Hot Rod Innovator and T-bucket Creator Norm Grabowski Passes Away

It is with great sadness that we report the Rod and Custom world has lost another innovator and icon. Norm Grabowski has passed away today at age 79.

Known as the Godfather of the T-bucket, Grabowski grabbed national attention with his first hot rod. As a young man who’d recently been discharged from the military he had moved to California in early 1952. In love with the hot rods he saw at local shows, Grabowski was determined to build one of his own. He purchased a Model A for $100 and soon found that for some reason it could not be registered.

 The Model A was stripped of its body and Grabowski installed the body from a Model T touring sedan along with a shortened bed from a Model A truck. The changes he made to the car made him one of the first to do so. He Z’d the frame, flipped the rear spring and created the suicide front axle and to give the car a racier look he also added some of the removed sections of frame to the front of the car to give it additional length.

A clearance problem caused him to build a six-inch spacer for the rear axle, which gave it a nice looking rake. The car was powered by a Cadillac V-8 borrowed from his parent’s car, whom he had convinced needed a new engine. Eventually the car wore blue paint and flames, as it was most famously known for. It was featured on the cover of Life magazine in the 1950s, and used in several movies as well as the TV show 77 Sunset Blvd.

After an actor had wrecked his Hot Rod on a movie set, Grabowski insisted he’d be the one to drive his car if it were used. So began his stint as a Hollywood stunt driver. He also had parts in several feature films and television shows.

 Grabowski later was one of the first to put a car engine on a motorcycle. He installed the air cooled flat six from a Corvair onto the frame of a ’41 Indian shaft drive. There was no transmission, only a clutch. The bike was dubbed “Six Pack” and striped by Dean Jeffries a protégé of famous hot rod artist Von Dutch.

Still, later in life, Grabowski took his knowledge of woodworking and combined it with his love of cars. Creating skull shift knobs for hot rods. Each of these was hand carved with care, and truly one of a kind.

This legend, innovator, all around nice guy, and friend of the hot rodding world will be dearly missed.

About the author

Don Creason

Don Creason is an automotive journalist with passions that lie from everything classic, all the way to modern muscle. Experienced tech writer, and all around car aficionado, Don's love for both cars and writing makes him the perfect addition to the Power Automedia team of experts.
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