When motorcycle racer Herb Stelter decided to transition from two to four-wheel racing, he paid a visit to Frank Kurtis. It was 1961 and, at the time, Kurtis had been building formidable race cars for 30 years. His company, Kurtis Kraft, built everything from Offy-powered midgets to Indianapolis 500 cars. Over 120 Kurtis cars had raced at Indy, with five taking the checkered flag.

Stelter, his mechanic Dale Burt, and Kurtis put their heads together and decided to build a “dual-purpose” race car. Based on a converted Indy car chassis and powered by a potent Chevrolet V8, it would target the new SCCA Formula 366 Monoposto class. Fitted with a set of Dzus-mounted fenders, it could also compete legally as a Sports Racer

The team named the car Aguila, Spanish for eagle, and the finished product was truly unique. A sleek, aluminum-bodied projectile with removable pontoon fenders, it looked sensational. It would be the last racecar Frank Kurtis built.

The Aguila’s chrome-moly ladder-type frame was fitted with a 327 cubic inch Chevy engine with three two-barrel carbs. The engine is backed by a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed and the rear end is typical Kurtis: a solid rear axle with a Halibrand quick-change located by leading and trailing arms. The suspension front and rear is torsion bar with Airheart disc brakes and Halibrand magnesium wheels at all four corners. The entire package weighs in at just 1650 pounds. Road & Track magazine was so impressed with the Aguila they ran a four-page feature on the car in the January 1963 issue titled Dual Purpose Design.

On paper, the Aguila looked unbeatable. In reality, Stelter’s lack of experience piloting four-wheeled racing vehicles proved otherwise. After a couple of years of unsuccessful outings, the car was parked in Dale Burt’s warehouse where it sat for twenty years. In the early 1980’s, it was purchased by a Colorado collector, who then resold it to vintage racing enthusiast George Shelley. Appreciating the significance of the car, Shelley commissioned a total restoration. The Aguila proved to be fast and wildly powerful, and Shelley enjoyed running it in exhibition laps at Sportscar Vintage Racing Association events throughout the Southeast. The Aguila ran at venues including Moroso, Savannah, Sebring, and at the 1997 Nassau Speed Weeks reunion in the Bahamas.

The Kurtis Aguila was recently purchased by a well-known Wisconsin-based collector and is now available at Canepa Design. Significant in both its construction and history, it’s been meticulously detailed and would be a wonderful addition to the collection of any vintage racing enthusiast.

Car is in California
photo and text credit: © 2010 Canepa Design