This is a 1954 Kurtis 500 S Roadster, essentially a road-legal race car built by the legendary Frank Kurtis and his team at Kurtis Kraft, one of the most successful race car manufacturers in America at the time.
Over the course of his long career Frank Kurtis would design and build midget cars, quarter-midget cars, sports cars, sprint cars, Formula One cars, and over 120 Indianapolis 500 cars. Kurtis is best remembered today for the five Indy 500 winning cars he built, and for his utterly dominant midget cars, which were essentially unbeatable for 20 years.
Fast Facts – The Kurtis 500 S Roadster
- The Kurtis 500 S Roadster is part of the second series of production road cars built by Kurtis Kraft, they were more or less just widened two-seat versions of the company’s Indy 500 race cars.
- Customers could order them as either completed turnkey cars or as kit cars, it’s not known how many were built though just a handful remain today.
- Kurtis Kraft’s first production car, the 1949 Kurtis Sport Car or KSC, was the first Motor Trend cover car and it’s believed to have been the inspiration for the development of the first Chevrolet Corvette.
- Surviving Kurtis road cars today are highly collectible, with valves seeming to increase notably year on year.
Frank Kurtis And His Dominant Midgets
When Frank Kurtis founded Kurtis Kraft in the 1930s he had no way of knowing that he would become one of the most successful race car manufacturers in the country.
His company would build over 550 turnkey midget racing cars and 120 Indy 500 cars, they also produced 600 midget race car kits, one of which took part in the 1959 Formula One United States Grand Prix driven by Rodger Ward.
Above Video: This short film from Motor Trend showcases the first Kurtis Kraft production car, the KSC, and discusses its historic significance.
One thing that Kurtis always wanted to do was launch his own automobile company, utilizing the lessons learned building race cars and apply them to road legal sports cars. In 1949 he launched the Kurtis Sport Car (KSC), based on a 1949 Ford chassis and engine the car is a convertible with two seats, and elegant aluminum coachwork.
When ordering your new KSC you had the choice of either a turnkey car or a kit car, the performance by the standards of the day was excellent, however the price could creep up close to $5,000 USD depending on final specification – more than the cost of a new Jaguar XK120.
By 1950 it was clear to Kurtis that a production car company wasn’t economically viable and he sold the company to Earl “Madman” Muntz for $200,000. Muntz went on to modify the car and create the Muntz Jet which would be produced from 1951 to 1953 with over 300 built.
Round Two – The Arrival Of The Kurtis 500 S Roadster
In 1953 Frank Kurtis and his team once again decided to try their hand at creating a production road car, though this time they would be essentially creating a two-seat, road-legal version of their successful Indy 500 race car.
Rather than designing a new car from scratch they opted to use a modified version of the Kurtis Kraft 500B Indy 500 car, with a widened chassis that would allow seating for two. The resulting low-volume production sports car was so similar to the race car that it was nicknamed the “two-seat Indy car.”
Engine options included the Cadillac 331, or a number of other V8s from Buick, Mercury, Lincoln, or Chrysler. Major motor racing figures including Briggs Cunningham, Frank McGurk, Mickey Thompson, and Bill Stroppe were all either Kurtis 500 owners or racing drivers.
After the Kurtis 500 S came the Kurtis KK500 which was designed to accommodate a range of different aftermarket fiberglass bodies. Ultimately they would sell a number of cars but it wouldn’t be significantly profitable project for the company, thus it was closed down in 1955.
The Kurtis 500 S Roadster Shown Here
The can you see here is a bit of an historical curiosity, its early history isn’t known, but it appears to have a later Kurtis KK500 chassis combined with an earlier Kurtis 500 S body.
Marque experts Frank and David Kleptz fully restored the car in the early 1990s and it still presents in excellent condition today, with period-correct Halibrand magnesium wheels, a 325 cubic inch Hemi V8 from a 1957 Dodge D500 with a low-rise intake manifold, dual four-barrel carburetors, and a side-exit exhaust.
The car is now for sale with Hyman Ltd with an asking price of $279,500 USD, if you’d like to read more about it and make an enquiry you can click here to visit the listing.
Images courtesy of Hyman Ltd
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