Obituary: Norm Grabowski


Hot Rod Legend, Norm Grabowski, of Lead Hill, Arkansas, formerly of Sunland, California where he was an actor, performer, comedian, and car builder/designer, died on October 12, 2012 at 5:50 in the morning. He never really retired from acting, he acted up all his life, just ask anyone who knew him. He’d been called many things by many people, but mostly by Himself: Woo-Woo, Normie Poo, El Polacko, Father of the T-Bucket, the Rod God (should be a lower case “g” but you know how it is with titles), and those near and dear to him called him Uncle Norm. He is survived by his big sister, Joan Chwastek, (Galena, MO). He helped raise his sister Joan’s two children, Norm Farnum (Galena, MO) and Mary (Farnum) Birdsong (Jenkins, MO). Most dear to him were his nieces Mary, Diane, Doni and Ginger, nephews Norm and John, grand nieces Witney, Hannah, Maggie and grand nephews Chad, Josh, Christian, Daniel, Benjamin, Nathaniel and Matthew as well as many other people who loved Norm and also called him “Uncle Norm”. But simply, Norm will suffice, even though there was clearly nothing simple about Norm Grabowski. Everything in Norm’s life was intertwined: from car building to acting to singing, to woodworking artist; it’s impossible to separate one from the other. All were a part of his creative genius!

To say Norm influenced the world of Hot Rodding is just touching the surface. Norm the car builder was daring and willing to take chances: with his “Kookie II”, “1923 Hennway”, “Kinda Fresh Fish” truck and “Boogie ‘Til You Puke” flat-bed truck. Over the years his creations have boiled down to a highly recognizable Grabowski-style, no matter the vehicle type. He even stretched the limits of two-wheeled street machines with two Corvair-powered motorcycles: the “Six-Pack” and “PP n’ Vinegar”. When his ’22 roadster came into our living rooms on Friday evenings as the car-star of 77 Sunset Strip in the late ’50s/early ’60s, he inspired literally generations to build their own version of the “Kookie Car”. Norm’s creative efforts also helped launch many entrepreneurs who now serve what has grown into a huge street-rod industry!

Possibly even more responsible for bringing Norm’s car into our lives was the very popular “Life” magazine. The 1957 April 29th edition introduced Hot Rodding as its theme, and included a full-page shot of Norm in his T-bucket at Bob’s Drive-in in Toluca Lake, Calif. (on page 137). As Norm tells the tale: “Life magazine shot the car when I was in Hollywood one night. They were following me around trying to get me to stop, and I didn’t know it. Finally I stopped at the drive-in. They took about 200 pictures that night… just unbelievable!” Norm continued to be immortalized in print by such magazines as “Street Rod “, “Car Craft”, “Rod & Custom” and numerous others.

Norm the actor was also immediately recognizable for his boisterously extroverted public persona, which in turn hides behind the colorful facade of an extremely talented woodworker whose forte for carving was mostly directed towards (but not restricted to) carving giant, adult-sized rocking horses for the rich and famous (Burt Reynolds was one of his early customers) and one-of-a-kind skull shifter knobs from local and exotic woods for Rodders throughout the world.

Norm would also have been recognized in many films being cast by Walt Disney in “Black Beard’s Ghost”, “The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit”, “Herbie Rides Again”, “The Monkey’s Uncle”, “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones”, “Son of Flubber”, and “The Gnome-Mobile” just to name a few. He appeared in many other movies and television shows, including “Darby’s Rangers” (his first movie appearance), “High School Confidential”, “Towering Inferno” “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”, “The Beverly Hillbilly’s”, “The Munsters”, “Fantasy Island” and “The New Phil Silvers Show”. He also did numerous TV commercial spots. As per special request of Elvis Presley, Norm was cast in “Roustabout” and “Girl Happy”. He also appeared in “Hooper” and “Cannonball Run” with Burt Reynolds. Most recently he appeared with Jesse James on “Monster Garage”… and, the list goes on.

Norm the minstrel commenced his musical-entertainment career with a nightclub act in southern California. After moving his family to the Ozarks in 1972, he worked briefly at Diamond Hills Country Club as a single, and performed occasionally with his niece and nephew, Mary & Norm, doing special events. He went on to entertain in Branson with his nephew at Silver Dollar City (1977) and later at the Roy Clark Theater (1983) doing stage shows & musical comedy routines as “Norm & Ab-Norm”, not unlike he began… Guess who was who? He also hosted or special-guested many street-rod events around the country throughout the years. He even went to England once for a show.

A celebration of Norm’s life (pot luck lunch) will be at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, November 3, 2012 in Diamond Hills Country Club in Diamond City, Arkansas. Please RSVP to Mary Birdsong (417-847-7467). To be included in this Memorial to celebrate his life, please send your e-mail, name and phone to and you will be contacted with details. This is the only valid e-mail address for Norm. And we’ve been working with Uncle Norm as he has been planning to do The Norm Grabowski Legacy Car Show. We are planning that event for Branson, MO in the Spring. Anyone wishing to take part in the creation or production of the event, please contact us.

If the measure of a man’s wealth is by the number of friends and love displayed by others, then Norm left this world a multi-millionaire!

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