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Golden Sahara, Kookie T each sell for six-figure sums at auction

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos courtesy Mecum Auctions.

Prior to selling off the late Jim Street’s collection, which included two of the most iconic — and largely unseen for decades — mid-century custom cars, Mecum Auctions declined to offer pre-auction estimates for the Kookie T and the Golden Sahara, noting that their sales would prove unprecedented. Still, nobody figured the cars would sell cheap, and in the end the latter hammered for $350,000 while the former sold for $440,000.

The more expensive of the two, the Kookie T, saw its first glimpse of fame in April 1957 when LIFE magazine photographed Norm Grabowski and his T-bucket as part of a feature on Southern California hot rods. By then it had already directly influenced a number of others in the area — among them Tommy Ivo — to build their own take on the T-bucket style, and “Grabowski’s Lightnin’ Bug,” as he called it at the time, went on to greater influence via a number of magazine features, a few appearances in TV shows and movies, and eventually as a star car in the TV series 77 Sunset Strip.

Street, an Ohio-based showman, ended up buying Grabowski’s T-bucket in 1959 for $3,000, and put it on tour alongside his Golden Sahara. To continue to attract attention with the car and continue to earn appearance fees, Street would later add dual rear slicks, dual headlamps, dual superchargers, dual steps, high-backed bucket seats, and windshield-height zoomies.

But then, by the late 1960s, Street had enough of touring and rolled both the Kookie T and Golden Sahara into his shop in Dayton. Only in latter years — after at least a couple faithful clones of the Kookie T were built and a documentary on the car was produced — did Street permit a handful of custom-car historians to see the Kookie T in the flesh. It then re-entered the public eye again earlier this year after Street’s death and the consignment of his entire collection to auction.

The other star of that collection, the Golden Sahara, took a different route to fame. Originally a 1953 Lincoln Capri two-door hardtop that Barris mildly customized and later totaled in a crash, it took on the “Golden Sahara” name when Street commissioned Barris to build a radical custom inspired by contemporary European coachbuilders.

The initial version, which debuted in 1954, looked like nothing else on the road or under show lights at the time with a semi-bubbletop hinged-panel roof, hooded headlamps, gold-plated trim, and an interior that boasted both a refrigerator and a television. But after a few years, Street decided the car deserved more pizzazz, so in 1957 he overhauled it with new front and rear fenders, a more radical windshield and roof, pearlescent paint, and more gizmos and electronic wizardry than Sputnik.

It too appeared on film and television amid a constant touring schedule over the next decade or so. And it too went into storage in Dayton for the next several decades. Its paint has yellowed over time and auction attendees reported that the Golden Sahara’s interior is in a state of decay underneath its plastic slipcovers despite Street’s efforts to keep the interior sealed up tight, but it also remained complete down to the remote-control units Street used to display the technological devices he incorporated into the car.

Neither figure above included Mecum’s 10-percent commission, which bumped the total sale prices to $484,000 and $385,000, respectively. Neither of the cars’ buyers have publicly stated whether they intend to preserve the cars, restore them, or revert them to prior configurations.

In addition to the two customs, Street’s collection included a number of wooden boats, the most prominent of which, the 1933 Greavette custom triple cockpit designed by John Hacker, sold for $440,000, including premium.

For complete results from Mecum’s Indianapolis auction, visit Mecum.com.