In the ’50s and ’60s, the “Golden Sahara” was the quintessential show car, and Jim Skonzakes the quintessential showman. This striking photo of Skonzakes (aka Jim Street) with the second iteration of the Sahara is one of hundreds of shots discovered after his passing late last year. Along with the Golden Sahara, Norm Grabowski’s famed “Kookie Kar” T-bucket and dozens of other cars, boats and motorcycles from Skonzakes’ collection will be auctioned at Mecum’s Original Spring Classic in Indy May 15-20.
One month ago news broke that the late Jim Skonzakes’ “Golden Sahara II” and the “Kookie Kar” were unearthed after years in hiding, destined for Mecum’s Original Spring Classic Auction at the Indiana State Fairgrounds May 15-20. Since then, the folks at Mecum have been tackling the monumental job of cataloging hundreds of photos, receipts for custom work on the cars and other ephemera that Skonzakes held on to all these years. Some of the images we’ve never seen before, and we thought we’d share a few of them with you.
Skonzakes, an Ohio native, worked with Barris Kustom to create the first version of the Golden Sahara from Barris’ own wrecked ’53 Lincoln Capri. It was an immediate hit on the show circuit and earned a sponsorship deal with Ohio’s Seiberling tire company, appearing in magazine ads and at events in Seiberling’s elaborate display.
Skonzakes, aka Jim Street, was a bit of a mysterious character, having built a diverse collection of wildly customized cars, trucks, boats and motorcycles that he kept hidden in and around his native Dayton, Ohio. His most famous are the Barris-built Golden Sahara and Norm Grabowski’s trend-setting T-bucket, which appeared in “77 Sunset Strip,” but that’s not all that’s heading for auction. Many of his custom boats, trailers, other cars, and even a custom Harley-Davidson Knucklehead are also up for grabs.
In 1956 Skonzakes had Indiana customizer Bob Metz and Ohio’s Delphos Machine and Tool further modify the Lincoln, creating the Golden Sahara II. This twin-finned, bubble top version had all manner of space age accouterments, from light-up wheels and radar-assisted brakes to remote controlled/voice-activated functionality throughout. Skonzakes often rented the Sahara to auto dealerships like this one because it was a crowd magnet for the stores and the rental income helped him cover the reported $75,000 build cost.
There’s even some rumbling about a few more surprises, but we’re sworn to secrecy…at least for now. In the meantime, you can visit www.mecum.com for more details, photos of the complete Skonzakes collection and all other lots being auctioned, and a very cool video about the Golden Sahara.
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There wasn’t a thing Skonzakes left stock—not even the trailers that hauled his boats. One of the many aquatic hot rods that will be auctioned along with the Sahara is his 1955 Chris-Craft 21-foot Cobra. It was rare when Jim bought it new—just 108 were built, and only 56 were 21-footers. But we’d guess none were quite like Jim’s, which was equipped with a blown Cadillac built by Sprint legend Henry Meyer, quad exhaust, Buick porthole ventilators and Batmobile-style twin-grip steering, among other custom touches. It will be sold along with the customized trailer shown here and the original bill of sale.
Norm Grabowski’s T-bucket screamed into pop culture infamy when it appeared in “77 Sunset Strip” in 1958 with Kookie Kookson at the wheel. The following year Skonzakes bought it from Grabowski for $3,000, turned it over to Larry Watson for a fresh Rose Pearl paint job with candy red flames, and then put it on the show circuit. This shot shows the Kookie Kar at one of Skonzakes’ many dealership engagements with the Golden Sahara. Note the lettering in the window referencing the Sahara: “See It Now! The Voice Controlled Car!”
Years later the T-bucket was modified even further with twin blowers, tall zoomies, taller bucket seats, and a quartet of slicks out back. That final version is seen here being loaded into the trailer and tow rig Skonzakes had built specifically for the T and the Sahara, which is tucked inside the Bill DeCarr-customized ’58 Ford C-Series cabover. Like the Sahara, the Kookie Kar remains surprisingly well preserved, with many of the details from the most famous early version of the car still intact.