Norm Kraus grew up pumping gas at his father’s service station on the northwest corner of West Grand Avenue and North Spaulding Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, a mostly blue-collar neighborhood.
Kraus was a lover of high-performance vehicles as a teenager and wasn’t interested in pumping gas and twisting wrenches. So, he convinced his father to start a used car sale by the side of the station to bring in some extra income.
In 1948, Norm and his brother Lenny were skilled in selling used cars under the Grand Spaulding Motors banner.
Business was good and in 1951, they bought the land next to them and filled it with used cars for sale, and ended up selling them as well. Their father’s service station handled all the repairs and bodywork. In 1957, the brothers decided to specialize in sport-oriented vehicles.
In 1956, the two brothers placed an advertisement in a local newspaper saying “1956 Chevy convertible, V8, stick, Call Mr. Norm”. This single advertisement ended up attracting so many calls. Norm told Lenny, who was out buying cars to buy every car with a V8 engine and a stick.
Big engines and manual transmissions stood out from the normal used cars despite the brand or model. The Kraus brothers approached other dealers who were having a hard time selling performance cars. The Kraus brothers ran “Call Mr. Norm” ads in the Chicago Sun-Times so the moniker stuck.
In the early 1960s, Dodge representative was looking to sign up new dealerships would stop by the lot from time to time and tried to convince the brothers to become a Dodge dealership, but the Kraus brothers were not fans of Dodge due to their lackluster design language. They told the representative about this, and he assured that in the future, Dodge would have some good-looking vehicles. Finally, they agreed to the idea and signed up with Dodge in late 1962 to start a new dealership.
By then, they didn’t have a showroom or proper service facilities, but they had an order pad. From the beginning, they stressed performance-oriented cars.
The Max Wedge cars were the first-ever order he received from the factory. He didn’t realize that the Max Wedge cars were batched built and were surprised to see a line of transporters pulled up in a blizzard with the entire order. All these cars were sold within a short period of time.
In the spring of 1963, the old gas station was torn down and a three-car showroom was built. Lenny Krauss was handling promotion, budgets, sales, and ordering while Norm was the one running the showroom and marketing. The Kraus brothers studied other dealerships to see what worked and what didn’t and ended up building the biggest Dodge dealership on Earth.
The brothers eventually started the “Mr. Norm’s Sports Club”. Buyers of a performance car were automatically enrolled and many benefits were given to them including window decals, license plate frames, a monthly newsletter, and a subscription to Drag News magazine.
In 1963, Grand Spaulding Dodge entered into racing events. A former customer who had bought one of the first Max Wedge cars approached Mr. Norm and convinced him to provide a free set of spark plugs and a pair of seatbelts in return for putting the dealership’s name on the side of his car. On the same weekend, the car was raced at the Chicago Amphitheater featuring indoor drag racing and won the race. By Monday, they were receiving so many calls from potential customers and ended up selling three cars that day to people who saw the Max Wedge car in action.
Grand Spaulding Dodge, convinced with the publicity followed with the racing event, formed its own racing team in 1964, made up of a Max Wedge car and a Hemi Ram car. Gary Dyer had been signed up as the primary driver of the cars. Grand Spaulding Dodge also made a point to compete in classes that its customer base would not be driving in, to make sure that a customer wouldn’t be embarrassed due to their entry.
With the performance demand was skyrocketing, the Kraus brothers asked Dodge for a car that would compete with the Chevrolet Nova. Dodge sent Grand Spaulding a 1967 Dodge Dart with a 273 cubic inch V8 engine. The Kraus brothers were curious why on earth the Dart wasn’t equipped with the top of range 383 cubic-inch V8 engine. He was told that the engine wouldn’t fit under the Dart’s hood, so the brothers asked their parts manager to remove the 273 V8 engine to see what it would make to install a 383 V8 in its place. The next morning, the Kraus brothers were presented with the car. The engine’s mounts were moved a little, a new heat shield was installed to protect the steering box along with some other modifications to fit the big-block engine.
This car was shown to the Dodge management and the engineers, who saw it as a worthy street machine. Factory released it as the Dart 383 GTS.
Mr. Norm wondered whether is it possible to install a 440 cubic inch V8 engine to the Dart. It fit, but the exhaust headers had to run through cutouts in inner fender wells, this car was called GSS 440.
Grand Spaulding Dodge fed the need for Mopar performance through the 1960s, becoming the number one Dodge dealership in the world in 1974. But it was evident that the performance market was fading away by the end half of the 1970s due to tough federal emission control rules, rising insurance rates, tougher safety regulations, etc. Due to the lack of market demand, the dealership was converted into van conversions.
The Grand Spaulding Dodge also did fleet sales to police, government agencies, and rental car companies. At one point, they ended up supplying the entire fleet of Chicago police Department Cruisers.
Norm Krauss sold the dealership in 1977 and retired in 1977. Yet, he kept developing a 1968 Dodge Dart equipped with a Hemi engine, now delivering a 735 horsepower. This car was capable of running the quarter-mile in 10 seconds.
In 1989, Mr, Norm was included in the Mopar Hall of Fame.
After almost two decades later, in 1997, Mr. Norm teamed u with Larry Weiner to create the Limited-Edition Mr. Norm’s Supercharged 500 Collectible Sport trucks.
In 1999, Mr. Norm’s Sports Club returned, after almost thirty years hiatus, and was launched at the Chrysler’s At Carlisle.
In 2006, Mr. Norm unveiled his 1968 GSS Hemi Dart, limited production of 40 cars.
Mr. Norm returned to modifying Chrysler 300C from 2012, Dodge Challenger from 2008, Dodge Charger, and a Ram GSS Rumbler from 2013.