The Midget racers, Sprint cars, and Indy cars racing under Frank Kurtis’ Kurtis-Kraft banner amassed an incredible record of success in open-wheel oval racing from the 1930s through the 1960s. Kurtis-Kraft earned five outright wins at the Indy 500 and countless victories in local dirt-track racing across the country. Attempting an offshoot of his oval racing business, Frank Kurtis designed and built a road-going sports car in 1949, but after only 15 chassis, he abandoned the project and sold the rights to Earl “Madman” Muntz, where it became the Muntz Jet. Kurtis-Kraft had another go at a sportscar in 1953, this time with a focus on road-racing competition. The new 500 S was an evolution of the 500 B Indy chassis, and it shared much of the open-wheel car’s architecture, including the transverse torsion bar suspension design. Aside from being widened to accommodate a passenger seat, the 500 S and 500B were so similar that some competitors called the sports racer “the two-seat Indy car.”
As the popularity of open road racing exploded in the early 1950s, Kurtis offered competitors a sophisticated, race-proven chassis, with the versatility of off-the-shelf engine options to suit each owner’s requirements and experience. After the 500 S came the KK500, designed to accommodate a range of aftermarket fiberglass bodies, and either model could be ordered as a turnkey car or as a kit, and engine options included the ubiquitous Cadillac 331, or various other V8s from Buick, Mercury, Lincoln, or Chrysler. Despite their oval-racing roots, the 500 S and KK500 were highly competitive road racers, with the likes of Briggs Cunningham, Frank McGurk, Mickey Thompson, and Bill Stroppe on the roster of Kurtis 500 owners and drivers.
This fascinating and hugely desirable Kurtis 500 Chrysler joined the collection in the 1980s. Marque experts familiar with this car believe it is a KK500 chassis that’s been modified with this amazing 500 S-style body, though the car’s early history is not fully known. Frank and David Kleptz fully restored the Kurtis in the early 1990s, and today it presents in excellent condition, in a striking livery of orange and black, with period-correct Halibrand knock-off magnesium wheels and side-exit exhaust. The cockpit is all business, with dimpled aluminum floors, authentic Stewart Warner gauges, and a period-correct four-spoke steering wheel.
The mechanical spec sheet comprises a 325 cubic-inch Hemi V8 from a 1957 Dodge D500. The engine is topped with a low-rise intake manifold and dual four-barrel carbs. Breathing through open headers, it sounds utterly fantastic both inside and outside the cockpit. The driveline is all correct for this era of Kurtis, with a four-speed Jaguar gearbox feeding a Halibrand quick-change rear-end. Following some minor sorting, the big Hemi runs exceptionally well, and the Jaguar gearbox feels positive and slick. Its enormous performance potential is evident from the moment the big Hemi bursts into life.
Following its restoration, the Kurtis 500 was displayed in a special class of Kurtis cars at the 2002 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and has since lived a quiet life in the collection. With minimal preparation, this Kurtis has the potential to be a competitive vintage racer but is versatile enough to be a thrilling entrant into prestigious road events like the Colorado Grand, Copperstate 1000, or a wide range of vintage rallies worldwide.
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