Frank Kurtis 1908-????


   

Frank Kurtis was born in Crested Butte, Colorado, on January 25, 1908. Frank's dad, Frank Kurtis, Sr., after trying several locations in the Colorado mining communities, established a blacksmith shop in Pueblo, Colorado. It was here that Frank Jr. developed his love for automobiles. The shop was doing both horse and buggy repairs as well as the new automobiles.

The family moved to Los Angeles in 1922 where he, Frank Jr., lied about his age and got a job with Don Lee Cadillac. His first car was a 1916 Ford Model T chassis with a specially constructed body He built and sold many street machines in his early years.

It was in the early 1930's that Frank started in on his love of designing and building race cars. This he accomplished in the four car garage built behind his home in Los Angeles. He built and repaired several race and custom cars throughout the 1930's. It was in 1939 that he first went to Indianapolis, where he was immediately commissioned to do some rework and repairs on some of the race cars.

1941 was the year his first car was built to enter in the Indianapolis race, and was driven by Sam Hanks. It was in late 1945 and early 1946 that the well known midgets were put into production along with the building of two more cars for Indy, one for Ross Page and the other being the famous Novi Special.

1947 brought about many more midgets and several Indy cars, one, a second Novi Team car, and another special designed entry called the Kurtis-Kraft Special, to be Frank's personal entry to the 1948 Indy Race. The Kurtis-Kraft Special was just that, it was a dream of Frank's come true. It was a one of a kind car built exactly the way Frank wanted. It was a combination dirt champ car with the capability of running Indy. The 1948 season found it finishing 9th at Indy and 12th in points. The 1948 season brought it to 2nd place at Indy and 1st place in championship points.

1949 was the realization of Frank's dream come true; Johnny Parsons wins the Indy 500 in the Kurtis-Kraft entry now called the Wynn's Oil Special. It carried the number 1 on its side while winning the 500. The car was sold to Jim Robbins and finished 2nd again in 1951.

During these years he built a one of a kind custom Buick and started his first production sports car, which was later to become the Muntz Road jet in 1950. The early 1950's saw more midgets and Indy cars of various designs. The first of the ever popular roadster Indy cars was built in 1952 for Bill Vukovich of Fresno. Vuky, teasing Frank, is the one originally calling them roadsters. Twenty-four out of the thirty-three starting cars at the Indy Races, were Kurtis built cars in the years of 1952, 1953,1954,1955.

1953 saw the birth of the famed 500 S sports car designed basically after the Indy Roadsters. It was to become very competitive across the country. Soon after, he designed yet another sports car, the 500 M and also a kit chassis for the do-it-yourselfers.

In early 1956, Frank was to leave Kurtis-Kraft and start his new company, now to be called Frank Kurtis Company. He was now on his own without business partners. Late 1956 saw the design of a new midget roadster and 14 cars to be built for the 1957 race at Indy. The firm also was active in building many 1/4 midgets and go-karts. world's fastest airplane. Frank Kurtis Company built these start carts and spares for Lockheed Corporation throughout the 1980's.

Frank Kurtis'Company continued building racing machines of all types through the 1950's and early 1960's. The 1963 Indy race was the last year a car was to come from this shop for that event.

August of 1963 was the beginning of the design and construction of the Start Carts for the SR-71 Blackbird, the world's fastest airplane. Frank Kurtis Company built these carts and spares for Lockheed Corporation throughout the 1980's.

Frank retired in 1968 and Arlen, his son, who had worked with him since his return from the Navy in 1956, continued on with the family business. The company continued work on the SR-71 project doing spares and repairs for Lockheed. Arlen also developed a line of high performance speed bores for drag racing and water skiing, which he produced throughout the 1970's and 1980's. During this time he held many records including the world's fastest propeller driven boat at 229 MPH built for the famous Eddie Hill, the record still standing in the Guinness Book of World Records.

In the mid 1980's Lockheed requested a redesign of the start carts for the Blackbird. Arlen proceeded with the project installing new later model engines and transmissions into the existing carts. The boat part of the business was sold off to allow more concentration on the start cart project. Unfortunately the SR-71 program was refired in 1989.

Arlen had started rebuilding a couple of his Dad's old cars that he had found. He decided to get back into a limited production of a few models of cars and parts his dad had once built.

It is with this background and knowledge that he is reproducing the cars of the 1940's and 1950's that his dad had once built. The same Frank Kurtis Company is using the same design and technology of the days they were first produced.
 

Frederick J. Roth - www.AmericanSportscars.com

 

   

For more information please read:

Gordon Eliot White - Kurtis-Kraft: Masterworks of Speed and Style

Gordon Eliot White - Indianapolis Racing Cars of Frank Kurtis 1941-1963 Photo Archive

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Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

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