Frank Kurtis and his race car designs changed automobile racing . He started at a young age working on race cars in California. 1946 would be the first year that cars he worked with and helped design, would race at the Indianapolis 500. The cars he fully designed, were called “Kurtis Kraft” race cars. Those cars hit Indy in 1948. You could buy the cars as “kits” or as complete ready to race car. Kurtis Kraft would go on to make a little over 100 Championship race cars and somewhere between 550-600 midget race cars and kits. When it came to the midget auto racing, his cars were considered “virtually unbeatable for twenty years” .The Kurtis Kraft “Championship” race cars would take five of the Indy 500 wins, in the 1950s . There are many books about Frank Kurtis and his race cars available for additional information. My goal today is to follow the cars impact at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race.
The car nicked named “Esmeralda” was a KK2000 model with serial number 317. This car raced at the Indy 500 as well, as the PPHC. (Check my other posts about for more info on the car above, search under Esmeralda)
When you think of a Kurtis Kraft race car and Pikes Peak, the car above is the one most people think of. In 1950 the cars first race was at Pikes Peak and was driven by Louis Unser “The Old Man of the Mountain” and was sponsored by Federal Engineering. The price of the completed car in 1950 was $32,000. (2017 inflation adjusted dollars would be $ 327,362) . The car was brand new and the PPHC would be it’s first race. Power came from a fuel injected 270 Myers-Drake Offhauser motor, with 335 horsepower. It was a copy of the 1950 Indianapolis 500 winning Kurtis Kraft race car. This was a new model line for Kurtis in 1950 and was called a KK3000 . The serial number to this car was #335-50. The last two digits identifying the year built. The car would race at Indy from 1951 to 1955 with a best finish of 8th in 1952. Louis Unser would spend the next six years racing it at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb with the following results:
- 1950 w/car number 31, 3rd place 16:02 Federal Engineering Special
- 1951 w/car number 44, 3rd place 16:06 ” “
- 1952 w/car number 54, 2nd place 15:34.70 ” “
- 1953 w/car number 7, 1st place 15:15.4 (Louis was 57yrs old)
- 1954 w/car number 28, 18th place 18:53.8 Federal Engineering Special
- 1955 w/car number 41, 11th place 15:24.4 Federal Automotive Special
Identifying which year the car ran is made easier with it having a different car number each year. I have seen a color photograph of the car from 1951 and it was a light brownish color. My guess it was the same from 50-52. By the 1953 race it was a bright yellow with blue numbers. I do not know what happened to this car in later years. Does it survive?
Several other drivers tackled Pikes Peak in Kurtis Kraft race cars of the KK2000 and KK3000 designs. Confirming the type of race car raced in the Championship class is difficult for me currently. Race results and entry forms generally have the car listed by sponsors and engine type, not chassis design or make. The listings will show things like, Joe Hunt Magneto Special, or Raybestos Special , etc……..with engine type, Offy, Ford McDowell , Chevy, etc….. Frank Kurtis wasn’t done yet, what about a sports car ?
Kurtis Kraft KK500S race car.
As the sports car movement arrived at Pikes Peak, so did a new Kurtis race car design. Frank’s cars were still winning in just about every field they entered, but he didn’t have any cars that could qualify as a sports “Car”. Taking his latest Indy the 500k design and widening it to allow for two seats, adding small doors, along with a few other changes he had a kit that appealed to the sports car racers . The KK500S package came with a ladder frame, Kurtis suspension, body, radiator, and steering. You would supply your own engine , transmission and brakes. Many customers would deliver the power train to Kurtis Kraft and have them complete the car and others, bought the rolling chassis and body and completed the race cars on their own.
Charlie Lowderman 1964 and 1966
Ray “Charlie”Lowderman raced Pikes Peak in the Championship Class from 1953 to 1974. He took his turn in the Sports Car Division first in 1964 with a Kurtis Kraft 500S and again in 1966 with the same car.
Charlie’s best time in 1964 was 14:40.7 and 14:42.5 in 1966. The car prior to his ownership ran a Dodge Hemi motor and was known as the “Van Buskirk Kurtis” (?) . The engine was changed for the PPHC to a small block Chevrolet and later a big block Chevy. The powers that be, decided after the 66 race to close down the Sports Car Class. Charlie would go back to the Championship cars for his remaining years at Pikes Peak.
The Lowderman car survives !
The car since 1954, during its time racing was owned by Dale Young of Denver. After the cars racing career was over,the family turned it into a street car and kept it until 1990. Some time in the early nineties it was purchased by the co-creator of the “Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles”, Kevin Eastman. The Eastman family have used it for vintage racing events through out the country to include Mt. Equinox and Mt. Washington Hill Climbs. 23 years of racing fun !
In 2015 the car was put up for sale at several auction sites. Currently running a Chevy 350 and painted a bright racing red. Not sold so far. Last time I checked the asking price was at $450,000 in Hemmings.
If you know of other “Kurtis Kraft” race cars that competed at the PPHC, please message me . (Thanks).