This vehicle began life as a 1936 Ford that was stripped down to the frame and given a design similar to the Cord 810 but in sleeker and racier fashion. It was a dual-purpose roadster that spent most of its life traveling road ways but was designed for occasional racing at the Dry Lakes. It has a hand-formed aluminum body with chromed grille bars wrapping around each side and extending all the way to the cockpit.
This vehicle was brought to the 2007 Monterey Sports & Classic Car Auction presented by RM Auctions, where it had an estimated value of $250,000 - $350,000. Though the bidding did not reach the estimated value, the lot was sold for a high bid of $210,000 including buyer's premium. There are minimalist doors make of steel and a pointed rear tail for styling and aerodynamic effect.
The interior was narrow yet cozy featuring a unique dash panel with bronze casting with etched horizontal elements and seven custom-faced Stewart-Warner gauges. The steering wheel is from a Cadillac. There are wind-up windows but no top.
This car was built by Frank Kurtis at the request of Tommy Lee. Lee was the heir to the Don Lee Agency which had over fifty Cadillac dealerships, California real estate holdings, and businesses in other industries such as radio and TV.
To accommodate the racing specifications of the customer, the car had four fenders borrowed from a new Cord. The front fenders had disappearing headlights. The rears consisted of two sets of Oldsmobile teardrops on each side, and were easily removable. The Oldsmobile bumpers were also easily removed. If the car was to be used in high speed runs, rear fender skirts were easily attachable.
The engine was created by Fred Offenhauser and one of the largest one's he would ever build. It displaced 318 cubic inches, had twin cams, and an estimated 300 horsepower with large amounts of torque. The engine was mated to a LaSalle three-speed gearbox and the rear end was a Columbia two-speed. The car had low gearing for drag racing and a tall radio for high speed driving. The exhaust system consisted of four separate coiled pipes that eventually exited the engine bay and ran along the side of the car. A shorter competition exhaust could also be easily adapted.
The car was completed in 1937 for a reported cost of $25,000 which made it more expensive than most Duesenbergs at the time. The car was brought to the dry lakes where it achieved 123-mph in street trim and 130 mph without the fenders. It was brought back a few years later in racing trim where it is reported to have gone 148 mph.
The car was later put into storage as Lee focused on his many other vehicles, many of which more modern as the years progressed. During the late 1940s he was involved in an accident that left him with spinal injuries, sever back pain, and many other ailments. He was on heavy medication but his ailment also left him with depression. On January 13th of 1950 (Friday the 13th), he leapt from the roof of the Pelissier Building in Los Angeles. He was 43 years old.
The Kurtis Speedster was purchased by Mr. Mattison in the late 1950s. The car was without an engine and had been sitting in an LA wrecking yard. It would pass through several other owners, eventually becoming just a frame, running gear and body shell. Ownership later passed to Steve Alcala of El Segundo, California. Using his skill as a metal shaping craftsman, he brought the body back to original condition. A 270 cubic-inch Offy engine was procured which was rebuilt to similar specifications as the original.
Upon competition, the car was debuted at the 22nd Annual Le Cercle Concours d'Elegance in 1989. It later appeared at the 40th Annual Pebble Beach Concours in 1990. Since then it has competed at the Monterey Historics, and won major awards at Amelia Island, Castle Hill and Pebble Beach.
This one-of-a-kind vehicle was brought to the 2007 Monterey Sports & Classic Car Auction presented by RM Auctions, where it had an estimated value of $450,000 - $650,000. As the gavel fell the lot had been sold for $440,000.
In 2010, this Kurtis 'Tommy Lee Speedster' was offered for sale at the Gooding & Company Auction held in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was estimated to sell for $250,000 - $350,000. As bidding came to a close, the lot was sold for the sum of $258,500, inclusive of buyer's premium.Also photographed at :
This 1930s speedster style one-off was built by Frank Kurtis for Tommy Lee, a noted California enthusiast who inherited his father's Cadillac dealership empire and media fortune at a young age.
Powered by a purpose built one-off Offenhauser, 318 cubic-inch, twin-cam race engine producing 300 horsepower and immense torque. The gearbox is a LaSalle three-speed manual mated to a Columbia two-speed rear end.
This dual purpose machine ran fender-less at the dry lakes in period achieving recorded speeds of 130 mph with a reported run of 148 mph in 1941. Evoking the Auburn Speedster and Cord 810, the lightweight custom hand-crafted alloy body had graceful lines and brilliantly executed details. It was completed at a cost of $25,000 in 1937 when Tommy was 30 years old.
Steve Alcala of California is responsible for the restoration. Since its 1989 Concours debut, the car has enjoyed many more showings including what it does best, running hard at the Monterey Historics.