The Mopar family lost one of their favorite sons earlier this month, as the man we all know as “Mr. Norm” Kraus left us at 87 years young. He may have been an octogenarian, but irrespective of his age, he possessed a passion for life that would not be denied. Never one to keep a low profile, he reveled in attending Mopar events all over the nation and sharing his unbridled passion with Pentastar faithful.
I worked with Mr. Norm for the past 30 years and can tell you that he lived his life to max every day. The old saying “rode hard and put away wet” certainly applied to him as a man who started his days early and often pushed well into the twilight hours. Mr. Norm was always on looking for the next big thing and firmly believed that hard work and determination were the cornerstones of success.
Above left: Gary Dyer in Mr. Norm’s altered wheelbase 1965 Hemi Coronet racing against Arnie Beswick’s Pontiac GTO. Above right: Mr. Norm’s 1967 Dart GSS 383 prototype on Clayton Dynamometer Grand Spaulding Dodge
A man who was not afraid the take the path less traveled, he was one of the few who saw performance and professional racing as the way to build Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge, his fledgling automobile dealership, when it opened in 1963. As a young man himself, he recognized something the majority of his peers did not. That was the emerging baby boom generation, and the incredible impact it would have on the automobile industry. There were only a few who shared his vision, such as Lee Iacocca the father of the Mustang and Zora Arkus-Duntov likewise credited as the father of the Corvette.
And while they were giants at the factory level, Norm became a giant in his chosen arena as a new automobile dealer. Combining his acumen for sales and marketing, he captured the hearts and minds of the youth market that was shunned by the vast majority of his dealer peers. Mr. Norm blazed a trail of his own choosing and in so doing, quickly earned the respect of the power brokers in Detroit who took notice of his success and encouraged it.
Above left: Mr. Norm’s 1968 GSS 440 Dart. Above right: Grand Spaulding Dodge Circa Fall, 1969
He always kept a keen eye on what the competition offered, and when the 1967 Dart debuted with nothing more potent that a 273, Mr. Norm took matters into his own hands.
Taking one of the first Darts to arrive at the dealership in the fall of 1966, he had his team install a 383 four barrel and matching the powertrain from a B-Body into the little A-Body.
This became the prototype for what became the Mr. Norm’s GSS Dart, the pocket rocket that put fear into the hearts of Brand X owners everywhere. Never one to rest on his laurels, for 1968 he stuffed a 375 horsepower 440 Magnum into the Dart and raised the bar even higher.
When the 1970’s rolled around and insurance premiums started to skyrocket for big block muscle cars, Mr. Norm once again turned to the A-Body, this time in the form of the new Demon.
For 1971 he created the GSS 340 Six-Pack, an affordable street and strip terror that offered the performance of the vaunted 1970 Challenger T/A. The result was a potent small block muscle car that slipped under the dreaded insurance radar.
For 1972 he capitalized on the reduced compression of the engines that year by adding a Paxton Supercharger to the 340. He coined his latest creation the Mr. Norm’s GSS Supercharged Demon, and in the process, unleashed a small block pocket rocket that matched the performance of a big block.
Above left: Mr. Norm’s SuperCharger Funny Car competing in the Coca Cola Cavalcade of Stars Championship. This photo was taken at US30 Dragstrip near Gary, Indiana in 1969. Above right: Mr. Norm’s 1972 GSS 340 Supercharged Demon Engine.
In addition to his exploits selling new high performance Dodges, Mr. Norm teamed up with Gary Dyer in 1965 at the beginning of the funny car era to field nitro burning supercharged Hemi powered cars that were feared by competitors from coast to coast. Whether it was his early altered wheel base Coronets or the later flip top Super Charger funny cars that were the scourge of the Coca Cola Funny Car Cavalcade, Mr. Norm was always known as a tough competitor.
He raced to win at the track on the weekends, and during the week he applied the same determination when it came to creating and selling high performance cars to enthusiasts. His drive to be the best resulted in Grand Spaulding Dodge becoming the number one Dodge dealership in the nation in the 1970’s.
In recent years, Mr. Norm applied talents to late model Challengers, Chargers and Rams. Performance and appearance were always high on his list, and each of the new vehicles he created embodied his time tested approach. Partnering with supercharger guru Jim Bell at Kenne Bell, Mr. Norm continued his winning ways creating a new generation of smoking Mopars.
Above left: Mr. Norm’s 2014 GSS King Cuda. Above right: More than just a pretty face the King Cuda packed the punch of a Kenne Bell Supercharged 6.4L Hemi.
Yes, his accomplishments are the things of legends, but Mr. Norm could be humble and often credited his employees and team members as instrumental in the success he achieved. Whether at the dealership or on the track, he was a force to be reckoned with, and was well known as a man not to be trifled with. His competitors in both arenas knew this well, and because of it, treated him with respect and even admiration.
The kid who grew up on the mean streets of Chicago never forgot where he came from, or how he achieved the success he is remembered for. And if he were here with us today, which he is in spirit, he would remind us that we are all capable of greatness, and that we should always strive to be our best.
So rather than mourn the loss of a friend, let us celebrate a wonderful life, one well lived. Mr. Norm set a great example and left us an incredible legacy of performance that we all continue to enjoy. And perhaps his greatest legacy is yet to be realized; we can all follow the example he set and inspiration he provided. Most importantly, if he were here right now, he would encourage us to make the most of every day of our lives. Just as he did.
Above left: SEMA show debut of the 2015 Mr. Norm’s Hall of Fame Edition Challenger. This vehicle model celebrated Mr. Norm’s induction into the Mopar Hall of Fame. Above right: Recent photo of Mr. Norm with 1968 GSS Hemi Dart and his original 1972 Pro Stock Hemi Colt at the Grand National Roadster Show.