Mopar Memories: “Mr. Norm” and Year One, Leaders in their Classes


Mr. Norm and his brother, Len, started a used car lot next to their father’s gas station in 1948. The brothers discovered the youth car buyers’ interest in 4-speed performance vehicles. So, from the mid-1950s, the brothers concentrated on the high-performance market. In 1962, Mr. Norm and Len joined forces with Dodge to sell new Dodges and used vehicles. In 1963, the new Grand Spaulding Dodge dealership was erected. Mr. Norm expanded the dealership several times between 1963 and the mid-1970s. (Photographer unknown)

In the 1990s, Year One presented “A Leader in his Class” advertisements, usually on the backside cover of an automotive magazine. In the March 1998 High Performance Mopar Magazine, Year One presented “Mr. Norm” Krause. He was a co-owner and the mastermind behind the high-performance Grand Spaulding Dodge.

Recently, the Mopar community lost an icon. Norm Kraus, aka “Mr. Norm,” the founder and co-owner of the Chicago-based Grand Spaulding Dodge, passed on February 21, 2021, at 87. Mr. Norm and his brother, Len (co-owner), in 1948, started selling used but not abused cars from their father’s gas station on Grand Avenue. The business flourished, and by the early 1950s, the brothers purchased the lot adjacent to the gas station.

It was by chance Len picked up a 4-speed car for the lot, and it sold quickly. Noticing this trend, by the mid-1950s, the brothers started searching for performance-oriented vehicles to offer from their lot. During this time and due to limited word count and costs associated with column space in newspaper ads, the short nickname “Mr. Norm” was conceived.

Impressed by the brothers’ business success, Dodge suggested the car lot transition to selling new Dodges and the trade-in used cars. In the fall of 1962, Grand Spaulding Dodge was established, and by 1963, a showroom and service center were constructed. The service center technicians employed a Clayton Chassis Dynamometer to “tune” the new Dodges for optimum performance.

The Grand Spaulding Dodge new car sales doubled every year from 1964-1970, and the focus was on the high-performance “muscle car” era Hemi and wedge engines, although thousands of slant sixes rolled off the showroom floor.

Across the street from the original Grand Spaulding dealership was the latest addition to the dealership. The new building could house up to 75 vehicles on the showroom floor. The building was used extensively with the truck and van sales and leasing. The service area handled the lucrative conversion van market after the high-performance muscle car market faded. It looks like “The ‘75s Are In.” (Photographer unknown)

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Norm started a drag race team, and he quickly moved to a nitro-burning altered-wheelbase Dodge with Gary Dyer, a Grand Spaulding mechanic, at the controls. The success of the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” concept required a doubling of the sales and service departments’ size. To keep up with the performance demand, a second Clayton Chassis Dyno was installed.

Unsatisfied with the low-performance 1967 Dodge A-body, Mr. Norm had his mechanics shoehorned a 383 into the Dart, and it was presented to the Chrysler brass. Impressed with the Dart, Chrysler added it as a midyear addition to the model line. Pushing the envelope, the Grand Spaulding Special (GSS) 440 Dart was obtainable through Grand Spaulding for 1968.

This is a typical Grand Spaulding Dodge newspaper advertisement from 1967. While Mr. Norm also did radio spots on the popular AM rock stations, the newsprints have withstood the march of time. How about joining Mr. Norm’s Sport Club or picking up a 1966 Street Hemi for $2695!

Seeing stricter emissions laws looming and the insurance companies clamping down on performance automobiles, Mr. Norm continued to purchase land and add to the dealership’s sales and service areas while moving the focus from high-performance to truck and van leasing. By 1973, Grand Spaulding Dodge expanded to the building across from the original dealership and entered the conversion van business in conjunction with the vehicle sales and service.

While Grand Spaulding Dodge was known for its high-performance, it was during the “dark days” of performance that Mr. Norm had his greatest success. In 1972, Grand Spaulding was 3rd in volume sales of Dodge vehicles, and Mr. Norm opened a Kawasaki motorcycle dealership. In 1973, Grand Spaulding moved up to 2nd in sales, and by 1974, it was the largest volume sales Dodge dealership in the world.

The Grand Spaulding Dodge dealership ran the new bodied Charger for 1968. By this time, the funny cars were purpose-built units, with blown and injected Hemis under the removable body. The cars no longer appeared stock, but with the Grand Spaulding Dodge and Mr. Norm name painted on the side flanks, the young men and women flocked to the dealership to finance their high-performance dreams. (Photographer unknown)

By 1977, Mr. Norm, in his early 40s, sold his interest in Grand Spaulding and left the long hours working at the dealership and the extended weekend hours on the road with the race team to spend more time with his family. Without his vision and leadership, Grand Spaulding closed within a decade.

After being the king of high performance, Mr. Norm stepped back from the high-pressure industry, but he stayed in retail by selling furniture from one of the old dealership buildings. He would eventually return to vehicle sales. By the late-1990s, Mr. Norm teamed up with several companies offering limited edition cars and trucks under the license of the Mr. Norm name.

With the baby boomers aging, nostalgia reigned supreme, and Mr. Norm was there to capitalize on the movement. He often showed up to large Mopar events to vend his products, provide autographs, and visit the public. With his passing, he will certainly be missed at those shows.

Mr. Norm quickly recognized high-performance sells. To further establish Grand Spaulding Dodge as a performance dealership, Mr. Norm established a drag racing team, which quickly progressed to a blown Hemi running on nitromethane. The “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra was in full effect. Grand Spaulding mechanic, Gary Dyer, handled the driving chores. The altered wheelbase Dodges progressed to full-fledged, flip-top fiberglass funny cars as the years passed. (Photographer unknown)

In the 1990s, Year One seemed to own the back cover of many Mopar magazines. With the development of the “A Leader in his Class” series, each month, Year One shared with the readers a different Mopar icon’s brief biography. On the back cover of the March 1998 High Performance Mopar Magazine was Mr. Norm alongside one of his Grand Spaulding Dodge Charger funny cars. The list of Mr. Norm’s accomplishments was briefly described, but most of them could not be listed due to his extensive work.

To this day, Year One continues to be the leader of Mopar-related restoration parts. Year One covers the 1962-1976 A-bodies, 1962-1974 B-bodies, and the 1970-1974 E-bodies. If you require parts for your Mopar, reach out to Year One. Most of the components arrive with free shipping and don’t forget to sign up for the weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) emails listing new products and special sales to help you complete your project.

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Chris Holley

Chris Holley

Technical Contributor Chris has been a college professor for 23 years; the last 18 spent at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. During the day Chris instructs automotive HVAC and electrical/electronic classes, and high-performance classes, which includes the usage of a chassis dyno, flow benches, and various machining equipment at night. Chris owns a '67 Dart, a '75 Dart, a '06 Charger, a '12 Cummins turbo diesel Ram, and he is a multi-time track champion (drag racing) with his '69 340 Dart, which he has owned 32 years.

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    Mel soto 19 March, 2021 at 09:53 Reply

    Mr. Norms,
    great person always willing to talk to you and take pictures.
    I was 14 when for my first visit to a dealer in my life and I was so impressed with his funny cars
    that I fall in love with Mopar’s. we are going to miss a great pioneer.

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