The car made its home country famous among gearheads, but little about Croatia's motorsport heritage is known. One of America's sweetheart races, the Indy 500, has solid ties with the small European country. These bonds go back some seven decades.
The name Frank Kurtis might be more familiar for oval-motor-racing addicts. The man is responsible for several famous machines that triumphed at the iconic oval at the end of the 200-lap endurance trial. But what is less often mentioned is that the mechanical genius behind the renowned racing machines was Croatian.
Frank Kurtis (born Franjo Kureti?) began his professional career in 1922 when he got a job at Don Lee Coach and Body Works. At the time, Don Lee was Cadillac's best-selling dealer and had a coachbuilding business for Hollywood big names. The bodywork part of Lee's business was managed by a young man named Harley Earl. THE Harley Earl – the future General Motors designer.
So Frank Kurtis had a great companion in the early period of his career, and Harley mentored the young and talented metalworker. By the early 30s, Frank Kurtis was already an established coachbuilder, and he tried his hand at crafting bodies for racing automobiles. He founded the Kurtis Kraft company and began experimenting with midget racecars.
After his Don Lee apprenticeship, Kurtis knew enough about cars to understand what and how to improve on them. As a result, his cars were also very performant – and in high demand. In the 50s, Kurtis-built cars won the Indy 500 five times (1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955). Kurtis racers dominated the decade.
Out of the 33 machines lined up on the starting grid of the famous motorsport event, at least half wore Frank Kurtis' signature. Let's put it like this: in 1956, 23 Indy 500 drivers were behind the wheel of a Kurtis. In 1953, the first seven cars to finish the Indianapolis stage were Kurtis, and 13 more of his creations started that race.
But before he exited, he designed and built one last car, an exceptional automobile. It's called the Kurtis Aguila (Spanish for "Eagle") and is quite the sight. Frank only designed and assembled open-wheel racecars in his decades of motor racing. The Aguila is no different, although appearances are very deceiving.
The video below features that very automobile, chassis number 62-S1, now in the private collection of an avid classic racecar enthusiast. But the Aguila has a boisterous fender that embraces the wheels, so the open-wheel argument might seem like a mishap.
A 327-CID (5.4-liter) Chevrolet Offenhauser V8 is powering the lightweight, low-slung roadster. Three Stromberg two-barrel carburetors on top of the Edelbrock intake manifold put the motor output to around 400 hp (406 PS).
A four-speed Borg-Warner gearbox sends that to the rear wheels, and the car has had its fair share of racing. Unfortunately, this swan-song Kurtis racer did not share its siblings' success on the track, and in 1965 it was retired, along with all other front-engined roadsters. The mid-engine era was dawning, and cars like the Aguila were left for collectors to enjoy in beauty contests and historic vehicle competitions.
2009 the car was sold at the Automobiles of Arizona auction for $165,000. The buyer ordered a repaint of the vehicle to a black-over-red livery and continued to race the famous machine. In 2016, the 1962 Kurtis Aguila went under the hammer again, and the selling price was a high brow $423,500.
Another renovation was undertaken, both aesthetical and mechanical, and the Aguila was restored to its 1962 racing colors. In 2022, the car was again offered for sale at the Pebble Beach auction. Although the auction house does not specify whether the vehicle was sold at the event, the current owner – the proud, smiling man featured in the video below – says he purchased it that same year.