Frank Kurtis infatuations with automobiles began at an early age. His father owned a blacksmith shop located in Pueblo, Colorado that repaired automobiles and horse-and-buggy. The family later moved to Los Angeles, CA where Frank got a job working with Don Lee Cadillac, after lying about his age. By the 1930's, Frank was designing, building, and repairing racers in his four car garage located behind his house.
In 1941 he had created a car to be entered in the Indianapolis race which was driven by Sam Hanks. Near the mid-1940's, he had created two other racers designed for Indy. The first was for Ross page and the second was the Novi Special. The Novi V8 Specials were racing cars designed to compete at Indianapolis from 1941 through 1965. These were very fast and powerful machines that had a reputation for their handling, which had claimed the lives of two drivers.
During the 1940's, Kurtis fostered a reputation for his midget and Indy racers. In 1946, the Kurtis Miller Ross Page Special had been created and was ready to compete in the first Indy 500 after World War II. The rear faring was constructed of Plexiglas and powered by a 183 cubic-inch Offenhauser engine. It competed in the 1946-1948 Indianapolis 500 races.
By 1947 he had created the Kurtis-Kraft Special, his personal entrant in the 1948 Indy race. This one-off was built specifically to Frank Kurtis's specification and desire. During the 1948 season, it carried Frank to a 9th place finish at Indy and 12th in points. For the 1949 season, under the name of Wynn's Oil Special, it was driven by Johnny Parson and wearing the number 1 on its side, to a first overall finish at Indianapolis. The vehicle was later sold to Jim Robbins who drove it in the 1951 Indianapolis race where he finished with an impressive 2nd overall.
During the early 1950's, Kurtis continued to built Indianapolis and midget racers. He even began building sports cars which later evolved into the Muntz Road Jet. By 1952, the majority of cars entered in the Indianapolis race were designed and built by Kurtis Kraft.
In 1952, Herb Porter and Frank Kurtis built the Wolcott Special, also known as the Kurtis 500A. It ran at Indianapolis in 1952, driven by Joie James, where it set records and lap times of 140 mph.
The 500 S was constructed in 1953 where it quickly proved its potential at sporting events around the country. The 500 S was quickly followed by the 500 M. There were six 500 X cars produced during the mid-1950's. The cars featured a four-bar torsion suspension, hand-formed aluminum panels, and a 364 cubic-inch Buick nailhead engine with Hilborn fuel injection.
In 1956, Frank left the Kurtis-Kraft Company and his business partners to begin his new company called Frank Kurtis Company. The company continued to build midget roadsters, go-karts, and sports cars. Since then, the company has shifted their focus to designing airplanes. Contracts with Lockheed Corporation lead to the construction of Start Carts for the SR-71 Blackbird.
In 1968 Frank retired from the company leaving his son Arlen in charge.
During Frank Kurtis's illustrious career, he created vehicles that dominated the midget racing series, racers that filled the grid at Indianapolis, and sports cars that were street legal Indianapolis racer variants. His custom creations, such as his 1941 Buick was sensational which ultimately led to the Muntz Jet automobiles. By Daniel Vaughan | Jul 2006
Roadster Engine Num: 361
This 1947 Midget was Kurtis Kraft Kit Car assembled by Loran Bennett and Bob Paneratz who worked for Kurtis Kraft. The car carried #3 and was driven by Bob Breading who won 28 out of its first 33 features. He won the MRA/CMRA Championship in 1948 and 1949.
From 1951 through 1959, the car was driven by George Amick, Mike Nazarak, Vick Carter, Eddie Sachs, Allen Heath, Con Branson, Tony Bettenhausen, A.J. Foyt, Len Sutton and Al Miller. It was the USAC Champion for 1959.
Rodger Ward drove this car in the 1st US Grand Prix at Sebring in December of 1959. It was retired after 20 laps due to clutch problems.
From 1959 through 1968, other drivers included Parnelli Jones, Don Branson, Chuck Weuant, Mel Cornett, Jigger Sirois, Bob Wente, Bob Atersall, Johnny White, Bob Marshman, Frank Borang, Tommy Himmershitz and Jim Hutubise. The car continued racing until 1981 and was purchased by its current owners in 1993.
Sold for $35,200 at 2016 Gooding & Company. This car was purchased new by Elmer Falk in 1948 and retained by him until his death in 1994. Noted East Coast restorer, Joe Fiore, acquired the car from the estate in 1994 and it was restored for 1950s/60s sprint car owner Walter Beletsky.
Acquired from Beletsky in April 2009, the current owner had Joe Fiore restored the car back to the original 1948 condition with a Ford V8 60 motor and paint scheme of maroon and blue. The car retains all of its original chassis, suspension, steering and body components.
In the 1940s/50s, Falk had a number of East Coast professionals successfully drive the car, including George Flemke, Johnny Kay, Nick Fornoro, Bobby Minor, Mike Nazaruk, Bill Schindler, etc.
Falk drove the car himself but was not as successful as the professional 'hot shoes.' The car was retired in the early 1960s and sat in Elmer's garage until his death.
Despite its odd proportions and relative obscurity, the Kurtis-Kraft Midget is a bigger car than its name suggests… Well, actually its name is perfectly apt at describing the car's diminutive dimensions. But that innocent little label doesn't even begin to hint at how successful and formidable a racing car the Kurtis-Kraft Midget was. Now a largely unknown car from a largely unknown maker, the Midget was effective and efficient in its time as it lapped the small oval racetracks on which it competed. Neither pretty nor prestigious, the Midget possessed a trait more important than either of those characteristics: authenticity. The Kurtis-Kraft Midget was an authentic racing car, purpose-built to dominate the increasingly popular field of midget car racing. Simple and unpretentious, the Midget was a timeless (and long-lived) example of an idea that just worked—and that idea worked well enough to earn Kurtis-Kraft a reputation for building one of the finest and most accomplished midget racers of the time.
Kurtis-Kraft was never a household name. Predominantly a builder of focused racing cars to compete at major events (most notably the Indianapolis 500), the company's production figures were never high. But, at least amongst car enthusiasts, Kurtis-Kraft deserves recognition for its success. Its Indy cars, powered by the famed Offenhauser four-cylinder engine, won the Indianapolis 500 in 1950 and 1951, and then again in 1953, 1954, and 1955.
The Kurtis-Kraft Midgets never earned victories as prestigious as those attained by their Indy-winning big brothers, but the smaller cars were nevertheless extremely successful in their field. Midget racing simply didn't have the same cachet as full-size automobile racing. The cars were not as glamorous as the larger racers and usually didn't come from high-profile brands. But Midget racing was, as it remains, a hugely entertaining and exciting form of motorsport appreciated by droves of spectators and superb drivers. Midget racers of the Kurtis-Kraft Midget era didn't feature the same safety precautions as today's machines, but still possessed explosive power-to-weight ratios. Hot engines and low weights ensured that these midget machines, even at half a ton, provided a whole handful of thrills.
Fred Kurtis founded Kurtis-Kraft as something of a compulsion. Driven from his early years to build a car capable of winning the Indianapolis 500, Kurtis lived out the gearhead's ultimate dream of creating a focused, independent company to produce distinctive and successful sports and racing cars. The building of chassis for midget racers was one of his earlier automotive projects, and the Kurtis-Kraft Midgets represented the ambition and dedication of their creator.
From around 1946 to 1962, Kurtis-Kraft produced approximately 550 turnkey Midgets. Another 600 or so units were sold in kit form. These cars were highly successful, remaining competitive even after the end of their production run. The Offenhauser engine used in many Kurtis-Kraft Midgets was responsible for a large part of the cars' success. This advanced engine featured dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. The block and head were incorporated into a single casting, eliminating the need for a head gasket and enabling the use of high compression ratios. Even more significant than its use in midget racing, the Offenhauser engine realized relentless success at Indianapolis, where it powered the victorious Kurtis-Krafts as well as winners from several other manufacturers.
With its legendary engine and successful racing record, the Kurtis-Kraft Midget meets two criteria for becoming a very collectible—and expensive—piece of automotive history. Yet the obscurity of the Kurtis-Kraft marque, as well as the car's tiny size and conventional midget racer shape, has prevented the Midget from appreciating into the realm of unobtanium. Kurtis-Kraft Midgets occasionally turn up at major auctions, and they do not bring the big money associated with similarly-pedigreed but larger racing cars of the same era. For this reason, the Midget provides an almost unrivaled opportunity for affordable entry into the rarefied league of historically-significant racing car ownership.
'1947 Kurtis Kraft Offenhauser Midget.' RM Auctions. n.d. n. page. Web. 21 Jun. 2012. http://www.rmauctions.com/featurecars.cfm?SaleCode=JG08&CarID=r229&fc=0.
White, Gordon Eliot. Kurtis-Kraft: Masterworks of Speed and Style. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Company, 2001. Print.By Evan Acuña
Midget racing was gaining in popularity in the post-War era, and many racers were finding it difficult to compete due to rule changes and escalating expenses. The governing bodies had imposed and engine displacement limit of 100 to 140 cubic-inches, and for many Midget racers, the start-of-the-art Offenhauser engine was too expensive. Alternatives were found, but most were sourced from larger motors that were 'sleeved' or machined down to the required sizes. This often meant that power output was compromised.
In 1937, Ford announced a new 136 cub-cinch V8 engine that promised 60 horsepower. This became an economical alternative to the larger-displacement 85 horsepower V8 engine. One of the drawbacks of the V8-60 was that it had an overheating problem. Overheating aside, it was one of the first alternatives to provide a challenge to the Offenhauser powerplant.
In 1941, Ford replaced their V8-60 with an inline six-cylinder engine.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Frank Kurtis made auto racing more accessible to many aspiring racers by producing approximately 550 completely assembled Midgets and another 600 examples in kit form. The Midgets had an innovative chassis design and powered by the 'Offy' engine or the more affordable Ford V8-60.
Kurtis, who also invented the dominant Indianapolis roadster design of the 1950s, was also notable for being the first non-driver inducted into the National Midget Hall of Fame. By Daniel Vaughan | Jun 2012