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My Kookie Kar Kopy

By Gary E. DeFer

IN 1979 after many years of mentally building a Model “T” hot rod along the lines of Norm Grabowski’s and Tommy Ivo’s rides, I stumbled across the remains of someone’s unfinished project sitting in a vacant lot in Hayward Ca. I had followed “Estate Sale” signs to the spot where it was languishing next to a house where the sale was being conducted. Ignoring all the other sale items I went strait to the “T”.  t consisted of the gutted but steel tubing reinforced front half of a middle teen to early twenty’s “T” touring body with a shortened Model “A” P.U. bed tack welded to the back. A highly modified “A” frame and the prize, a pair of Tornado aluminum headlight stand’s. I knew this was my chance to start the project I had dreamed of for so many years. I casually walked over to the people running the sale and asked them if “the old car” was for sale. They seemed surprised anybody would be interested and said I could have it all for $20. I couldn’t get my wallet out fast enough. I took it home and put it in the old leaky shed that I used as a shop in the back of my San Leandro tract home.

“The 32 Ford grill was purchased later that year at a swap for $12.50 after dickering it down from $15. That will tell you how tight money was for me in the late 70s, raising a family while trying to build my dream rod.

The next few years I lived the Northern Ca. swap circuit. Picking up parts I deemed necessary to achieve “The Look”. I never wanted to clone Norm’s “Kookie Kar” as Von Franko, unknown to me at the time was doing, but just to capture the look as Tommy Ivo had with his copy in the ‘50s. Certain parts were essential. I already had the original early “T” body with the shortened “A” bed and the Tornado headlight brackets. I now needed a 37 Ford V8 60 tube front axle and a 40 Ford banjo differential to complete “the look”. These parts I wouldn’t compromise on. I found and purchased them in the ensuing few years. Yes this was a long-term project encompassing most of the decade of the ‘80s.

Remember, in the ‘80s the word nostalgia wasn’t in most of our vocabulary so all I needed was a V8 engine. A friend gave me a 260 Ford V8 that would do fine, and it fit into my budget.

1988, me in the plaid shirt with my good friend Al Fontes who did most of the heavy welding and all of the final paint.

Me driving the roadster from the backyard shed for the first time 1989

By the late ‘80s I had a rolling chassis. and had discovered the Goodguys rod runs. I stepped up the pace and had the roadster street-able in 1989. I attended my first Goodguys event in May of that year where I met Von Franko. We hit it off great. I loved his car that was so like Grabowski’s “T” I thought at the time it was the original, and Franko gave no reason to believe otherwise..

Over the next fifteen or so years I enjoyed driving my “T” to many rod runs in California. The L.A. Roadsters Fathers-day shows in Pomona several times, many Goodguys events and a couple of Northern Ca. Billetproof shows. I even got the chance to drive it to the Bonneville salt-flats a couple of times with the Tardel racing team.

Von Franko taking me for a ride in his Kookie Kar clone that I still thought was the original ’50s Gragowaski rod.

  I even got the chance to drive it to the Bonneville salt-flats a couple of times with the Tardel racing team.

By this time the roadster was starting to get a little frayed around the edges. The salt had taken its toll on the rear suspension, the brakes were showing signs of wear and I had started working on a ’53 Cadillac engine for it. By now I wanted it to be all ‘50s. It was time for a rebuild. But that’s another story. Stay tuned

This is a picture from about 2003. I can tell because of only oneblue Bonivelle sticker and I first drove it to Bonn in 2002 thenagain in 2004. This pictures shows the "ugly gaps between thefirewall and the Mustang small-block engine and the engine and theradiator" as told me by the professional photographer at a calendarshoot. Something I would correct in the rebuild

After getting back from my second trip to Bonneville in 2004 Ialready had the early '50s Cad. engine almost finished. It was timeto tear down the roadster for a redo after almost fifteen years ofdriving. In those fifteen years I had found parts to change it formjust a '50s look to a real '50s car. The salt had gotten into all therear suspension and it all needed dismantling, cleaning and replacingall that couldn't be saved.

2003 '50 Cad long block finished. New old stock Iski. roller tappetcam, Chevy roller lifters, Adjustable push-rods "55 heads ported and polished with hard seats installed.

Just getting glimpse of the Bonn. salt. Just outside of Wendover.Just ahead my good friend Jay West in his bitchin flathead powered 29 highboy.

Salt caked on rear suspension. No way to prevent damage.

A pit pass on the windshield. We were with the Tardel racing group.

I built my roadster in the '80s when nobody was building nostalgia rods (except maybe Von Franco,) so I built with a lot of newer parts. Since the first build in the '80s and the rebuild starting in about 2005 I have been collecting parts that would have been used on a '50s built car. My goal now is for a real informed old school hot-rodder to look my roadster over and not be sure it wasn't originally built in the '50s and stored away all that time and just now brought out and cleaned up.


I saw this old chrome steering box laying by a friends unfinished 29 roadster. I told him if he didn't use it that I wanted it.abut a year later he told me it was mine and would only take the $20 he had paid for it many years before. You don't find friends like that every day.

More old parts collected over the years. All old chrome for the '50s build look.

Pretty much put together here. Exhaust collectors are WWII mortar shell casings. Quarter inch contoured plywood  backrest in a continuing effort for more legroom.

First time driven out of the garage 2009. Thought I might use those back tires. Glad I didn't.

New tank for the rebuild. Probably doubled the old Toyota tank and looks old.

Rebuilt rear suspension with as much stainless as I could get.

L.A. Roadsters Show 2010 first real showing. New tires and a quick coating of white header paint on the exhaust. I like the look so much I think I'll just keep them that way.

Blackie signing my dash at LARS. The shifter Grabowski carved for me in about 2000.

I want one more signature and have a place for Ed Iskenderians' right above his round water decal on the right of my dash Hope to get it this Fathersday  at LARS.

More '50s parts. Deep "baby moons"

New carpet designed to show off the Ross steering box.