If you’re a fan of the cars from Stuttgart, there are plenty of beautiful Porsches for you at the Amelia Island auctions this year. Our favorite? The ’73 RS lightweight for sure. But if your tastes are a little less, well, very specific German brand, there are plenty of other interesting cars ready for the races. There’s just something about a classic race car that we find irresistible, and next month’s auctions are packed with them. Here are some of the best.
The post-war road-racing scene teemed with homegrown cars. Some of them were cobbled together in garages—and looked like it—while others were no less professional than anything that rolled out of Coventry or Detroit or Maranello. The Kurtis Kraft racers built by Frank Kurtis in Southern California were particularly successful, and this Kurtis 500KK with Vignale-inspired fiberglass bodywork is among the prettiest cars of the era.
Kurtis started building highly successful midget racers in the 1930s before running dominating Indianapolis. He was no less successful in road-racing and Indy cars in the postwar years, his 500-series sports cars were contenders on the twisty tracks. The 500KK was essentially a kit version of the Kurtis 500S sports car, and builders topped them with myriad fiberglass bodies. Jim Byers’ sleek SR-100 was a great fit. He adapted one of his shells to the 500KK chassis and installed a tuned GMC straight-six. Byers used photos of the car in his promotional literature, and it raced on the West Coast until the early 1960s. Since then, the car has been vintage raced for many years and currently runs a DeSoto Hemi V-8 under a mailbox-sized scoop.
There was a time when Brabham was the largest manufacturer of customer racing cars in the world. Its founder, Jack Brabham, was an engineering genius who helped bring mid-engined race cars to Formula 1 when he drove for Cooper. He won the F1 driver’s championship in 1959 and ’60 before launching his own highly successful team. He called it Motor Racing Developments, but everyone else called it Brabham.
The team won the F1 constructors’ championship in 1966 and ’67, only to see it all fall apart in 1968 with an eighth-place finish. The team rebounded in 1969, winning to races and placing second in the championship with the BT26.
It may seem odd nowadays, when F1 teams make constant improvements to their cars through the season, only to shelve the car at the end of the year and start anew, but back then F1 teams might campaign the same car for several seasons. The BT26 ran in 1968 and ’69. Austrian driver Jochen Rindt took pole position at the Canadian GP in this car (chassis BT26-3) in 1968, but reliability problems led to several DNFs for the team. Brabham ditched the troublesome Repco four-cam V-8 engines in favor of the bulletproof Cosworth DFV for 1969.
Beyond the impressive driver pedigree, this BT26 raced at the dawn of F1’s aero era. Although it currently sports the conventional low wings, there were times when it flew around tracks with huge wings that towered high above the car on the thinnest of struts.
Charles Cooper and his son John revolutionized motor racing when they decided that it really made much more sense to mount the engine behind the driver. Their Formula 1 are perhaps the most famous example—Jack Brabham let everyone know they’d soon be playing a new game when he placed sixth at Monaco in 1957—but the change started a few years before with the Cooper-Climax T-39 Bobtail.
The car, designed by Owen Maddock, saw only moderate success on the track, but nevertheless pointed the way toward motor racing’s future. This particular car, powered by an 1460-cc Coventry-Climax engine bolted to a tubular steel chassis, sports an aluminum body with a Kammback-inspired lopped-off tail—hence the car’s nickname, the Bobtail. Cooper is believed to have built no more than 50 T-39s, and only 15 are known to exist.
Cooper sent the car to Australia in 1956, and it competed in several events and passed hands a few times before landing in an automotive museum in western Australia and largely forgotten.
Ferrari launched the Ferrari Challenge spec series in 1993. Although designed specifically for owners who wanted to try their hand at racing, it now includes three official championship racing series in the U.S., Asia, and Europe.
The series currently uses the fire-breathing 488. Back then, drivers raced the F355, which happens to be the last mid-engine Ferrari with flying buttress windows. It was also the last racing Ferrari to come with a right and proper gated shifter. This particular car raced in 1997 and ’98 before passing through a few collections. It looks fantastic in that Tommy Hilfiger livery, too.
Name a major road racing series, and at least one car built by Dan Gurney’s All American Racers has dominated it. After watching Gurney’s cars succeed in Formula 1 and win the Indianapolis 500 three times, Toyota asked Gurney’s crew to build a car to compete in IMSA.
The partnership started in 1980 and led to a series of successful racing cars based on the Celica. The collaboration paid off in 1987, when the team won the drivers and constructors championship in the IMSA GT series. They returned the following year with an IMSA GP car designed by chassis engineer Ron Hopkins and aerodynamicist Hiro Fujimori.
The Eagle HF89 used an ultra-stiff aluminum monocoque wrapped in sleek carbon composite bodywork. Power comes from a 2140-cc turbocharged four-cylinder bolted to a Hewland six-speed box. Engine reliability issues led driver Juan Manuel Fangio II to a lackluster season in 1989, but the team spent the off-season thoroughly reworking the car. Things went markedly better in 1990, with Fangio bringing the team its first victory at Heartland Park. Three more wins followed.
The car was retired after the season and spent time in a museum before being fully restored—a project that took 3500 hours and cost $800,000—and is ready to run. It might even make an appearance at the Monterey Historics later this year.
Anyone racing a small-displacement sports car in the 1950s and ’60s knew the Fiat-based racers built by Carlo Abarth were the ones to beat.
Abarth had already earned a reputation as a masterful tuner of Fiats, Ferraris, and Porsches when he started designing his own race cars, starting with the 207/A. The aluminum bodywork, created by Carrozzeria Boano, sits atop a unique sheet-steel platform chassis and a highly tuned Fiat 1100 drivetrain. This isn’t the prettiest race car to come out of Italy, it teems with neat details like the recessed side exhaust and two-tone paint.
This car, chassis No. 001 and one of 10 built, raced at Sebring and Watkins Glen and other famed tracks throughout the 1950s. It raced in historic events before being fully restored a few years ago.
You may not know it, given the seemingly infinite number of reproductions on the road, but Carroll Shelby built just 19 427 Competition Cobras. This is one of them, and the only one still wearing its original aluminum body. And the only one to win a big European race. So you can see why it might fetch as much as $4 million, making it one of the most valuable cars that will hit the block at Amelia.
Shelby’s plan for the Cobra was straightforward: stuff a big American V-8 into a small British car and beat the pants off everyone. It was a successful formula, and over the years Shelby bolted increasingly powerful engines into the Cobra.
This particular model is a 427 Competition, with a 427-cubic-inch aluminum head side-oiler engine. It wears metallic blue paint just a bit lighter than the factory color, and gold Le Mans stripes. It sold for just a bit less than $10 grand (about twice the cost of a loaded Corvette at the time) to an American racer before making its way to England.
Once there it got a coat of white paint and right-hand drive before being campaigned throughout the UK and U.S. During the 1966 season alone it was driven by three F1 drivers: Chris Irwin, David Piper, and Bob Bondurant. Piper and Bondurant won at Brands Hatch, making this car the only 427 Cobra to win a major race across the pond.
This car sold for $593,600 at Amelia Island in 2003 and went up for auction in London six years later, where the $868,875 high bid wasn’t enough to close the sale. RM Sotheby’s expects it to command at least $3M this time around. We’ll see.
If the Ferrari Enzo isn’t quite exclusive or extreme enough for you, perhaps you’d like a Maserati MC12. It’s basically an Enzo on steroids, a car built solely to compete in the FIA GT racing series.
Maserati built just 62 of them, and 12 of those are the track-only, competition-ready Corsa models. Although built on the Enzo platform, Maserati’s engineers lengthened the wheelbase by 15 centimeters and the chassis by 44 to improve high-speed stability and provide a little more interior room. Power comes from the Enzo’s glorious 6.0-liter V-12, which is good for 630 horsepower and sounds like angels singing at full wail.
Maserati introduced the car in 2005, and the following year decided to offer the Corsa model. It essentially turned the MC12 up to 11. With 755 horsepower on top, the car could hit 60 mph from a standstill in 3.3 seconds. This particular car, chassis No. 0010, has spent most of its life in a garage in the United Arab Emirates, meticulously maintained by Maserati’s race team.