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.
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.
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.
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.
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.