Highlights

  • 1 of approximately 30 produced
  • One of the most original Kurtis 500S Roadsters in existence
  • Formerly owned by Motor Trend Magazine’s Classic Comments editor Bob Gottlieb for several decades
  • 1956 Cadillac V-8 engine
  • Aluminum and fiberglass body
  • Vestigal cycle fenders
  • Steel tube chassis
  • Worm gear and Pitman arm steering
  • A 10% buyer premium applies
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Story

By the time Frank Kurtis had built the first road-going 500S special in 1953, he was the most respected builder of Indianapolis and midget racers in America, as well as the inventor of the Indy “roadster,” so-called because, unlike the modified dirt racers that dominated the 500 in the pre- and early postwar years, it was purpose built to run only at the Brickyard. Kurtis refined his Kurtis Kraft racers, winning the 1949 Triple A Championship with Johnny Parsons, then taking Indy for the first time in 1950. In 1951, half the cars at the 500 were Kurtis-built, and Bill Vukovich won the race in 1953 and 1954.

But Kurtis’ adopted home of California was the epicenter of the new sports racing craze, and after scaring himself in a friend’s Allard (Kurtis later commented that the car’s handling “stunk”), he returned to his shop and built his own sports car based on the design principles that had turned his revolutionary “roadster” into the Golden Standard at Indianapolis.

Essentially a Kurtis Indy roadster with room for two, the car’s frame was constructed of steel tubing with a center box section for torsional strength, and it could take almost any kind of engine, almost always a Detroit V-8. The suspension was straight out of the roadster: a front tube axle with twin leading arms and torsion bars, and a solid Ford rear axle located by trailing arms. Steering was provided by simple worm gear and a Pitman arm, and the rest of the driveline components were the Hot Rodder’s staple, Ford. The open passenger compartment was a simple affair with minimal comfort and straightforward driver controls, the bodywork formed from a minimal amount of aluminum and fiberglass, including the vestigial cycle fenders. Viewed from the front, the car’s rectangular cross-section and vertical-bar grille made it instantly recognizable as a Kurtis.

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The 1954 Kurtis 500S offered here is one of approximately 30 produced. It was purchased at a swap meet more than 42 years ago by “Motor Trend” Magazine Classic Comments Editor Robert Gottlieb. A well-known and respected Beverly Hills attorney, Gottlieb was the hired legal counsel for some of the most notable players in the automotive industry, including Cadillac, General Motors, “Hot Rod” magazine publisher Petersen Publishing and others, and he was close friends with both Frank Kurtis and Bill Honda. It was in the April 1978 edition of his long-running column that Gottlieb described the original condition in which he found the 500S as well as his own conservative treatment of the car post-discovery, noting that “The entire body is aluminum except for the steel front cycle fenders and the fiberglass turtle back. The car is extremely light, awfully noisy, loads of fun and extremely scarce. It has never been in a major accident and is probably the most original Kurtis 500 in existence. Few people recognize it on occasional jaunts through Los Angeles. It still has its original red paint and original chrome, and it appears to be a perfect unaltered specimen.” The car is powered by a vintage Cadillac engine, and after all that time in Gottlieb’s generous care, it remains today perhaps the best original Kurtis Kraft 500S roadster in the world.

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