By: Richard Truesdell
Reprint from Musclecar Enthusiast Magazine, February 2007
Photography by: Richard Truesdell
THE NAMES AND THEIR DEALERSHIPS WERE LEGENDARY. BOB TASCA TWEAKED HIGH-PERFORMANCE
FORDS, BALDWIN-MOTION AND YENKO MAXIMIZED CHEVROLET MUSCLECARS AND EVEN AMC HAD RANDALL AMC BOOSTING THE
PERFORMANCE OF KENOSHA’S BEST.
But when it came to Dodges, one dealer set the standard for all others to follow â€” Mr. Norm, Norm Kraus, best known as the “King of High Performance,” made Grand Spaulding Dodge in Chicago the epicenter of Mopar performance at the height of the musclecar era. And like the special editions offered by competing dealers, Mr. Norm is best known for unleashing a landmark car of his own, the notorious GSS Dart, available back then in 383 and 440ci versions. (The 1968 426 Hemi Darts were actually built by Hurst-Campbell for Chrysler, and Mr. Norm sold the vast majority of the
Hurst-Campbell-built cars.) For those of you who missed your chance to own a genuine Grand Spaulding Dodge back in the era of hyper-performance, you’re getting a second chance, albeit at a price, as Mr. Norm has collaborated with Al Kamhi at Blue Moon Motorsports and Mr. Gasket, the modern day holder of the Hurst brand, to resurrect the GSS Dart. Together they bring the GSS fully into the 21st century with a new breed of GSS Hemi Dart, allowing you to “order” a GSS just the way you want, with a choice of engines, transmissions, interior trim, and options in a classic Dart body.
If the GSS Dart had continually evolved into 2007, this is how it would look, with a level of performance that surpasses the original in every measureable way.
It all starts with the request of a Buyer’s Package from your nearest dealer [call Blue Moon Motorsports, (407) 327-6462, for the contact information of a dealer nearest you] with a list of all the options offered. It comes with a promise that the number of next-generation GSS Darts will not surpass the number built back in
1968. Each vehicle has it own production number and comes complete with build book, production sheet, build order, and will be delivered by Mr. Norm himself, just as he did back in 1968.
The next step in the process falls to Blue Moon Motorsports, based in Winter Springs, Florida, who takes from inventory a solid two-door 1968 Dodge Dart hardtop from which will hatch a new GSS, which will then benefit from a high-end rotisserie restoration.
The process starts when an original 1968 Dart is brought into the shop and is dismantles so the build team can see exactly what’s needed. As Mopar A-Bodies were not known for their resistance to the ravages of rust, each part is closely examined to determine whether it can be restored or needs replacement. Often rust-free or NOS parts are no longer available and where this is the case, parts are re-created by hand to surpass the original specifications using metals of the same alloy and weight.
472 CUBIC INCH ENGINE SPECS
Mopar Standard Bore 426 Hemi Iron Block
472ci 4340 Steel Billet Crankshaft – 4.150-inch Stroke
472 Forged Hemi Pistons with Tool Steel Wrist Pins and Speed-Pro File Fit Moly Rings
472 Chrysler Sportman II H-Beam Rods and Bearings
Hemi Custom Ground Solid Cam and Lifters
Hemi Billet Roller Timing Chain Set with Chrome Timing Cover
Electronically Balanced Rotating Assembly
426 Hemi Aluminum Heads
Intake – 2.250x .311 Square Lock
Exhaust – 1.940 x .311 Square Lock
Titanum Retainers with 1.54-inch Double Valve Springs
Complete Hemi Rocker System
Chrome Moly Pushrods
Black Crinkle Finish Hemi Valve Covers
Cast Aluminum Cross Ram 2 x 4 Intake
Hollery Hemi Four Barrel Carburetors (2) Modified for Performance
Hurst / Mr. Gasket Approved Billet Distributor
ACCEL Hemi Plug Wire Set – Black
Hemi Oil Pump
Hemi Aluminum Oil Pan
Balanced and Blueprinted
THE 528CI ENGINES ADD THE FOLLOWING UPGRADES:
528ci MP Premium Forged Competition Crankshaft with 4.150-inch Stroke
528 JE Lightweight Forged Competition Pistons
528 Custom Competition 7075 Billet Aluminum Rods
Custom Competiticion “896” Series Tool Steel Pins
Clevite Competition Babbit Bearings
Speed-Pro File Fit Competition Moly Rings
528 Custom Grind Competition Solid Roller Cam & Lifters
Hemi Billet Double Roller Competition Timing Chain Set with Chrome Timing Cover
426 Hemi Aluminum Heads Ported to Competition Stage III for Maximum Flow
Black Crinkle Finish or Chrome Hemi Valve Covers (No-Cost Option)
Cast Aluminum Competition Cross Ram 2×4 Intake
Holley Hemi Four Barrel Carburetors (2). Highly Modified to S/S Competition Specifications.
S/S Hemi Competition Oiling System
BOTH ENGINES BUILT BY VAN GORDON RACING
In order to ensure that each car will ultimately be as perfect as possible (and far exceeding the level of Chrysler assembly plant quality control in the ’60s), once the body shell if placed on a rotisserie it is thoroughly cleaned to bare metal with a special water blasting process that removes years of paint, primer, undercoating, dirt, and even old factory fillers. This process uses variable water pressure to get down to bare metal with a process that is superior to using more aggressive media such as sand or plastic, which will often pit the metal, thus requiring more work later in the process.
The next step involves using hand dollies to return the sheet metal to its original contours. Where required, replacement panels are spot welded in place at the factory seams without the use of fillers. Next, an epoxy primer
is applied to the entire vehicle to ensure that it will be rust-free for many years to come.
Following the application of the epoxy primer, each body is hand-sanded and primed three additional times. The final hand wet sanding process uses a special material that is almost as smooth as a piece of paper, and prepares the GSS Dart for a state-of-the-art paint process that uses a booth with precisely controlled airflow to ensure even coats of sealer, base paint, intermediate tinted clear, and the final clear coats. When examining the first-build car on display in the Mr. Gasket booth at the 2006 SEMA Show, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the quality of the Sherwin-Williams Planet Color Hurst Gold applied to the GSS, the level of perfection was more like that of a high dollar Ferrari
restoration than anything that rolled down a Mopar assembly line 40 years ago.
HEMI, OF COURSE
For the reincarnated GSS Dart, Mr. Norm offers a variety of powertrain options. These are not standard crate motors. Rather they are blueprinted stroker motors in two popular displacements, 472 or 528 cubic inches. The standard engine, if a 472ci Hemi can be considered standard, is a dyno-verified 625-horsepower dual quad that runs on 91 octane pump gas. The upgraded version, dubbed the S/S version, comes in at 528 cubic inches, offers 720 horsepower, again able to produce these numbers on 91-octane premium. Both engines are available with an all-aluminum block, thus taking more than a few pounds off the front wheels.
Each engine build features hand selected components. Each engine begins with a new Chrysler 426 standard bore Hemi block that is hot tanked and Magnafluxed. All rotating assembly components are either billet steel, forged aluminum or tool steel, ensuring long-term durability
and reliability under the most demanding conditions; Mr. Norm expects that, like in 1968, you’ll take the new GSS Dart to the track, and put the competition on the trailer.
The GSS Dart offers two transmission choices. The Mr. Norm’s GSS Hemi Dart program
teamed with Mr. Gasket/Hurst to remain true to the spirit of the originals. Bowler Performance Transmissions supplies both the 727 Torqueflite automatic and the A833 4-speed manual, rebuilt with new ratios, with the top gear being an overdrive that brings the automatic into the 21st century. Either can be teamed with an optional Gear Vendors Over/Underdrive systems. A transmission oil cooler is standard on the 727 Torqueflite. Both transmissions are dyno-tested and built to withstand up to a staggering 850 horsepower.
It should come as no surprise that a Dana 60 is specified to get the torque to the pavement, but this is no ordinary Dana 60, it’s a Mr. Norm’s-specified differential, all-new nodular units that are built to be tougher than the originals. With 4.10 gears, these upgraded differentials should have no problem in providing neck-snapping acceleration to owners who are willing to try their skill at covering 1,320 feet in the shortest possible interval. Owners will be able to choose either a Detroit Locker or Power Lock to ensure maximum traction and, like the other powertrain components, every transmission is dyno-tested to withstand up to 850 horsepower, enough to shred even the widest slick.
WHAT’S NEW UNDERNEATH
While going fast in a straight line was never a problem for an original GSS Dart, stopping and handling was never one of its strong suits. It’s here where the new GSS Dart is a clear departure from the original. The Mr. Norm’s GSS Hemi Dart has incorporated the latest suspension systems now available to ensure that ride and handling are brought up to contemporary standards.
Up front Mr. Norm specified that the suspension system incorporate upper and lower control arms with coil-over performance shocks. And the whole K-member had to be crafted from exceptionally strong Drawn Over Mandrel (DOM) seamless tube, the by-product of a collaborative effort between Mr. Norm and Control Freak Suspensions. Mr. Norm tossed out the torsion bars, replacing them with a coil-over setup and a Flaming River rack and pinion steering that combines precision, strength and light weight. The GSS Dart has far more in common
with Dodge’s upcoming challenger than any A-Body from the ’60s.The GSS Dart’s unitized body structure benefits from custom sub-frame connectors from Control Freak Suspensions. In the rear, 285 / 40-17 Pirelli P-Zero ultra performance tires are specified, necessitating that the rear wheel arches be enlarged by three inches. The stock spring mounts have been relocated to new and stronger torque boxes custom made by Blue Moon Motorsports. The Dana 60 is secured with a split monoleaf spring supported by unique fully
adjustable traction bars designed to improve overall traction and handling, allowing owners to “dial in” their preferred calibrations.
The binders come from Stainless Steel Brakes and are their high-end three piston tri-power setup, featuring 13-inch rotors. The stopping power is obviously far in excess of the OEM manual drum brakes. The wheels, designed by Mr. Norm are 17 inches in diameter (7 inches wide front, 9.5 inches rear). The design was inspired by the original Hurst design dating back to 1965.
Once the powertrain components have been selected, the vehicle is reassembled. From bumper-to-bumper, the GSS Dart is literally a new vehicle, time transported to the present day, modern components and capabilities clothed in the iconic shape of a two-door Dodge Dart hardtop. And the attention to detail extends to the comfortable interior. While Dodge never offered a leather interior option in any Dart, the new GSS Dart features an interior featuring materials and fit-and-finish more characteristic of an Italian exotic. The
interior is sound and heat insulated using Quiet Ride Solutions components. The first-build car, photographed for this feature, was equipped with a cream, almost white leather interior that perfectly contrasted with the Hurst Gold three-stage exterior finish. Carpeting is luxurious yet eminently practical; someone spending upwards of $150,000 for a custom-built, handcrafted musclecar would expect no less. Sport seats, door and kick panels, a new headliner and dash pad along with a full complement of auxiliary gauges finish
off the interior and recall the past while bringing the GSS Dart up to contemporary performance car standards.
When the car’s construction was completed, and all the calibrations and alignments were finished, Mr. Norm was on hand for the final tweaks, just as was the case 39 years ago when the corner of Grand and Spaulding was the headquarters of the Mopar performance world. While adjusting for the inevitable inflation of the last four decades, the new GSS Dart, with a base price of $149,900 is, to say the least, a bit more expensive than the passage of time would suggest. But with the still-escalating prices of Mopar musclecars having no end in sight, the GSS Dart represents a viable alternative to venturing into the world of six- and seven-figure Mopar musclecar auctions. There is, after all, the added benefit of having a clear connection to the DNA of one of the legends of the era, the value of which cannot be underestimated. It’s good to see you back on the street Mr.Norm.
We got the chance to watch the first Hemi GSS Dart being put together at Blue Moon’s Florida facility. A walk inside and under the car reveals a host of heavy-duty gear. — Paul Zazarine
1 Tubular upper and lower control arms are designed by Blue Moon for the Hemi Dart. They’ll be offering these set-ups for A-, E-, and B-bodied Mopars in the future. GSS “Tri-Power” Stainless Steel Brakes three-piston calipers put the binders on the SSBC 13-inch vented rotors front and rear. Coilovers are from QA-1.
2 Big Dana 60 from Strange rests on Calvert Racing’s Caltracs semi-eliptical split mono leaf springs. The adjustable trailing arm is also from Calvert Racing. The axles have been narrowed one inch on each side.
3 Blue Moon whipped up this nifty solenoid-activated exhaust cut out just aft of the headers — just the thing for a cruise around the burger joint parking lot on Saturday night.
4 Undercarriage view reveals massive headers neatly tucked away and running four-inch collectors. From there, the pipes measure three inches to the rear. Helwig one-inch cold bent stabilizer bar ties the front end together.
5 To clear the back of the Hemi’s left hand cylinder head, a Lamb Components master cylinder is offset 3.25 inches. Lamb also supplied the offset bracket and the pedal assembly.
Mr. Norm Speaks
Musclecar Enthusiast was recently afforded the opportunity to visit with Norm Kraus, a.k.a. Mr. Norm, who chatted with us about his almost 60 years in the automotive industry.
Musclecar Enthusiast: Mr. Norm, how did it all start?
Mr. Norm: I started out with my brother Len after World War Two working at a gas station our father Harvey owned. It was located at the corner of Grand and Spaulding in Chicago. My Dad started out in 1935 with a Phillips 66 station. In 1948 I was 15 years
old, my brother Len was all of 17 1/2. We ran a three-pump, three-stalls station with a lubrication and accessories offering the most profit. Later in 1948 we bought a Jeep and I went out on $2 service calls for the Chicago Motor Club. This was a lot better than three cents a gallon we made pumping gas, especially when it’s 20 below zero.
MCE: How did you start selling cars?
MN: Ben Frum opened Jupiter Motors, a used car lot next to Mars Motors, an Olds dealership. He encouraged us to sell cars at the Phillips 66 station. We paid $30 for a 1939 Ford coupe to put in front of the station, detailed it, installed a used muffler and put it up for sale. It sold within a day, we cleared $60, selling the car for about $100.
MCE: So you were successful selling used cars. But how did you get started moving high performance iron?
MN: It was 1957 when an insurance adjuster asked if I would sell a car for him in the lots behind the gas station. It was a well-used, repaired 1956 Chevy Convertible with a V-8 and a stick. My Dad said it wouldn’t sell but the adjuster paid me $6 for a two-line ad in the Sun Times. Because of the limited space the last words were “call Mr. Norm” and that’s how Mr. Norm was born. The next day a kid pulled up in a 1957 Chevy Bel Air 283 automatic and paid $400 for the ragtop. But the kid’s grandmother told me to cancel the deal, which I did and then resold the car about an hour later taking a 1953 Olds in on the trade. From that point on, we only bought stick shift performance cars. You could mark the start of Mr. Norm’s high performance era as 1957-58. We would buy with a 4-speed, especially the fuel injected GM cars. In the next three years all we did was sell performance cars.
MCE: When did you make the transition to selling new cars?
MN: After several years of solicitation by the local Dodge sales rep, we made the decision to become a new car dealer and Grand Spaulding Dodge was born, opening in the fall of 1962, just in time for the start of the 1963 model year. We named it for the corner on which it was located. And right from the start the focus of the dealership was high performance. Many industry professionals predicted lackluster success at best.
MCE: Legend has it that the first Grand Spaulding dealership was unusual in more ways than one.
MN: That’s true. We were the first Dodge dealer ever awarded a franchise without a dealership showroom. By the spring of ’63, we agreed to put up a showroom followed by the service facility. And here comes Dodge with the 330s and 440s with cross ram 426s as well as mainstream 383s.
MCE: It must to have been an exciting time?
MN: At the end of 1962 a local racer came into the parts department and in return for a set of plugs and some seatbelts, agreed to put Grand Spaulding on the side of his car, basically becoming our first sponsorship. The car ran at The Ampitheater, an 1/8-mile indoor drag strip on the south side of Chicago. It was a 426 cubic inch Dodge 330, 13:1 compression ratio, a ram induction max wedge. He won that weekend and by the following Wednesday we already had five more drag car customers. This is phase two of our high performance heritage.
MCE: You seemed to tap the emerging youth market at about the same time the Ford Mustang was introduced.
MN: Exactly. I formed the first Grand Spaulding Dodge racing team comprised of two cars. The first was a Max Wedge 426, the Hustler 1 driven by Pat Minnick. At the same time sales of new Dodges doubled over the previous year. And each year for the next seven years we doubled our sales of new Dodges. I started Mr. Norm’s Sport Club. We held dances and The Buckinghams were featured, just before they hit the big time. Our commercials ran on WLS, at the time one of the most powerful AM radio stations in America and at night were heard from coast-to-coast.
MCE: was a big year for you right?
MN: With the coming of the 1965 season,we teamed up with Gary Dyer and built what many consider to be the first funny car, a supercharged Hemi Dodge Coronet That changed the course of racing forever by laying the ground work for what became the professional Funny Car Category. This car turned an 8.63 ET at Lions’ Dragway late in the year to become the fastest funny car in the country, even making the front page of the Los Angeles Herald.
MCE: And you opened up one of the first in-dealership speed shops?
MN: That’s when we opened up the performance boutique but we didn’t call it a boutique back in 1965. It was simply the high performance parts department. I build a special
Mr. Norm, at the introduction of the new GSS Hemi Dart in the Mr. Gasket booth at the SEMA trade show.
40×8 foot wall above the parts department and displayed every part. This got us involved with companies like Edelbrock, Holley, Milodon, Doug’s Headers, Cragar and Keystone wheels, spokes in front, reverse chrome wheels in back.
MCE: And now getting to the most important issue, how was the 383 Dart born?
MN: When they first came through, the new 1967 Darts had only the small black 237 V-8. I told the Dodge zone rep, we needed something bigger to compete with the Chevys and Fords.
MCE: So you took matters into your own hands?
MN: Yes. In late 1966 we developed the first 383 Dart that was the prototype for the factory 383 Dart GTS. The factory rep said that the 383 wouldn’t fit. I told him that we’d make it fit.
MCE: You turned to Dennis Hirschbeck, your parts manager and service director?
MN: I got Dennis on the phone and
told him to take a Dart off the lot and stuff a 383 in it. Dennis pulled a 383 out of another car on the lot… I don’t remember what it came from, and overnight Dennis had it installed in the Dart.
MCE: Overnight, as in 24 hours?
MN: The next morning when I came in Dennis said the car was done. To which I replied, “What car?” And he replied “The 383 Dart.” I must say that this shocked me. He moved the left motor mount and took off a quarter inch of the front side of the A-frame. Then he put a heat deflector between the manifold and the steering column. He and I went out for a ride and it ran great. The next call was to Dick Day, editor of Car Craft. He said he’d have a reporter on the next plane east and I said I’d pick him up at O’Hare as soon as he landed.
MCE: What was the next step?
MN: I called up Bob McCurry (head of Dodge Division) in Detroit and told him I’d drive it to the Chrysler assembly plant in Hamtramck. When I got there, they called upstairs to Bob and told him I was down in the lobby. He came down and looked at the car and took off with it to
road test it. Got back and called the engineers to come down to look at it. They said it had a heat deflector on it.
MCE: Needless to say, Bob really liked it?
MN: After Bob drove the car it was determined that this was something he wanted Dodge to offer and found that it was possible to build 383-equipped Darts
on the assembly line.
MCE: You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?
MN: When the first 383 GTSs came in, I said to Denny, we need to change the T in GTS to an S for Grand Spaulding Special. Denny said that the replacements letters only came in red. I said great, no problem. The whole rest of the car looks completely standard expect for the red S. This was the only way you could tell it was a 1968 383 Dart
MCE: You came up with exclusive performance parts?
MN: As our performance business grew, I started making special parts. Our exhausts and mufflers all collected under the car. Thus our cars looked like regular production cars. They were the first instances of high performance stealth. I also specified specific improvements; an
example would be camshafts, we had a unique grind that gave our customers an edge when they went to the track. I wanted them to win. Our buzzwords were Performance Proven Knowhow; it was a part of all our ads in this era. When a customer’s car came in, it wasn’t delivered until I had a chance to set it up. Every delivery was dyno tuned in front of the customer. We took the minimum factory specs to the absolute maximum. When a customer won at
the track with one of our cars, I felt as good about it as when Gary won with one of our
MCE: What was up your sleeve for 1968?
MN: I told Bob that we should throw in the 440 for 1968. And his reply was “besides that, let’s see if we can put a drag version together with the 426 Hemi.” We didn’t want to build cars, we wanted to sell cars, and then set them up.
MCE: It’s one thing to swap a 440 for a 273 on an individual basis, it’s something else to produce it on a production basis. So this is where Hurst came in?
MN: Yes. Bob got Hurst-Campbell to do the development and production of these cars. It’s just not practical for a dealership to do engine swaps in the volume we wanted to do. For your information, in 1968 a 426 short block cost all of $275 [about $1,700 in 2007 dollars, making the
1968 426 short block one of the greatest high performance bargains of all time].
MCE: What were the ramifications of Hurst-Campbell building the cars?
MN: Technically, the 440-engined cars needed to be offered to all dealers. I said “hold on a minute, this was our concept, you guys said it couldn’t be done. We proved it could.
It’s not fair to offer it to everyone.” So we compromised; Bob asked if I could order 50 at a time and without hesitation, I said yes. No other dealer would do that. Thus in 1968 and going into 1969 we had a virtual exclusive on the big-block 440 Darts.
ME: What, if anything, would you like to say in summarizing all your years in the performance car business?
MN: Now that I can look back, I can honestly say that it was great to be a part of the beginning of the performance history, dealer style. The excitement of bigger engines in smaller, lighter cars like the Dart, was the foundation of the performance packages that made dreams come true for so many of our customersâ€¦ Being involved with all this excitement, while traveling each week to the races, I had time to dream about creating a street car with unimaginable horsepower, tires that would make it work, and the right mix of parts that would keep it togetherâ€¦ Now it’s my privilege to present the 21st century Mr. Norm’s GSS Hemi Dart, a vehicle that incorporates all those dreams, along with being included in the original GSS registry. It just doesn’t get any better than that.