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Builder of Indy 500-Winning Car Dies at 85

October 16, 1996

TIGARD, Ore. (AP) _ Edward L. Kuzma, who built an Indianapolis 500 winner and designed race cars for such drivers as Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt, is dead at 85.

He died Saturday in Tigard.

Kuzma, a Portland native, earned his reputation as a car builder in Los Angeles in the 1950s. His cars raced at the Indianapolis 500.

``The man was an artist and a craftsman,″ said Foyt, four-time winner of the Indy 500. ``Most of the really good craftsmen in racing owe some of their skills to Eddie.″

``He was the type of man who could see you hit the wall at Indy and cancel his dinner plans to show up at your shop to work all night,″ Foyt said. ``And he may not even be on your team.″

Because record-keeping in racing’s early days was a casual affair _ teams were more concerned about the next race than recording the last victory _ Kuzma probably did not get credit for all the cars he designed or prepared. In 1952, Troy Ruttman won the Indy 500 in a Kuzma car, and Andretti’s 1965 car was fielded with help from Kuzma.

``At any time you might see a half a dozen Kuzma cars in a field,″ said Donald Davidson, historian for the United States Auto Club. ``It was an era when a chassis could compete for seven or eight years and still have a chance of being a winner.″

One of Kuzma’s vintage racing cars is among the showpieces in the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, considered among the best collection of cars in the nation.

Kuzma was a graduate of Benson Polytechnical High School. He lived in Vancouver, Wash., running an auto body shop before enlisting in the U.S. Navy and serving in the Pacific during World War II.

In 1946, he married Edna Nerton and moved to Los Angeles.

Survivors also include sons Michael of Ruch and Joseph of Salem; daughters Kathleen Labavitch of Tigard and Patricia Campbell of Portland; and seven grandchildren.

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