Page 1 of 2 Next >> In the first half of the 20th century, (motor racing) technology evolved at a rapid pace and as a result new benchmarks and records were regularly set. There was an especially big competition on both sides of the Atlantic to clinch the various land speed records. The record breakers and their machines were the sporting heroes of the day. By the mid 1930s the previously used beaches and closed circuits were no longer sufficient and the racers turned their attention to the massive salt flats at Bonneville in Utah. The smooth and vast flats were first used for racing in 1925 by local building contractor David Abbot 'Ab' Jenkins and in the following years he set numerous records in a wide variety of machines. In 1935 he convinced several English high speed racers to join him at Bonneville. Jenkins had a bright yellow surprise for them.
For several decades most high speed racers were specials consisting of a simple frame equipped with the biggest available airplane engines. These hugely powerful machines were capable of speeds of nearly 300 mph. Jenkins was more interested in production derived machines and endurance records. For the 1935 season, he commissioned Duesenberg to build him a machine capable of breaking the 24-hour record. The unique project was headed by Augie Duesenberg, who had not been directly involved with the company since the Cord buy-out of 1926. Instead he worked on further developing the successful Duesenberg racing cars in his shop across the street from the factory where the Duesenberg Js were produced.
Augie Duesenberg was supplied with an unnumbered short J chassis and engine J-557. Together with Ed Winfield, he reworked the supercharged engine, fitting hotter cams and a second Carburetor with a heavily revised manifold. The changes hiked the power of the straight eight to a commendable 400 bhp at 5000 rpm from the optimistic 320 bhp claimed for the stock unit. Designer Herb Newport was asked to draw up a streamlined body for the 'Duesenberg SJ Special'. The most striking features of the slim two-seater design were the steeply sloped nose/radiator and the long tail. The wheels were equipped with removable fenders and separate fairings, which were used to smooth out the airflow. The body was completed with belly pans that protected the Duesenberg's mechanicals and also reduced drag.
Jenkins started off the 1935 season by racing a stock Auburn and a Allis-Chalmers farm tractor. Next out on the salt flats was Englishman John Cobb in his airplane engined Napier Railton, chasing the same records as his host Jenkins. He broke the 24-hour record with an average of nearly 135 mph. Two weeks later Jenkins was back and this time with his new Duesenberg SJ Special. Despite having an engine one-third the size of Cobb's massive racer, the bright yellow Duesenberg looked set to break the fresh records. There was a major set-back when one of the bearings failed after just 300 miles. Two new engines were prepared back in Indianapolis and sent to the salt. The second attempt was again cut short due to an engine failure. It was third time lucky for Jenkins and his relief driver Tony Gulotta as they raised the 24-hour record to 135.47 mph. They had stopped every 400 miles for fuel, tires and a quick check-up. Page 1 of 2 Next >>