Tommy Lee was a
fortunate young man in the 30's. His father, Don Lee, was a founder of a large distribution organization for Cadillac. This, of course, afforded Tommy the ability to own anything his heart desired.
After having suffered defeat at the hands of his teenage friends in several racing competitions, Lee went to Frank Kurtis, an employee of his father's and asked him to build a speedster that would beat out those homegrown hot-rods.
Kurtis wanted to use a Cadillac engine in a light frame, but Tommy wanted the ultimate, a 318
Offenhauser racing engine. He used a '36 Ford frame, Columbia two speed rear end and La Salle transmission. The body consisted of Cord fenders, Oldsmobile bumpers and tail lamps, Franklin steering box, and a custom Duval windshield. The external exhaust system was a masterpiece and had a separate pipe for each of the Offy's cylinders. By the time that the Speedster was finished, the cost had hit an unheard of $25,000!
The Speedster had limited success at the dry lakes during the 40's. With the fenders and windshield stripped off, she clocked 130 MPH.
The Speedster was retired in 1947 to the Don Lee facility in L.A. where it sat until Tom's death in 1950. Most of his cars were sold, but the Speedster had its engine removed to be saved while the body was discarded in a scrap yard. The car was purchased 10 years later by three men.
Steve Alcala purchased the car in 1981 and began an extensive restoration. Being a master metal shaper, Steve was able to take a badly deteriorated vehicle, skillfully save most of the original parts, and bring back the Speedster to the car Kurtis had created.
FREDERICK J. ROTH
Copyright June 2003