Longtime fans of musclecars fondly recall the heyday of Mr. Norm, the "King of Hi Performance." Norm Kraus, along with his brother and father, started Grand Spaulding Dodge in 1963 at the corner of Grand and Spaulding in the heart of Chicago. After years of specializing in selling used performance cars at this location, Norm believed that selling new performance cars could be the foundation for a successful dealership. Industry naysayers said that a new car dealership using this business model would never succeed.
Mecca of Mopar Muscle.
Norm proved them wrong and, in a relatively short time, Grand Spaulding Dodge became the number one Dodge dealership in the world, garnering the admiration of Mopar fans everywhere. Back in the sizzlin' Sixties, it was the Mecca of Mopar musclecars, epitomizing the spirit and voice of the ultimate in high-performance.
Mr. Norm not only revolutionized how performance cars were sold, he also developed innovative Dart prototypes that were later put into production by Chrysler, such as the 383-powered 1967 Dart GT, the first of the series of Grand Spaulding Dodge GSS cars, (GSS standing for Grand Spaulding Special). Later vehicles created by Grand Spaulding Dodge during the muscle-car era include the fabled 1968 440 M-Code Dart GSS and the 1972 Supercharged Demon GSS.
What was it like for musclecar customers back then? When a new high-performance Dodge was sold at Grand Spaulding, each vehicle was power tuned by re-jetting the carburetor and re-curving the distributor and installing lightweight springs with full advance at only 800 rpm. Then the car's performance was checked on a Clayton dyno to simulate track conditions at 5000 rpm, and the distributor was locked for peak performance.
To indicate this special level of treatment, each high-performance Dodge wore the famous dyno-tune, snorting-ram window decal, along with a Grand Spaulding emblem on the trunk lid. These items let everyone know that you were a member of the Sport Club, and driving a special-edition musclecar, a machine that all comers challenged at their own risk. Among the most prized and notorious of these Mopar machines was the legendary 1968 Hemi Dart. Its thunderous and feared Hemi made it the car to beat.
Memory Lane Muscle.
While some say you can never go home again, who says you can't rumble in that general direction with the right ride? Norm Kraus can send you down memory lane short order with his new/old GSS Hemi Dart, offered as a limited run of continuation cars through Blue Moon Motorsports. These revitalized Darts are not only faithful to the original, but also enhanced with modern mechanicals.
"If we had had today's technology back then," Mr. Norm muses, "this is how the Hemi Darts would have been built." As a result, Mr. Norm's GSS Hemi Dart exceeds the performance of the original in every category, making it a far superior vehicle. Just like he did in 1968, Mr. Norm is once again revolutionizing the way performance vehicles are created and sold.
While the chassis is clothed in original Dodge sheetmetal, Blue Moon installs modernized underpinnings. The mods start at the front with custom sub-frame connectors from Control Freak Suspensions (a division of Blue Moon). Mr. Norm specified that the front suspension system incorporate upper and lower control arms with coil-over performance shocks. And the whole K-member had to be crafted from stronger DOM seamless tubing. This suspension system eliminates old-tech torsion bars, and moderates under- and oversteer with a state-of-the-art, rack-and-pinion setup.
In the rear, the stock spring mounts have been relocated to new and stronger torque boxes. An updated Dana 60 rearend rides on Calvert Racing's adjustable, split monoleafs for crisper launch capability.
Rolling stock consists of new, vintage-style Hurst wheels engineered to fit four-wheel discs, supplied by Stainless Steel Brakes Corporation (with Tri-Power three-piston calipers in front). To accommodate the massive 285/40R17 Pirelli P-Zero ultra-performance tires, the rear wheel houses were enlarged by three inches.
With a well-reinforced chassis, upgraded suspension and brake technology, drivers can wind up the rearend with complete confidence and impressive authority. Excepting these modern touches, the car is remarkably authentic, right down to the fiberglass hood with Hemi scoop. Even the rear wheelwells are radiused much like the original to accommodate big meats.
Under that lift-off hood, the dual-quad 426 Hemi is stroked to 472 cubes by VanGordon Racing, generating in excess of 650 hp. For the power hungry, an optional Super Stock 528 stroker with an aluminum block raises the output to more than 720 horses.
Funneling that flood of torque to the rearend is either a Bowler 727 Torqueflite or a Passion A833 18-spline 4-speed manual with overdrive. The slushbox is outfitted with competition-grade case, seals, intermediate band and steel components. The manual tranny is actuated by a Hurst competition Hemi shifter and Hays competition clutch with a Lakewood bellhousing.
The Eliminator 60 diff from Strange Engineering comes with a 4.10:1 ratio and 9.75-inch ring gear and features a nodular iron case and caps and adjuster nuts for easier setup. It's also machined to accept a Hemi adjustable pinion snubber. All told, this rearend is built to withstand as much as 850 horses.
Mr. Norm's Sport Club.
While only a few Hemi Darts were built in 1968, Mr. Norm is now creating a few more. Each vehicle has its own production number and comes complete with build book, production sheet, and build order and is delivered by Mr. Norm himself, just as he did back in 1968. Mopar fans from the Sixties era may recall that members of the Mr. Norm's Sport Club received a monthly newsletter that kept them posted on all service and parts specials, sales contests, and special events which always gave the race car schedule, plus a subscription to "Drag News."
So what's it like to haul ass down Memory Lane with Mr. Norm? On the road, the car is a righteous ride, a genuine musclecar, only better. The Hemi Dart is infused with a no-nonsense personality that overwhelms the senses, starting with the earthshaking sound and feel of the exhaust note. Fire up that Hemi, and it resonates through your body like a massive wave of energy. Power and torque is not merely in abundance, but in excess. No matter what gear you're in, you can blow the tires right off Hemi Dart at will. Stomp the throttle, and you hurtle back in the seat, and through time as well, to that golden era when both muscle cars and Mr. Norm were kings.