Homecoming: A MotorTrend Icon Joins the Family

I climb in, twist the key, and press the starter. The Ford flathead V-8 fires up instantly and quickly settles down to a growling idle. I pull the shifter across to the left and back, engaging first gear in the three-speed transmission. Ease out the clutch, and the low, broad-shouldered convertible oozes forward, vintage whitewall tires squirming on the concrete.

We’re old friends, this old roadster and I; most of the 70 miles on the odometer are from when I drove it for a MotorTrend feature story eight years ago. Even so, I can’t quite believe I’m again behind the wheel of the actual car that appeared on the cover of the September 1949 issue—the very first issue—of MotorTrend magazine. Or, more incredibly, that I’m driving it into the freshly revamped headquarters of the MotorTrend Group in El Segundo, California.

This 1949 Kurtis Sport Car, serial number KB003, the third of only 18 ever built and the first “production” model, is a priceless piece of MotorTrend history. And it’s come home.

The Sport Car was built by Frank Kurtis, who began his car-making apprenticeship in the early 1920s at a body shop owned by L.A. Cadillac dealer Don Lee. Lee’s shop specialized in creating custom cars for Hollywood stars, and not only did Kurtis learn to shape and weld metal, but he also picked up tips on drawing and body design from Harley Earl. Yes, that Harley Earl, who also worked for Lee before founding the Art and Color Section at General Motors—the prototype for all modern automotive design studios—in 1927.

Kurtis-Kraft, Inc., the company Kurtis founded in the late 1930s, made most of its money churning out hundreds of oval-track midgets, plus racers for the famed Indy 500; Kurtis cars won five of the six 500s held from 1950 to 1955. Just before the outbreak of World War II, however, Kurtis had built a handsome, Mercury-powered sports car for a wealthy Denver cattleman, Bill Hughes. He reportedly charged Hughes just $900 for the car. Hughes later sold it to a Hollywood director for $3,200, and just after the war it changed hands again, this time for a reported $8,000.

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