Later this week or next, I will be starting a mini-series of sorts on the history of American sport cars. That history is planted firmly in the hands of Briggs Cunningham, but Frank Curtis was not far behind. Of course, we all know him for his success on circle tracks. His sprint cars were unbeatable for over a decade and his Indy cars are now legendary, but Frank desperately wanted to create a production/sport car company as well.
His first effort was labeled the Kurtis Sport Car – a gorgeous aluminum bodied convertible based on a 1949 Ford chassis. Due to the high cost of production, Frank couldn’t make the numbers work and sold the design to Earl Muntz who went on to re-label the car as the Muntz Jet. Earl built around 300 from 1951 to 1953.
A short while later, Frank decided to try his hand at production cars once again. This time, he decided to take his 500B Indy car chassis and modify it to be a suitable base for a road car. It didn’t take much… In fact, other than the wider track (done to allow +1 seating and a wider variety of engine choices) the first Kurtis 500S road car was very similar to the Kurtis race car. So much so, that the car became known as the “Two-seat Indy Car.”
Again, the cost of production hampered Frank. He just couldn’t get his selling price low enough to entice a market of any kind. In an effort to combat this, Frank introduced the KK500 – a kit version of the car allowing the builder/customer to chose from a number of different fiberglass bodies.
One of those customers was a guy named Jack Ensley. Jack’s goal was to win the 1958 Road America event. He had Jack Sutton build an all aluminum body for the car and once done, he stabbed in a Rochester injected SBC backed by a 4-speed. But time was short and Ensley wasn’t able to get the car done in time for Road America. Dejected, he sold the car to Joseph Cocannon.
Like many of the Kurtis road cars, the roadster changed hands a lot, got raced some, and never really lived up to its potential. But to me? This might be the most beautiful Kurtis ever built. There’s just something about the slab side body along with the recognizable Kurtis grill that makes this thing both uniquely American and wonderfully simplistic.