Kurtis 500S

by Mike Satterfield

I was driving through Ojai road testing the new Kia Cadenza when out of the corner of my eye I saw a small gathering of cars and what looked like an Allard. I, of course, had to turn around and investigate, where to my surprise I found a Kurtis 500S. If it was original it would be one of just 36 built by Kurtis between 1949 and 1955. (Based on the wheels and tail Lights I am fairly sure this is a replica).

If you don't know about Frank Kurtis, here is a little background. Kurtis was a Los Angeles racecar builder of Midget, Indy Car, Drag, and Land Speed Racing cars. The 500S was simply a street version of the company's Indy Car, that could be equipped any number of ways. Early cars were built from aluminum, but later fiberglass bodies would be used. Every Kurtis 500S is unique and built to order, at least one was even modified for its owner by George Barris.

When ordering a 500S it could be equipped nearly any engine, transmission, or rear-end, the first 500S was fitted with a Hudson six cylinder, however, most used Cadillac, Ford and Chrysler V8s. The combination of a lightweight body and big V8 meant that a 500S did 0-60 in just 4.7 seconds when Road & Track tested it in 1953.

The 500S saw success on the track, dominating West Coast sports car racing for a few years in the 1950s. Legendary racer Bill Stroppe who won several sports car races in his 500S event competed with it in the Carrera Panamericana in 1953. A 500S broke the Del Monte Forest track record by five seconds in Pebble Beach in 1954. In 1955 a 500S set the pole for the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Regardless if this one is a replica or not, it is always cool to see cars like this out on the road and being used as they were intended.