A few weeks back, I did a small feature on a 1955 Kurtis KK500. You can read that here. Anyhow, that feature lead to email correspondence with a man named Jake Delhomme. Jake lives in Prescott Arizona, has no time for technology, and has owned a 1953 Kurtis 500S since the 1980’s.
“What you have to understand about these Kurtis cars is that they were designed with a singular purpose – to be fast around a race track. There was very little compromise for any other objectives. It’s not comfortable. It’s not quiet. And it’s not particularly good at anything else, but it’s so good at being quick that your brain has problems comprehending that you are driving an antique car.”
“I also own a 1965 Corvette track car that has been a race car since it left the dealer in 1964. The Kurtis handles better, brakes better, and is faster around just about any track because when it was designed and built (a decade earlier mind you) it wasn’t handicapped by the same concessions the Corvette had to give towards production.”
“You can write about the Kurtis all you want, but you will never truly comprehend it unless you drive it.”
Short of flying out to Arizona and car jacking Jake, I have no plausible prospects of driving a Kurtis… Even so, I sure do yearn to experience what Jake is preaching. So much so, that I decided to get on Youtube this morning and see if I could find any vintage footage of a Kurtis in action. I found plenty, but what really interested me was a casual ride-a-long in a 1952 500S that was posted a few years ago. Check it out
As it happened, 1953 turned out to be a pretty big year for the domestic auto industry. Material shortages initiated by the Korean war had ceased to be a problem, 50th-anniversary celebrations spawned special models, and several manufacturers were in the process of, or had just introduced, a new line of V-8 engines. In our latest edition of This or That, we’re celebrating the domestic class of 1953. Let’s take a closer look at four fun examples for you to ponder, all of which are currently available in the Hemmings classifieds.
Chevrolet wasn’t on the anniversary list this year, but it did make a mark for itself by introducing the Bel Air into its own line of top-tier cars. Simultaneously, the entry-level 150 designation effectively replaced the Special, while the 210 Series – like this four-door sedan – supplanted the mid-priced Deluxe line. With the exception of the station wagon, this would be the only four-door passenger car in the 210 series this year. Costing $1,761 (or $17,180 today), it came standard with a 108-hp straight-six engine and manual transmission. It was also the biggest seller in the series, attaining 332,497 buyers. According to portions of the seller’s listing:
It underwent a complete frame off restoration by Skyline restorations in 2010/2011 where it was totally gone through. It features a two tone Horizon Blue and Regatta Blue combo which works well on a 50s car like this. The body is all rust free and the steel panels all straight. All of the chrome and trim pieces are in good condition with a nice shine. The glass is all new, in good condition and is tinted. It has 70,920 miles on the odometer and based on its condition these are believed to be original. The inline 6 cylinder motor runs well and still utilizes its original 6 volt system but an 8 volt battery was added for extra starting power. It is combined with a column shifted 3 speed manual transmission that moves through the gears smoothly. The brakes, hoses, wheel bearings, gas tank, sending unit, exhaust, etc., were all replaced during the rebuild. The interior is done in a two tone to match the body. The upholstery is in excellent condition and it has a bench in front and rear. The dash has the stock layout and keeps with the two tone Blue theme which looks very clean. Even the steering wheel has the two tone look which looks really sharp.
Conversely, Ford was honoring its 50 years in the business of building and selling cars. But other than a little levity, not much was made of the anniversary except for special steering wheel trim. This meant the lineup remained unchanged from the previous year, with the entry-level Mainline and upscale Crestline series book-ending the Customline, such as this two-door Club Coupe. It was offered in six-cylinder guise starting at $1,743 (or $17,004 today), or with the famed “flathead” V-8 at $1,820 (or $17,755 today) without options. Our featured example contains the V-8, making it one of 43,999 built during the year. According to portions of the seller’s listing:
Inside is a tasteful gray interior. The comfortable velour-like cloth has the fresh feeling of a more recent investment, but this design has a great ’50s look that will keep you loving this vintage ride. In fact, this one really likes to keep the classic attitude going, right down to details like the working AM radio. And don’t forget to check out the steering wheel. 1953 was Ford’s 50th anniversary, and so these have a special center cap commemorating it. Ford’s flathead V8 is a legend all on its own for the power it provides, and the 239 cubic-inch displacement would be the largest installed in the Ford cars. It presents well in the engine bay with the tall oil bath air cleaner and copper-colored block/heads. This is a well-maintained package that fires up readily. You get proper control from the column-shifted three-speed manual transmission and the manually engaged overdrive adds to the cruising versatility.
On January 17, 1953, the Chevrolet Corvette prototype was unveiled at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City at Motorama. But the car that we recognize today as synonymous with (relatively) accessible sportiness wasn’t as loved when it first appeared.
(Welcome to Today in History, the series where we dive into important historical events that have had a significant impact on the automotive or racing world. If you have something you’d like to see that falls on an upcoming weekend, let me know at eblackstock [at] jalopnik [dot] com.)
Harley Earl, head designer over at GM at the time, was convinced that a two-seater sports car was the way to go, and introducing a good one could make an impression in what was then a European-dominated market. People were curious, so Chevy had to make sure it filled its expectations.
Does anybody look for a classic car to drive anymore? Not to drive to shows or on occasional club tours, but to drive on a regular basis – if not daily, then at least a few times a week? (Excepting, of course, certain seasons in certain parts of the country…) After all, that’s what all cars were built to do, and nothing has fundamentally changed to prevent them from continuing to serve their purpose, right?
In that spirit, let’s take a look at this 1953 Kaiser Manhattan for sale on Hemmings.com. It’s not perfect, but it also seems like there’s nothing that would keep it from regularly setting tire to road. Flathead six-cylinder? Just learn patience. Carburetor instead of fuel injection? Pump the pedal once or twice before turning the key. No seatbelts? Add a few. Then, while putting some miles on the car, you can really get to know it and start to appreciate it in a way you wouldn’t merely by leaving it in the garage. From the seller’s description: here
I love Sport Customs – but it took me a long time to learn to call them by this name. If you think handcrafted fiberglass specials from the 50s are rare, just try to find a sport custom. We estimate that for every 10 or more fiberglass specials that were built, there may have been 1 sport custom. But what is a sport custom?
Another term often used for these cars is “American Boulevard Cruiser.” Both terms describe a car with the following characteristics:
Sporty in nature
Most were made from steel, a few in aluminum and less in fiberglass
Larger than a sports car in size with a typical wheelbase of 110 inches or greater
A completely new body design or one so heavily restyled that it has taken on an original (or nearly original) shape
And the funny thing about American Sport Custom cars is there’s hardly any left. Connect that to the rarity of the cars to begin with and the fact that unlike fiberglass specials, nearly every sport custom is a “one-off” and you can begin to understand why I find them fascinating. And exciting when a new one is discovered. And that’s what recently happened to me when Richard Brown sent me a photo of a car that he had recently acquired. A car that he calls the “Porter Pegasus.”
It was Harley Earl that sold GM on the need to produce an all-American sports car, and to test the waters, his Special Projects team created the EX-122 concept for display at the 1953 Motorama display in New York City. Less than six months later, the car – now named the Corvette – was in production, hand-built by a team of workers in Flint, Michigan. Just 300 examples were built that year, and this August, chassis E53F001300, the final 1953 Corvette built, heads to auction at Mecum’s Monterey sale.
Older adults around the country who lived through the Great Depression rarely throw anything out that could be useful down the road. Such is the case with this perfectly restored 1953 Ford F-100 truck. When Luke Lagrant, his father, and his grandfather pulled the truck out of the woods where it had been parked for many years, it was very rough. As the story goes, Lagrant’s grandfather tired of the 1953 Ford for some reason and decided to park it in the woods and walked away.
Lagrant says that his grandfather had replaced the 1953 Ford F-100 truck with a 1964 Chevrolet truck and the old Ford sat rusting in the woods until 2009 when the trio hooked it to some heavy machinery and towed it back home. Luke Lagrant was only 11 at the time and was in charge of putting screws in bags since many of them couldn’t be replaced.
THE ENCHANTING TRIM OF THIS 1953 KAISER DRAGON RECALLS THE MYSTERIOUS ISLANDS OF THE PACIFIC
Exposure to the exotic vistas of the Pacific stuck with a great number of World War Two veterans when they returned home in the mid-1940s. That affinity led to an explosion of interest in Polynesian culture and aesthetics that would lead to the rise of Tiki bars, Exotica music and the 1949 Broadway hit, South Pacific.
The Bambu-vinyl-and-Laguna-cloth interior is the star player in the Dragon, and it is well supported by lavish chrome trim and accessory lighting inside. That padded dash complements a pop-out windshield to add an extra bit of safety to all 1951-’55 Kaisers.
Kaiser Motors introduced the Henry J in 1950 with the goal of building an affordable compact car that nearly every American could afford. The company went to great lengths to make sure the car could be sold cheaply, but the J never caught on and sales were dismal. Amazingly, the Henry J found its place when hot rodders began customizing the cheap little car. The combination of poor sales and customization means it’s difficult to find clean examples. This 1953 Henry J was found in a car port where it had been since 1975. This untouched project can be found here on eBay.
This one still retains its original four cylinder, but it looks to be in rough shape. Most of these cars had their original engines swapped out for V8s. They became very popular for drag racing because of how simple and light weight they are. This one is going to need some metal work before a bigger engine can be dropped into the engine bay.
The body is showing plenty of rust, but looks salvageable and actually has a great look to it. Restoring it could be a massive undertaking and it may prove more cost effective to turn it into a hot rod. It would be nice to see it kept original, but it appears that the underside is going to need work. What would you do with this Henry J?
To find out more, including how to control cookies, see here: