1955 Kurtis KK 500C Indy Roadster

The history of American motor racing is deeply rooted in the dirt oval tracks that dotted our landscape. From the 1930s through the 1960s, these tracks hosting weekly races for midget and sprint car drivers to show their stuff. Drivers could make a decent living running week to week on the circuits, sometimes racing 5 nights a week or more! But of course, they all strove for glory at the race that mattered most to them: the Indianapolis 500. As much as the drivers sought glory at Indy, car owners and constructors competed for prize money and notoriety, pushing the limits of engineering and the rule books to eke out that fractional advantage over the competition. Some of the greatest drivers in history such as Andretti and Foyt made their names on the dirt tracks, driving Offenhauser-powered sprint cars, and fighting through the ranks to make their names at Indy.

In the 1930s, a young fabricator named Frank Kurtis (born Frank Kuretich) was working for Don Lee Racing, building bodies for midget race cars. He soon branched out on his own, building his first complete midget racer chassis from the ground up in 1932, in the process forming Kurtis Kraft. His early cars proved successful and he soon connected with other West Coast designers, engineers and racing enthusiasts, briefly branching into road car design where he designed new bodies for old Fords and Buicks, pioneering the Hot Rod and Custom era. He also built a handful of examples of a sleek sports car powered by a Ford flathead V8, a car that would eventually become the Muntz Jet. But Kurtis’ love and expertise lay in building racing cars, and in 1941 he designed and built his first entrant into the Indy 500, which was driven by Sam Hanks.

Frank Kurtis continued to foster his name at Indianapolis, while still offering sprints and midgets in complete and kit form. Kurtis chassis set numerous lap records at Indy, with most cars being powered by the equally legendary Offenhauser four-cylinder or the wickedly fast, howling NOVI V8 engine. Kurtis Kraft cars often dominated the field in sheer numbers, especially through the 1950s when the Indy 500 was a Grand Prix world-championship event. All told, Kurtis Kraft built 120 Indianapolis 500 cars, four of which were outright winners, with one of them winning the race twice! A series of road cars were offered in the 1950s that were loosely based on the Indy cars, and powered by Buick, Cadillac or Chrysler engines – putting Kurtis Kraft in the sports car business as well. Today, any Kurtis Kraft-built machine is considered highly collectible and prized for its exceptional quality and performance.

Hyman Ltd is very pleased to offer this Kurtis Kraft KK 500 C; The Federal Engineering Special, a fine example of one of Kurtis’ greatest ever racing cars. Built in 1954 by Russ Snowberger, a well-known racer who competed himself at Indianapolis thirteen times between 1928 and 1947. After retiring as an active driver he spent the rest of his career as chief mechanic for the Federal Engineering team out of Detroit, Michigan. This KK 500 C competed in the 1955 and 1956 Indianapolis 500 mile races. The car was again entered in 1957 but didn't make the grid. In the two years it competed, this car was driven by the highly respected west coast driver Fred Agabashian.

Fred’s first appearance at Indy was in 1950, piloting a Maserati 8CTF powered by an Offenhauser four. He switched to a Kurtis 3000 entered by Andy Granatelli for 1951, and in 1952 he was hired by Don Cummins, at Frank Kurtis’ recommendation, to pilot the famous Cummins Diesel Special – built on a Kurtis chassis. That combination was fast enough to earn driver and car the pole position for that year. Sadly, it ended in tears for Don Cummins and Agabashian as turbo failure halted their race some 70 laps in. Two top-six finishes followed for ’53 and ’54, in two different Kurtis 500-Offy chassis. 1955 saw Agabashian paired up with our featured car, entered by Federal Engineering and powered by the proven and robust Offenhauser 270 engine. He qualified the car on the second row, in fourth place, at a very respectable 141.933 mph. Unfortunately, oil on the track caused a spin and a 32nd place classification early in the race. Agabashian returned in 1956, again in this Federal Engineering-entered Kurtis. He qualified seventh this time, and ran a steady, measured race to finish 12th at the end of the day.

While this car did not return to race at Indy, it did go on to race in other events around the country. Thankfully, Russ Snowberger had the forethought to remove and store a large part of the original Offenhauser motor and it has remained with the car throughout its life. This wonderful Kurtis was restored in 2000 by John Snowberger, the son of the man who originally built the car, to its 1955 specification and livery.  The Offenhauser 270 dual-overhead cam four-cylinder engine has been rebuilt by noted Offy expert Steve Truchan and is said to run well. There is nothing quite like guttural thump of a big-bore Offy, and when running on Methanol as these cars are designed for, they make incredible power. This truly is one of the greatest racing engines of all time, from any era, and in combination with the brilliance of the Kurtis chassis, proved a formidable competitor.

Wearing a very authentic restoration, this KK 500C is very nicely presented in its original yellow and blue livery, adorned with Agabashian’s #14 from 1955. The paint quality is very good and the livery is hand-lettered in blue as original. Blue upholstery ties in with the blue lettering, and the car is equipped with its correct Jones tachometer and oil pressure, temp and fuel pressure gauges. It rides on correct Halibrand knock-off wheels with their natural gray magnesium finish, and still retains the tires it raced at Indy with!  A set of aerodynamic Moon-disc wheel covers are included, which were fitted to the car to get maximum speed during qualifying. Period photos show the car equipped with the discs, as well as in the garage, in the pits and on track with Agabashian behind the wheel.

Groups such as Vintage Indy Cars and the Classic Racing Times are comprised of dedicated enthusiasts who are committed to maintaining the legacy of these iconic machines through organized track days specifically for vintage and historic Indy, Sprint and Midget cars. Other historic motorsport organizers are opening up to include these important racing cars. Through a close-knit community, there are plenty of opportunities to use such a car in a manner in which it was intended. Highly desirable and with solid history, this Kurtis KK 500 C remains in very good order, with a careful, period appropriate restoration. Massively collectible, this is an exciting way to experience the living history of America’s greatest motorsport event.

If you're a classic cars enthusiast looking to buy vintage cars and complete your collection, you can rely on the experience of classic car dealers at Hyman. Contact us today and learn more about our classic car consignment program.


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