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Mr.Norm’s Golden Anniversary

STEVE TEMPLE May 22, 2022 All Feature Vehicles

For those who are unfamiliar with the name Mr. Norm, he’s akin to the late, great Carroll Shelby, but in the Mopar arena. Back in 1963 the Beatles were big, the first hotline was established with Russia and Alcatraz prison was closed. That was also

the year that Norm Kraus opened for business at Grand Spaulding Dodge. While his dealership might not be as significant in a historical sense as those other events, his vision still resonates with car guys everywhere.

Putting it simply, Mr. Norm focused on selling performance vehicles, especially to young enthusiasts. That was contrary to the more common attitude of dealers who tended to dismiss them. Instead, Norm’s motto was “Grand Spaulding Dodge, Where Kids Are Kings.” He not only treated them with respect, but staffed his dealership with an equally young sales and service staff who loved performance cars and knew everything about them. Another difference was in building a new-car dealership based on selling high-performance cars. Industry wags claimed that it couldn’t be done, but Norm quickly proved these naysayers wrong, turning his Chicago dealership, located at the corner of Grand and Spaulding, into the number one volume Dodge dealer in the world in just a few short years.

Riding the building wave of drag racing, he wasted no time getting actively involved and quickly took the sport by storm. By 1965 he was competing with a nitro-burning, supercharged 426 Hemi-powered, altered-wheelbase Dodge Coronet driven and tuned by Gary Dyer. This Dodge broke records all over the country, beating factory-sponsored teams like the Ramchargers. He even made the front page of the Los Angeles Herald when it set the record with a blistering 8.63 E.T. at Lions Dragway in Long Beach, California. Norm was actively involved in professional drag racing for 14 years and was instrumental in the evolution of what became today’s Funny Car category.

As the industry leader in the sales of high-performance Dodges, Grand Spaulding stocked more Hemi Chargers, Six Pack Super Bees and Challenger T/As than any other dealer in the country. Norm was not content to merely sell the models the factory offered. As an example, when the then-new ’67 Dart didn’t offer a high performance engine, Norm took it upon himself to develop the GSS 383 big-block package, making it the performance leader in the compact class.

Mr. Norm was approached by a customer who had recently purchased a new Dodge 330 from him with a 426 Max Wedge. The customer asked him to supply a set of spark plugs and seatbelts for his car. In exchange, he would have “Grand Spaulding Dodge” lettered on the vehicle and drag race it in competition in Chicago. “I figured that for the cost of a set of plugs and seat belts, we really had nothing to lose, so I had the parts department provide himwith these items,” Norm told us.

Now keep in mind, back in those days, when the weather was bad, races were held indoors at the amphitheater, located in the heart of the meatpacking district. Inside the amphitheater, you could still smell the stockyard, and the exhaust noise was deafening, and there was just enough room to run before driving through the open overhead doors and into the parking lot—just so long as your brakes worked. On Sunday afternoon, the phones started ringing with calls from performance enthusiasts who were at the amphitheater to watch the races, letting Mr. Norm know that the car he sponsored had won the event. The impact on his business was immediate.

By Wednesday of that same week, Mr. Norm sold five new high-performance Dodges as a direct result of his sponsorship of the winning car.

Mr. Norm continues to raise the bar on high performance

        By Thursday, he was negotiating to form a professional racing team. That was a pivotal moment, because for the next 14 years, he campaigned a professional Super Fuel Funny Car running on nitro that toured the nation promoting the reputation of Grand Spaulding as the leading Dodge high-performance dealership in the country.

While drag racing spread the word about Grand Spaulding, Mr. Norm needed a variety of new Dodge street performance cars to sell. “When Chrysler notified us that there would be a new Dart for 1967 with performance engines,” Norm recalls, “we were really excited. We would finally have a car to go heads up against small cars like the incredibly fast Chevy II that was available at that time with the L79 327/350-horse small-block engine.”

That initial exuberance soon turned sour, though. “When the new Dart GT went into production, we were disappointed to find that the largest engine was the little 273,” he recalls with a wince. “Not only did the new Dart not come with any real performance engine options, we were told by the factory that the 383 would not fit into the engine bay.” They couldn’t have been more wrong. Taking matters into their own hands, Grand Spaulding’s Dennis Hirschbeck did some quick measurements, and slipped a 383 four-barrel engine in it, along with a 727 Torqueflite transmission.

“The Dart with the 383 ran so good, and we were so impressed with its performance,” Norm says, “that I personally drove it to Chrysler Corporation Headquarters, then to Hamtramck, Michigan, to show it to Bob McCurry who was then general manager of Dodge Division.

“He got on it. And McCurry immediately realized the opportunity to sell a production version of this vehicle.” But there was still another hurdle to the program. McCurry said that the only way Chrysler would build them is if he would purchase them in lots of 50 cars at a time. Never one to waffle about a business opportunity, Mr. Norm seized the moment: “We believed in the 383 Dart so much that I did not hesitate and immediately ordered fifty.”

Closing out the high-performance era, Norm and his team developed the ’72 GSS 340 supercharged Demon, a small-block terror that packed a big-block punch while offering the benefit of a low insurance premium. The 340 was initially rated at 275 hp, but by 1972 the number dropped to 240 hp to comply with emissions requirements. That was partly due to the drop in compression to 8.5:1. Mr. Norm, ever the promoter of performance, rightly figured the low-compression 340 was ripe for forced induction. Just pack some more air into the manifold, feed in extra fuel, and you’d be good for one last go-round. It was the perfect candidate for a blower, since high-octane fuel was still available.

So this juvenile delinquent was corrupted even further by a centrifugal supercharger, supplied by Joe Granatelli and developed by hot-shoe Gary Dyer. With a belt-driven Paxton puffer, plus a modified fuel pump and pressure regulator, the output ballooned to a somewhat respectable 360 horses. Mr. Norm threw in some other goodies for a list price of $3,595 (a few hundred over the invoice for a stock 340 Demon).

“Back in the sixties, it was race/performance only,” he notes. “Today, the combinations are more diversified. When somebody asks, ‘What does it come with?’ we reply, ‘Whattya want?’”

Mr. Norm continues to be actively involved in the automotive performance arena with his comprehensive lineup of Vehicle Personalization Packages for Dodges, Rams, Chryslers and Jeeps. In addition, he’s rolled out two new limited-edition models: a Mr. Norm’s GSS 50th Anniversary Challenger and Charger. Just as in the ’60s, Mr. Norm is not content to rest on his laurels, and continues to raise the bar on high performance.

Kenne Bell’s Mr. Norm’s 50th Anniversary GSS-R Challenger

“Jim Bell and I have been friends for many years,” notes Mr. Norm. “And it was my pleasure to work with him to create the GSS-R 1,000-horsepower fiftieth anniversary Challenger. The performance of the Kenne Bell supercharged Challenger exceeded my expectations. What’s really incredible is that you can drive this Challenger on the street like a regular car, but when you drop the hammer, it feels more like the blown Hemi S/FX cars we raced back in the sixties. It’s simply amazing!”

When you celebrate a 50th anniversary, most folks think of giving a gift made of gold. But Jim Bell wanted precious metal of a whole different sort: a Dodge Challenger studded with one of his company’s Kenne Bell blowers, plus a stunning array of upgrades. Dubbed the Mr. Norm GSS-R Challenger, the 6.4L Hemi on this limited edition Dodge boasts a blistering 1,000 horses. Is that golden or what? So, when Jim Bell heads down the highway in his GSS-R Challenger, you won’t be able to miss him going by, nor keep up with him!

Spec Box:

2014 Dodge Challenger SRT-8

Builders:  Mr. Norm/Kenne Bell Superchargers

Suspension: Front: Hotchkis .375-inch lowering kit and 110% stiffer sway bars; rear: Hotchkis 1.250-inch lowering kit and 105% stiffer sway bars

Brakes: Brembo four-wheel discs

Tires: BFGoodrich G-Force Sport Comp 2 245/45ZR20 and 275/40ZR20

Engine: 1,000-hp 6.4L Hemi with Kenne Bell 3.6L liquid cooled Mammoth twin-screw supercharger, Scat crank, Apache cylinder heads, American Racing exhaust

Body and Paint: Lipstick Red with white stripe and Mr. Norm’s 50th anniversary GSS-R hood and body side graphics

Interior: Katzkin leather upholstery with Mr. Norm’s anniversary logos

Audio: Chrysler premium sound package


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