Hot Rod builder Norm Grabowski came home to see “Lightnin’ Bug,” his 1955 T-bucket hot rod sitting safely in the driveway, yet was alarmed to see a pair of feet sticking out from under it.
The car was already legendary. It had just been featured in the April 1957 edition of LIFE Magazine and was soon to appear in the opening sequence of the upcoming TV series, “77 Sunset Strip.” Plenty of people had taken an interest in the car.
But Grabowski didn’t remembered the boyish young man who’d approached him the night he’d parked the car under the bright lights at Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, didn’t recall the kid saying he’d like to build one just like it — plenty of kids told him that. And he certainly didn’t remember saying, “Sure, kid; go ahead.”
Yet there he was, child actor Tommy Ivo, lying beneath Norm’s car, taking in its details and measurements.
Grabowski had crafted his car from a 1931 Ford Model A V-8 Roadster he picked up for $100, with the front half of a 1922 Model T that cost him $5 swapped in, and the shortened bed of a Model A pickup truck in back. Then he dropped in a 1952 Cadillac V-8 engine with a GMC 3-71 supercharger to make the thing go.
Ivo later used a 1925 Model-T he found in the desert in Palmdale, impaled by a Yucca tree growing up through the center. The front part was a Phaeton touring sedan, and it had a short, Model A pickup bed and a hopped-up 1955 Buick V-8 engine.
In “77 Sunset Strip,” Grabowski’s car was driven by actor Edd Byrnes’ character Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III, a quirky parking lot attendant at Dean Martin’s “Dino’s Lodge” lounge, adjacent to the detective’s office. Hence the later nickname, “Kookie’s Kar.”
The closest these hot rods came to “side by side” was when racing against each other. Kookie’s Kar was edged out by inches, with Ivo’s clocking in at 104 mph. Until now. Decades later, the fraternal-twin hot rods will reunite in a special class of Hot Rod Cover Cars, featured at the 69th Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on Sunday, August 18.