Lot 146

Monterey 2023

1949 Kurtis Kraft “Pearson FWD” Special


Sold After Auction

United States | Monterey, California



Chassis No.
Bill of Sale Only
  • The first of two “Front-wheel-drive Specials” built for Gil Pearson by Frank Kurtis, and among the last designed by legendary engineer Leo Goossen
  • Very closely follows the design, engineering, and construction of Emil Deidt’s contemporary, Indy 500-winning ‘Blue Crown’ Specials as used by Lou Moore
  • Powered by a 270-cu. in. Meyer-Drake Offenhauser engine with twin Riley carburetors and Bosch magneto
  • Used in the 1949 Rooney-Stiefel Productions film, The Big Wheel, starring Mickey Rooney
  • Retained by Pearson until 1994; sympathetically preserved and subsequently exhibited at the 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
  • Accompanied by an extensive collection of spares and documentation
Addendum: Please note that, per further research, this car was originally constructed by Frank Kurtis and Gil Pearson.

After WWII, the noted racecar owner Gil Pearson set his sights on Indianapolis, and in 1948 he set out to construct two identical, front-wheel-drive cars, closely following the example of Lou Moore’s Blue Crown Specials built by Emil Deidt, which had won the 500 in 1947, 1948, and 1949. The legendary engineer Leo Goossen, of Miller fame, was commissioned by Pearson to design the car, while Frank Kurtis used his exceptional skills to shape the aluminum bodies and fabricate frame rails, fuel, and oil tanks. Motivation came by way of a race-proven 270-cubic-inch Meyer-Drake Offenhauser engine fitted with twin Riley carburetors and a Bosch JO8 magneto—all matched to a stout and well-balanced transaxle.

Pearson’s first car, Kurtis chassis number 325 (offered here), was completed in the summer of 1949 and painted an attractive blue color. Pearson displayed it at the first Oakland roadster show where top-flight driver Fred Agabashian was photographed with it, and ran it on the dry lakebed at Muroc (Rogers) to a reported top speed of 176 mph.

Correspondence on file notes that negotiations to sell the not-yet-completed “FWD Special” to marquee racing outfits through the spring of 1949 had failed because of his exceptionally high asking price of $20,000.

Without any buyers lined up, Pearson soon made the car available to Hollywood’s production studios, and this is how, on 14 July 1949, the management agency and production studio for Hollywood star Mickey Rooney (Rooney-Stiefel Inc.) came to procure this remarkable Indianapolis roadster for use in their hit racing film, The Big Wheel, released in November 1949. It is also very likely that the FWD Special was among the long roster of cars which Pearson organized and rented to MGM Studios for filming of the enthralling Clark Gable and Barabara Stanwyck classic, To Please A Lady, released in October 1950.

Following its brief movie career, chassis 325 joined its unfinished sister car in the garage behind Pearson’s Santa Monica home, where it remained until 1994, when both cars were purchased by a noted collector along with all their respective technical drawings.

Over the next several years, 325 was thoughtfully, and sympathetically, preserved in its "as found" specifications, notwithstanding the reapplication of the prominent “7” roundels which it wore during the Rooney film. This fantastic work was recognized with an invitation to the 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Despite its lack of Indianapolis racing history, Pearson’s Kurtis "FWD Special" is still a remarkable, distinctive, and highly eligible racecar. It is a tour de force of its era’s finest construction methods executed in a no-expense-spared manner, while the Goossen design is supremely important—representing the swan song of the dominant front-wheel-drive Indianapolis roadster.