1935 Mormon Meteor Duesenberg SJ Speedster

Prior to the auction, guesses as to its eventual selling price were rampant, and the result was a staggering achievement for a Duesenberg.

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In an era of record-setters, Ab Jenkins and his Duesenberg Special surpassed them all. Racing on the Bonneville Salt Flats, he performed landmark miracles of speed and endurance. The Model J Duesenberg is the pinnacle of American automobiles of the classic era, a triumph of design, materials and construction. But only one such car is the most powerful, the fastest and the most recognized. It is the car on offer here, the Mormon Meteor.
During the 1920s, David Abbott Jenkins was a successful building contractor in Salt Lake City who loved to drive. He had set two cross-country records before turning to closed-course runs at the Bonneville Salt Flats. His first record attempt there came in 1932 in a Pierce-Arrow V12, in which he drove 2,710 miles in 24 hours, an average speed of 112.92 mph. He later raised this mark to 127.229 mph in 1934, as Jenkins worked to bring other land-speed racers to Utah.
Jenkins and Augie Duesenberg, the unassuming engineering genius behind earlier Duesenberg racing records, started to design the Duesenberg Special in May 1934 for competition the following year. Duesenberg body designer Herbert Newport was given the task of creating a streamlined body that was attractive, aerodynamic and readily adaptable. With a long tapered tail to reduce drag, the fenders (which were removed for record
attempts) received teardrop fairings to smooth the airflow. The chassis used stock Model J suspension and driveline, except for a dropped front axle that lowered the nose for better stability at speed.
Two engines were prepared, both modified stock supercharged SJ engines with special cams and a pair of huge Bendix-Stromberg carburetors installed on a “ram’s horn” manifold. The result was 400 hp, up from the SJ’s optimistically rated 320. It was enough to propel the car to a new record on August 31, 1935, pushing the 24-hour average speed to 135.47 mph.
Soon, however, the British land-speed record contenders that Jenkins had lured to the flats eclipsed his feats with their aero-engined giants. Jenkins and Augie then adapted this chassis and body to a 1,750-ci Curtiss Conqueror V12, and the car set new records for the 1936 season. It was then that the car became known as “The Mormon Meteor.”
By 1938 its record-setting days were past, so Jenkins refitted the original Special engine and slightly modified the body by adding doors, a rudimentary top and removing the head fairing. He and his son Marvin drove the Meteor around Utah some 20,000 miles before selling it in 1943.
It passed through a number of owners, being acquired by the father of the present owner in 1959. The 1935 SJ Speedster was restored in 1962 to its 1937 road configuration in cream with red upholstery. It then won many CCCA, AACA, and A-C-D Club first places. The car was cosmetically restored again in 1984, and has since run the Colorado Grand four times, been shown at Pebble Beach, and appeared at numerous other events.
Aside from a few minor changes to make it more user friendly and reliable on tours, the Mormon Meteor as offered here remains as driven by Ab and Marv Jenkins following its Bonneville record runs. Its history is unchallenged; its originality is exceptional. The last time it was sold, Eisenhower was in the White House, making this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own the greatest Duesenberg ever built.

John Apen

John Apen - SCM Contributor

John holds degrees in engineering and operations research from the University of California-Berkeley, New York University, and Johns Hopkins. He vintage raced a Ferrari TdF for 13 years and has been restoring old cars for nearly 50 years. He owned the Atlanta Ferrari-Maserati dealership, FAF, for 17 years. He’s always had an affinity for obscure American cars, and in high school, he drove a 1936 Packard convertible coupe, followed by a 1949 Olds Holiday hardtop that got him through college. Today his garage includes 11 cars, including a Top Flight 1960 Corvette he’s owned since day one, a 1957 T-Bird, and several vintage Ferraris. His automotive library contains over 5,000 magazines and books and 1,800 auction catalogs. He has contributed to SCM since 1996.

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