Front-engined Indy cars are the equivalent of those big, muscular farm boys from the ’50s with butch cuts, trucker’s tans, and aggressive smiles that sort of dare you to take them on
After World War II, Frank Kurtis saw an opportunity and began to mass-produce midget racing cars of his own efficient and beautiful design. This business took off, and by the mid-1950s over 500 had been sold. Indeed, Kurtis’ midgets absolutely dominated the sport.
He also built “big cars,” and in the front engine-era of American Championship racing, the record of Kurtis-built cars ranks second only to that of Harry Miller.
In 1957, 14 Kurtis Indy cars were delivered. Pat O’Connor put his on the Indy 500 pole at 143.948 mph, and Kurtis roadsters finished the race in positions four through eight.
The 1957 Kurtis-Offenhauser Roadster presented here was originally built for J.S. “Duke” Donaldson who remained the owner throughout its four-year history covering 1957 to 1961. In its first Indy 500 appearance, Bill Cheesbourg qualified it 23rd as the “Seal Line Special,” but retired on lap 81 with a fuel leak. In 1958, Eddie Johnson finished on the lead lap, taking 9th overall. The following year, the car suffered a broken magneto on lap 11.
In the early 1980s, Colorado Grand originator Robert Sutherland found and bought the car and had Jim Robbins rebuild it for him. Restored in the red “Bryant Heating & Cooling” livery of 1958, this Kurtis roadster is still in excellent condition, although it displays a few rock chips in the paint as a result of enthusiastic on-track use. The engine, a proper Offenhauser 255, was freshened in 2002 and has been driven only a few laps since.
Many Indy cars are immaculately restored for museum display, but this one presents an intriguing purchase alternative for an enthusiast who wants to experience the thrill of actually driving a real roadster in organized track events.