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						Kurtis Kraft 500 7

1954 Kurtis Kraft 500 S Roadster

By Dean Larson

Photos: Seller, Hemmings Classifieds

As the first non-driver inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, you better believe Frank Kurtis knew what it took to build successful dirt-track cars. In fact, Kurtis’ cars are described as “virtually unbeatable for over 20 years” by that same hall of fame. But Kurtis wasn’t content to stick to dirt-track alone, and he built a ton of Indy cars and sports car chassis as well. This 1954 Kurtis Kraft 500 S is a delightful combination of mechanical prowess and signature looks that came to define Frank Kurtis’ asphalt cars of the period.

Kurtis got started in the hobby in the 1930s when he was working as a fabricator for a midget race team and decided to fabricate his own chassis. Kurtis stuck with it and saw his brand blow up on the dirt-track scene into the 1960s. Kurtis had visions of grandeur though, and started developing a sports car chassis in 1949, of which only a handful were built before Kurtis sold the rights to Earl “madman” Muntz. Through the 1940s, Kurtis developed various designs for Indy, but he hit it big in 1950 and took the race by storm. By 1952, most of the cars entered for Indy were designed by Frank Kurtis, and Offenhauser-powered Kurtis Krafts won Indy in 1950, ’51, ’53, ’54 and ’55.

Branching out, Kurtis designed a two-seat road racer that was heavily based on the 500 B Indy chassis called the 500 S. Next came the 500 KK, which adopted a tubular chassis and allowed customers their choice of alloy or fiberglass bodywork. These cars were finished in a wide array of bodywork — everything from custom-bodied road racers and street cars to serious Indy racers. The car seen for sale here at Hyman Ltd. most likely started life as a 1954 500 KK chassis that was fit with 500 S-style bodywork. It’s powered by a 325 ci first-gen Hemi engine that was sourced from a 1957 Dodge D500. In its single-carb configuration, this engine produced a modest 260 hp. But if you opted for the dual-quad Super D-500 spec, output was up to 310 hp, but it’s unclear exactly what modifications are done to this engine. Kurtis handled gear shifts in these cars with a four-speed Jaguar transmission, which sends power back to a Halibrand quick-change rear end.

Nearly every Kurtis Kraft is different from the next, but this car makes a fantastic visual statement. The orange and black livery has great contrast, and the pronounced wing and fenders make for a charismatic shape that reminds us of what we used to believe cars could look like. Up front, you have the telltale Kurtis 500 grille, and the magnesium Halibrand knock-off wheels add significant value and style to the car. The car was restored in the 1990s by Frank and David Kleptz, and the seller reports that it presents well and drives excellent.

The seller asks $279,500 here on Hemmings classifieds, which is healthy chunk of change, but probably not out of question for this caliber of car.

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