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  Duesenberg SJ 'Mormon Meteor' Special

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Country of origin:United States
Produced in:1935
Numbers built:1
Designed by:Herbert Newport
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:August 27, 2007
Download: All images
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Click here to download printer friendly versionThe Duesenberg's record was short-lived as another British airplane-engined special driven by Captain George Eyston bettered it by over 5mph a few days later. Jenkins' mission to draw more competition to the flats had been a grand success as Donald Campbell breached the 300 mph barrier in his Bluebird in September of 1935. To this day, the Bonneville Salt Flats have remained the premier land speed record breaking location. Needless to say Jenkins was far from done with the salt and his latest toy. For 1936 he had Augie Duesenberg fit the car with a Curtis Conqueror V12 airplane engine, which was built by Lycoming, just like the original Duesenberg engine. Upon its return, the Duesenberg Special was baptized the 'Mormon Meteor'. Both Eyston and Cobb were there and before Jenkins successfully completed his runs, they had set new 48 and 24 hour records respectively. The Mormon Meteor broke both and the 148.64 mph average over 48 hours is the world record to this day.

For 1938, Augie Duesenberg developed a completely new record racer for Jenkins that could be equipped by one or two of the V12 engines. The twin-engine setup was never used, but the car was still capable of 275 mph. It was estimated that with the second engine installed, it could have reached an incredible 400 mph. Dubbed the Mormon Meteor III, it was used to great effect by Jenkins, breaking a total of 21 records between 1938 and 1940. He ultimately averaged 161.18 mpg over 24 hours; that was only bettered fifty years later by Mercedes-Benz at Nardo. Despite entering very late and not campaigning at all, Ab Jenkins was elected mayor of Salt Lake City in 1939, underlining the popularity of land speed racers in general and Jenkins in particular. It's amazing to note that in fifty years of driving and racing, Jenkins was never ticketed or involved in an accident. Of all his records, he was proudest of his safety record.

Jenkins had retained the Duesenberg SJ Special and retro-fitted the eight cylinder engine soon after it was retired from the salt flats. The Duesenberg was further civilized by fitting doors and bumpers. It was subsequently driven on the road by Ab and his son for over 20,000 miles. They sold the car in 1943 and after changing hands two more times, it was bought in 1959 by an Alabama collector, who held onto the legendary machine for many decades. Like Jenkins, he enjoyed campaigning and showing the unique Duesenberg in a variety of events. In 1983 the car received a cosmetic restoration, but the road going equipment was retained. In 2004 the Duesenberg finally changed hands again for a staggering $4 million at Gooding's Pebble Beach auction. The new owner had the Duesenberg completely restored to its 1935 racing configuration and first showed it to the public during the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance where it was voted 'Best of Show'.

In comparison with previous Pebble 'Best of Show' winners, the Duesenberg SJ Special most certainly stands out. Nevertheless its racing pedigree, engineering excellence and surprising elegance makes it one of the most deserving winners. It's a fitting tribute to the often forgotten work of Ab Jenkins, Augie Duesenberg and Herb Newport. The last road car based land speed record chaser, the Duesenberg SJ 'Mormon Meteor' Special remains as one of the greatest American racing cars ever constructed.

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  Article Image gallery (46) Specifications User Comments (1)