<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345

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Lot 181
1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater

US$ 275,000 - 350,000
£ 200,000 - 250,000
1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater
Chassis no. 345

270-cu.in. Offenhauser Four with Methanol Fuel Injection
2-Speed Manual Racing Transmission
Live axles front and rear
4-Wheel Disc Brakes

*Competed in the 1955 Indianapolis 500
*Correct example of a classic Kurtis/Offy
*One of approximately 12 built
*Freshly completed restoration
*Invitation to the 2018 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance


In the constellation of American race car constructors, no star burns more brightly than that of Frank Kurtis. The son of a Croatian blacksmith who emigrated to America, Kurtis turned his talents to dragsters, race boats, land-speed racers and sports cars, as well as the dominant midget racers that launched so many careers. In 1952, Popular Mechanics acknowledged Kurtis as "the country's leading race-car builder;" the following year, Popular Science hailed him as "the man who has turned out more sports cars than anyone else in the country."

Kurtis' dominance in midget car construction was well established when his interests turned to Indianapolis shortly before World War II. He helped to build the ill-fated front-drive Novi cars in 1946 and 1947, and then began entering his own cars in 1948. Just two years later, driver Johnnie Parsons gave Kurtis his first Indy 500 win, at the wheel of a Kurtis 1000. It would be the first of five Kurtis victories at the Brickyard.

His cars would eventually win 54 National Championship races, tying Kurtis for seventh place among Champ Car builders. His achievements earned him enshrinement in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

The Kurtis KK4000 debuted for 1951, with a production run estimated at 12. It was a lighter version of its predecessor, the famed 3000 series, and was designed to be an equally potent weapon on both Indy's bricks and the tracks of the Champ Car circuit.

On the surface, these single seaters exuded a kind of brute, muscular simplicity, which masked a good deal of technological sophistication. They were built to be durable, and promised their pilots predictable handling, though they were naturally short on comfort. So well calibrated were they to the job at hand that KK4000s were still being campaigned on dirt tracks throughout the early 1960s. One example, now in the collection of the Arizona Open Wheel Racing Museum, ran in AAA-USAC Champ Car events from September 1952 to August 1975.

The KK4000 featured truss-tubular construction, with beam front axles and live rear axles. At a time when Ferrari and Maserati clung to drum brakes, Kurtis outfitted his single seater with four-wheel discs.

Power was supplied by a dual-overhead-cam Offenhauser four, a 270-cu.in. descendent of the engines that had helped make Kurtis' midget cars unbeatable. The Offy was durable, thanks in large part to the incorporation of the cylinder head into the block casting, and could withstand compression ratios as high as 17:1, making it powerful as well. Belying its mid-Thirties roots, it dominated open-wheel racing in America for decades. The transmission couldn't have been simpler: Low gear for the pits, high gear for the track.


Chassis number 345 was entered in the Indy 500 from 1952 through 1956, driven by Allen Heath, Pat O'Connor, Ed Elisian and Johnny Kay, but it was the car's involvement in two noteworthy incidents in the 1955 event with Elisian in the cockpit that stands out in its history.

Born in Oakland, California, to parents who had moved to the U.S. from Armenia, Elisian began racing roadsters after his discharge from the Navy after World War II. Moving up through the midget-car circuit, he made his first Champ Car start in 1953 at the Hoosier Hundred, and earned a ticket to Indy for 1954, where he qualified in an Offy-powered Stevens, but failed to finish the race.

In 1955, Elisian returned to the Brickyard. His attempt to qualify the KK4000, running as the Westwood Tool Special, initially ended in controversy: Officials waived him in after two warm-up laps, incorrectly believing that he had crossed the finish line three times. After protests by Elisian – supported by influential car owner and promoter J.C. Agajanian, who threatened to pull his own already-qualified car – chief steward Harry McQuinn relented, and allowed Elisian to make another qualifying run that evening.

Sometime after 7:00 p.m., Elisian came in with an average speed of 153.33 mph, qualifying him for the race and bumping Len Duncan, driver of the Brady Special, from the field. He became the only driver ever to qualify after the final gun had sounded. The incident became known as "The Midnight Ride of Ed Elisian," and the driver and his crew obligingly posed with lanterns for the delighted press.

Elisian was starting from the 29th position when the green flag fell on Monday, May 30, 1955 for the 39th International 500-Mile Sweepstakes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Among those he shared the track with that day was his good friend, and the odds-on favorite to win his third consecutive Indy 500, Bill Vukovich.

Before the day was over, tragedy had visited the Brickyard. Vukovich was killed when he became involved in a chain-reaction crash on the 57th lap. He swerved to the right, but was unable to avoid striking the car of Johnny Boyd. Vukovich's Hopkins Special became airborne, landing upside-down and in flames. Officials would later determine that Vukovich had died instantly, from a broken skull.

Elisian skidded his Westwood Tool Special to a halt and ran toward the wreckage, determined to save his friend. His race day was done – he was given a sedative to calm him down, much to the dismay of the car's owner, Pete Wales. The only driver in the Speedway's history to pull off the track to help another driver, Elisian was given a sportsmanship award by the General Petroleum company.

By all accounts, Elisian was never the same driver after that day. He became involved in three racing fatalities in the next several years, being widely blamed for the death of Pat O'Connor at the 1958 Indianapolis 500, and was himself killed in a crash in August 1959 at the Milwaukee Mile.

In 1956, the KK4000 returned to the Brickyard one last time. Driven by John Kay as the Peter Wales Trucking Special, the Kurtis failed to qualify. It would appear in 21 more Champ Car events through 1959, its best showing a ninth-place finish at Dayton in 1956 with Gene Force driving.

After 1959, chassis number 345 disappeared from public view. Wales sold the car to noted collector and enthusiast Robert "Buck" Boudeman, who in July 1979 sold it to brothers Hal and Bill Ullrich, who ran a well-known restoration shop in Evanston, Illinois.

The consignor is a longtime friend of the Ullrichs who took on the restoration of the Kurtis approximately seven years ago. He reports that the car was remarkably complete and unmodified when he acquired it, thanks in large part to the fact that it had not been converted to sprint car use, as so many of its contemporaries were. With the exception of the hood and side panels, all of the bodywork is original to the car – the nose, the tail, the cowl, and even the belly pans, which are so often lost.

Restoration of the bodywork was entrusted to Denny Jamison of Automotive Hammer Art in Indianapolis. The car was returned to the white-and-blue livery it wore at the Speedway in 1955, with accurate markings and decals. Among all KK4000s, chassis 345 stands out for its rear grille, the only car so equipped.

The correct Offenhauser 270 was rebuilt by Bill Aiken, regarded as one of the foremost restorers of these engines. It is equipped with the correct Hilborn fuel injection system used on the car in 1955. Records indicate that the engine was originally sold to the Belond Exhaust racing team; whether Wales acquired the engine from them is unknown.

The sorting and finishing of chassis 345 was carried out by Kurtis expert Jim Mann of Elkhart, Indiana, a highly regarded specialist in the restoration of Indianapolis cars.

The Kurtis rides on the 16-inch front/18 inch rear wheel set up that were installed for 1955; one is stamped "Pete W." It has its original fuel tank, rare Jones tachometer, dry-sump oil tank and what is believed to be its original, rare, cast-alloy Meyer-Drake transmission. The original rear axle and differential were lost, but have been replaced with a correct Hillenbrand rear axle, fitted with the correct, smooth side covers.

Since its completion in November 2017, the car has not been shown, but it is invited this year to be on the field at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance here, an offer which is extended to the future custodian of the car.

With its classic good looks, peerless pedigree, one-of-a-kind history and remarkably complete condition, complemented by attention from some of the world's foremost Kurtis authorities, this KK4000 represents a unique opportunity to own a historic race car that a played a role in two notable stories in the history of the Brickyard.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note, this vehicle is offered on a bill of sale
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
<b>1952 Kurtis KK4000 Single Seater</b><br />Chassis no. 345
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