. I’m in the process of trying to contact Squeeg Jerger’s son to confirm that information.

      • As a pre-teen, and barley teen, I know that this abomination is NOT the T-bucket originally seen in glorious black and white. Kookie’s car had no superchargers, no ridiculous upward pipes, just a couple of carbs and a normal T-bucket look. Better to fact check….. than to sound stupid.

  2. Sure doesn’t look like the original Kookie car as I remember it from the TV (good photos on Google refreshed my memory).
    Such a pity if it is the Sunset Strip Car cause that in its TV form was a good looking hot rod.

    • This car has been in Street’s possession since acquired from Norm. It is the original car, and has never left his stable….ever! I’ve worked on it and toured with it and involved with it’s conversion and it’s short life as a feature before Jim quit touring and devoted all his time to his new security business. ‘Everybody is an authority on things they no nothing about! The car mentioned is a great clone.

      • I watched that show as a kid and now watch reruns. No way that is the original, you can even ask Ed Byrnes himself. He is 84 and lives in Ca. I believe it was Revell or AMF that made the model of it. I even remember building it back in the day and wish that I had saved all those car models.
        Good luck trying to sell that weird "knock off" I don’t believe it is even street legal.

        • Anyone that says they remember building a model of this car is living in lala land! No one ever did a kit of this car.


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