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 ManufacturersArrow PictureDuesenbergArrow PictureModel SJ Special Mormon Meteor (1929 - 1937)Arrow Picture1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Special Mormon Meteor 
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1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Special Mormon Meteor news, pictures, specifications, and information

Racer
Engine Num: J557
 
The 1935 Duesenberg SJ Speedster, commonly known as the Mormon Meteor, is a masterpiece in all respects, from performance to design. It proudly carries the name of Ab Jenkins on its side, right in front of the drivers cockpit. Jenkins drove this Duesenberg Special to a number of land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats proving to all that its supercharged 420 cubic-inch eight-cylinder engine which produced an astonishing 400 horsepower was among the fastest automobiles on the planet. The duo were perfect for each other, Jenkins and the Mormon Meteor, as Jenkins is remembered as a sportsman and a gentleman rather than just a daredevil or thrill seeker. He amassed a legacy known for racing, speed trials, endurance runs, land speed records, and even Mayor of Salt Lake City.

Herbert Newport, body designer for Duesenberg, created the Duesenberg Special from a standard 142.5-inch Model J Duesenberg chassis. He was tasked with creating an aerodynamic body that would embellish both form and function. The front of the car has a sloped radiator grille that merged into the curvaceous body. The long hood gracefully flows back to the cockpit area where there is seating for two. This area is very narrow and was designed to have minimal frontal area and create less wind resistance. The rear end has a tapered tail, designed to reduce turbulence and drag. All four tires are currently covered with fenders, though they had been removed during the land speed record attempts. These fenders have a teardrop design which aide in the vehicles aerodynamics and give the appearance of motion even at a stand-still. Originally, the car had no doors; they were added by Jenkins after it was retired from land speed record attempts.

The stock Duesenberg SJ engine produced 320 horsepower, which was a very impressive figure for the time, and one that was hard to beat. Augie Duesenberg improved horsepower output for the Special, bringing it to 400. Improvements to the engine included the adaptation of two Bendix-Stromberg carburetors, camshafts created by Ed Winfield, and various other modifications. Apart from lowering the front axle for stability at speed, the drive-train and suspension components were from the stock Model J.

Upon completion, the car was brought to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for testing. Happy with the results, the car was then sent to Salt Lake City and the Bonneville Salt Flats. On its first attempt it was met with teething problems and after 300 miles was forced to retire due to mechanical difficulties. New bearings were fitted to the engine and a second attempt was made. This too ended prematurely, this time it nearly reached the 2,000 mile mark when a crankcase split.

Two engines had originally been created, and the Duesenberg Special crew took this opportunity to swap engines. Tony Gulotta, an Indy 500 racer, drove the car on its third attempt. The car was driven for 24 hours at a speed of 135.58 miles and covered 3,253 miles. It had captured many new records during this attempt and raised the bar for all other competitors. The 24-Hour record would stand for only a short time, as a car driven by Captain Eyston would increase the record to 140.5 mph in a 24-Hour period.

Jenkins purchased the Duesenberg Special from Duesenberg for the sum of nearly $5,000. With the help of Augie Duesenberg and Lycoming, a mammoth 1,650 cubic-inch Curtiss Conqueror V12 was installed in the engine compartment. It was given the name, 'Mormon Meteor', and brought back to the Salt Flats in 1936. By now, the 24-Hour land speed record had been increased to 149.096 mph by Eyston. Jenkins was determined to break that record. With the help of co-driver Babe Stapp, the Mormon Meteor was driven to a record in its first 12-Hours, averaging 152.84 mph and taking that title away from Eyston. The car would have to settle with this record for the time-being, as a failure in the driveshaft universal joint just after the 12 hour mark meant the car was unable to finish the 24 hours.

As the Mormon Meteor was undergoing repairs, John Cobb took the 24 Hour title away from Eyston by driving at an average of 150.163 mph for 24-Hours. When the Mormon Meteor was given another attempt, this time it would be successful. It averaged 153.823 mph for 24 hours and 148.641 for 48 hours.

The car was retired from land-speed record attempts at the conclusion of the 1938 season. Slight modifications were made to the car to make it more road-going friendly, such as the addition of a top which made it more versatile in all driving conditions. The V12 engine was removed and replaced with the SJ Special engine number J557.

The car was driven by Jenkins and his son Marvin for around 20,000 miles before selling it in 1943 to a Los Angeles resident named Bob Roberts. Roberts kept the car for a few years, selling it to a Chicago resident in 1946. Two years later it was sold to a resident of Georgia named Ben Hudson. While in his care, the engine was rebuilt. Ownership later changed to another individual, who had the car restored to its 1937 road configuration. The restoration was completed in 1962 and has captured many awards since that time, including a CCCA, AACA, and A-C-D Club first place awards.

The car passed through ownership throughout the years before it was brought to the Gooding & Company's Pebble Beach Auction in 2004. The car found a new owner for the sum of $4,445,000.

Two years later, the car returned to Pebble Beach, this time as an entrant to the Concours d'Elegance. The featured marque's were Aston Martin, Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg. The Duesenberg marque has won the top award at Pebble on five occasions. In 2007, the Duesenberg again won top honors, as the Mormon Meteor was named Best in Show.

By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2011

57th Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance Names Duesenberg SJ Special (Also Known as the Mormon Meteor) 'Best of Show'

Classic Cars from 12 Countries and Throughout the Ú.S. are Showcased During Competition Along California's Monterey Coast
The 18th fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links® hosted some of the world's rarest vintage vehicles and thousands of spectators Sunday at the 57th Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. The Concours competition, which included judging in 24 classes, culminated when a 1935 Duesenberg SJ Special, owned by Harry Yeaggy from Cincinnati, Ohio, was named 'Best of Show.'

The winning car, also known as 'The Mormon Meteor,' is a supercharged speedster that was raced by Útah's Ab Jenkins (the former mayor of Salt Lake City) and then driven on the city streets. The car, which set a 24-hour speed record (135.58 miles per hour) in 1935, sold for a record $4.45 million at the 2004 Pebble Beach Auction conducted by Gooding & Company.

'I'm trying to catch my breath,' said Yeaggy on the winner's ramp. 'I knew I had a great car. I love the styling and the art deco look, and it's a performance car. It's just elegant from every different direction. For me to get a performance car and a beautiful car is a perfect combination. In my opinion, this is the most significant American car ever built.

'I'd also like to give loads of credit to Chris Charlton, who did the restoration work.'

Competitors from 30 states and 12 countries brought their prized automotive possessions to the California's Monterey Peninsula for judging. Additionally, proceeds from raffles, auctions, sponsorships and gate receipts helped contribute more than $1 million to charity for the second consecutive year.

'The Pebble Beach Concours has truly become ‘the world's concours,'' says Concours Chairman Sandra Kasky Button. 'In addition to enthusiasts, sponsors and media from around the globe, this year we welcomed exotic, historic vehicles from as far away as Hong Kong, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands and Argentina.'

The featured automotive marques for 2007 were Aston Martin – wîth four classes, including a special exhibition of historic Astons and three postwar classes – and the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg group. (The James Bond Aston Martin DB5 and Duesenbergs once owned by Clark Gable and Gary Cooper were among the most well-known vehicles.) Additionally, the historic hot rod class celebrated the 75th anniversary of the iconic '32 Ford (known as 'The Deuce'), and the '10-plus Club' focused on cars wîth engines displacing 10 liters or more. Overall, nearly 200 classic vehicles, including the event's oldest competitor – an 1897 Henriod – competed in the annual classic car showcase along the Monterey coastline.

'It happens every year on the third Sunday in August; a blending of automotive design, craftsmanship and history,' says Kasky. 'Car aficionados nervously roll their vehicles onto the 18th fairway of one of the world's most famous golf courses, seeking to win ‘best of show' honors. For spectators, it's an automotive time capsule, wîth the finest artistry and design on display from more than 100 years of the automobile. And the best news of all, wîth the $1 million-plus we raised for our charities this year, the Pebble Beach Concours has now contributed well over $10 million during the event's history.'

The 58th Pebble Beach Concours, slated for Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008, will include a celebration of the centennial of General Motors and the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.

First conducted in 1950, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance® (www.pebblebeachconcours.net) has grown to become the world's premier celebration of the automobile. Only the most beautiful and rare cars are invited to appear on the famed 18th fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links®, and connoisseurs of art and style flock to see these masterpieces. Charitable donations raised by the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance® now total over $10 million. Related events include the Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance™ presented by Rolex, Pebble Beach RetroAuto™, and the Pebble Beach® Auction presented by Gooding & Company. The 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance®, featuring Aston Martin and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg group, will be held on Sunday, August 19.

Pebble Beach®, Pebble Beach Golf Links®, Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance®, Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance™, and Pebble Beach RetroAuto™ are trademarks, service marks and trade dress of Pebble Beach Company. All rights reserved.

Pebble Beach Company, headquartered in Pebble Beach, Calif., owns and operates the world-famous Pebble Beach Resorts®, including The Lodge at Pebble Beach™, The Inn at Spanish Bay™ and Casa Palmero®. The company also operates four renowned golf courses: Pebble Beach Golf Links®, Spyglass Hill® Golf Course, The Links at Spanish Bay™ and Del Monte™ Golf Course. Its other famed properties include the scenic 17-Mile Drive® and The Spa at Pebble Beach™. In addition to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance®, Pebble Beach Resorts® annually hosts the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, The Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach and the Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational. Pebble Beach Golf Links® has hosted four Ú.S. Opens, four Ú.S. Amateurs, one PGA Championship, and will host its fifth Ú.S. Open in 2010.

Source - Pebble Beach Concours
Racer
Engine Num: J557
 
Duesenberg was founded in 1913 by Fred and August Duesenberg to build sports cars. Born in Lemgo, Germany, the two brothers were self-taught engineers and were famous for their high-quality, record-breaking roadsters. In 1914 Eddie Rickenbacker drove a 'Duesy' to finish in 10th place at the Indianapolis 500, and Duesenbergs won the race in 1924, 1925, and 1927. In 1921, Jimmy Murphy became the first American to win the French Grand Prix when he drove a Duesenberg to victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

E.L. Cord, of Cord and Auburn Automobile, bought the company in 1926 in order to produce luxury cars. The Model J debuted at the New York Car Show of 1928. In unsupercharged form, it produced 265 horsepower. The supercharged version produced up to 400 horsepower, and had a top speed of 140 mph in third. Duesenbergs were driven by the rich and famous, among them Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and the Duke of Windsor.

This extraordinary 'Mormon Meteor' went 135.47 mph for 24 hours, and for one-hour over 152 mph, in 1935 at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Restored for the first time in 2007, this car then won the Best in Show at Pebble Beach.

Duesenberg was finished in 1937. It was said, 'The only car that could pass a Duesenberg, was another Duesenberg, and that was only with the first owner's consent.'
JACKSONVILLE, FL; September 9, 2010 --- The Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance Foundation, Inc. announced today that the 'Mormon Meteor' Duesenberg will be the featured vehicle at the 16th annual Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, March 11-13, 2011. It will be the vehicle's third appearance at Amelia in 15 years and its first showing since a major restoration two years ago.

Once dubbed the 'fastest, most powerful car in the world,' the Duesenberg Special/Mormon Meteor is the definitive pre-war race car and it is still considered the ultimate Duesenberg by collectors worldwide. Currently in the collection of Harry Yeaggy of Cincinnati, OH, the Mormon Meteor was piloted by speed enthusiast Ab Jenkins (Jenkins was a Mormon from Salt Lake City, ÚT) to numerous land speed records on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats. The Meteor started life as a Duesenberg Model J and was brought to Augie Duesenberg's race shop where it first became known as the Duesenberg Special. Its streamlined body, conceived by Herbert Newport, was both attractive and aerodynamically functional, and ideal for Jenkins' assault on Bonneville.

One of the car's most unique and prominent features was its center-mounted headlight, which illuminated a black oil line in the salt that formed a 10-mile track. The Special's power came from a modified stock supercharged SJ engine that produced 400 horsepower, which was an impressive output for the era. Initial record attempts were hampered by several engine failures, but the ever persistent Jenkins and the Special eventually set a land speed record covering 3,253 miles in 24 hours at an average speed of 135.47 mph.

Fueled by his thirst for more competition, Jenkins wasn't finished wîth his quest for speed. After purchasing the Special for about $5,000, he removed the seven-liter, in-line eight and replaced it wîth a 1,600 cubic inch Curtis Conqueror V12 and renamed the car the Mormon Meteor as a result of a contest held by Salt Lake City's daily paper Desert News. The 1936 season at Bonneville was one to remember for Ab and his modified Duesenberg J; he and the Meteor set land speed records for 24 hours (153.823 mph) and 48 hours (148.641 mph) against other purpose-built cars from Europe.

With his record setting days behind him, Jenkins refitted the car wîth the SJ Special engine and additional bodywork, and he and his son continued touring around Útah and the Southwest for several years. The car also turned out to be one of the best campaign tools a candidate could ever have. Jenkins was easily elected mayor of Salt Lake City without ever having to campaign as the recognition the car brought him along wîth his reputation as a speed lover became an unbeatable political combination. With victories in the 1921 French Grand Prix and three Indy 500 wins to Duesenberg's credit, the Meteor was the last purpose-built race car for the marque.

'Without a doubt, the Mormon Meteor is the most recognizable of all Duesenbergs as well as one of the most famous of all automobiles ever built,' says Amelia Founder and Co-chairman Bill Warner. 'The Meteor has a presence that mesmerizes an audience wherever it goes, and wîth it benefitting from a full restoration, it will be spectacular. I'm lòòking forward to seeing it on the field.'

Source - Amelia Island Concours

Background

The Duesenberg Company produced high-end, luxury automobiles and racing cars from 1913 through 1937. It was created by the Duesenberg brothers, Fred and August, who formed the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa with the intent on building sports cars. Just like many of their time, they were mostly self-taught engineers and had only constructed experimental cars up to this point.

Duesenberg's place in history was officially solidified in 1914 when Eddie Richenbacker drove a Duesenberg to an astonishing 10th place finish at the Indianapolis 500. Duesenberg later went on to win the race, capturing overall victories in 1924, 1925, and 1927. A Duesenberg was used as a pace car for the Indianapolis 500 in 1923.

Starting with the companies first appearance at the Indianapolis 500 in 1913 and continuing for a consecutive 15 years, there were a total of 70 Duesenberg racing cars entered in the race. Thirty-two of the cars finished in the top ten. In 1922, eight of the top ten cars were Duesenberg-powered. Many great racing names, such as Eddie Rickenbacker, Rex Mays, Tommy Milton, Peter DePaolo, Albert Guyot, Ralph DePalma, Fred Frame, Stubby Stubblefield, Ab Jenkins, Ralph Mulford, Jimmy Murphy, Joe Russo, and Deacon Litz raced in a Duesenberg.

Duesenberg's racing pedigree was not just reserved for the United States; in 1921, Jimmy Murphy drove a Duesenberg to victory at the French Grand Prix at the LeMans racetrack. This made him the first American to win the French Grand Prix. It also made the Duesenberg the first vehicle to start a grand prix with hydraulic brakes.

The Duesenberg headquarters and factory was relocated in July of 1921 from New Jersey to Indianapolis. Part of the purpose for the move was to focus more on the production of passenger vehicles. The Company had a hard time selling their Model A car. This was a very advanced car with many features not available on other vehicles being offered at the time. The engine had dual overhead cams, four-valve cylinder heads and was the first passenger car to be equipped with hydraulic brakes.

The Duesenberg Company produced 667 examples of the Model A, making it their first mass-produced vehicle. The Model A was powered by a 183-cubic-inch single overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder engine. The strain of racing, moving, and lack of selling automobiles sent the company into receivership in 1922. After a few years, it's debts had been resolved, thank in-part to an investor group. The company re-opened in 1925 as the Duesenberg Motors Company.

In 1926, Errett Lobban Cord purchased the Duesenberg Company. The company appealed to E.L. Cord, owner of the Cord and Auburn Automobile Company, because of its history, the engineering ingenuity of the products, brand name, and the skill of the Duesenberg Brothers. The purpose was to transform the company into a producer of luxury automobiles.

Duesenberg Model J and Model SJ

Fred Duesenberg was a master of creating engines and was a creative designer. He had a talent for conceiving new ideas and ways of doing things. The engines he constructed were beautiful, mechanically sound, and advanced. E.L. Cord gave him one task: 'Create the best car in the world.' This was a very tall order and came at a very difficult time in history. The onset of the Great Depression and the Stock Market crash was just around the corner. Competition in the luxury car segment was fierce and involved all facets of the automobile. The cylinder wars that began in the 1920s and continued into the 1930s had marque's trying to outdo each other on the bases of their engines output, number of cylinders, and the speed of their ultra-luxury automobiles. Styling continued to be very important and often outsourced to the greatest designers and coachbuilders of the time. Maruqee's such as Cadillac, Packard, Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta Fraschini, Bugatti, and others were all trying to out-do each other and continue in business during this difficult point in history.

The Duesenberg Model J was first unveiled to the public at the New York Car Show on December 1st of 1928. Only the chassis and engine were shown and it still impressed enough to make front page news. The wheelbase was 142-inches making it nearly 12 feet. The chassis had a six cross-members made it very sturdy and able to accommodate the heaviest of bodies. The engine had dual overhead camshafts and eight-cylinders with four valves per cylinder. It displaced 420 cubic-inches and produced an impressive 265 horsepower in un-supercharged form. The engine had been designed by Fred Duesenberg and constructed by the Lycoming Company, which had been recently acquired by E.L. Cord. There was a brilliant lubrication system which automatically lubricated various mechanical components after sixty to eighty miles. Two lights mounted on the dashboard indicated when the lubrication process was transpiring. After 750 miles, lights mounted on the dashboard would light-up indicating the oil required changing. After 1500 miles, the lights would illuminate indicating the battery should be inspected. Top speed was 119 mph and 94 mph in second gear. With the use of a supercharger, the top speed increased even further, to nearly 140 mph. Zero-to-sixty took around eight seconds with 100 mph being achieved in seventeen seconds.

Each chassis was driven at speed for 100 miles at Indianapolis before being delivered to the customer or coachbuilder.

The coachwork was left to the discretion of the buyer and the talents of the coachbuilders. Prominent coachbuilders from North American and Europe were selected to cloth the Model J and Model SJ in some of the grandest and elegant coachwork ever created.

The cost of a rolling chassis prior to 1932 was $8,00. The rolling chassis usually included all mechanical components, front fenders, radiator grille, bumpers, running boards, dashboard, and sometimes a swiveling spot-light. After 1932, the price was raised to $9,500. After the coachwork was completed, the base price was $13,500 with a top-of-the line model fetching as much as $25,000 or more. To put this in perspective, the entry level Ford Model T in the early 1930s cost around $435 with the most expensive version selling for about $650. Many individuals in very prominent careers, such as doctors, made around $3,000 annually. The Great Depression meant the number of individuals capable of affording an automobile of this caliber soon dwindled. Those who could afford one often bought modest vehicles to avoid public uprising and ridicule. The pool of marques who catered to the upper-class of society did all they could to attract buyers; prices were lowered and incentives were made just to attract another sale. Needless to say, competition was fierce.

After the New York Show, Duesenberg ordered enough components to build 500 Model Js. Specifications and drawings of the chassis had been sent to prominent coachbuilders six months prior to its unveiling at the New York Show. This had been done to guarantee that a wide variety of bodies were available after its launch. Duesenberg ordered bodies in small quantities and offered the completed cars to have on-hand incase the customer wanted to take delivery immediately. The first customer took delivery of their Model J in May of 1929. This was just five weeks before Black Tuesday.

The Model SJ, a supercharged version of the Model J, produced 320 horsepower. The supercharger was located beside the engine with the exhaust pipes beneath through the side panel of the hood through creased tubes. The name 'SJ' was never used by the Duesenberg Company to reference these models.

Even though the Model J had received much attention from the press and promotional material was well circulated, sales were disappointing. The Duesenberg Company had hoped to construct 500 examples per year; this figure was never matched with a total of 481 examples constructed throughout its lifespan. Duesenberg did find customers such as Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and James Cagney. Monarch, kings, queens, and the very wealthy accounted for the rest of the sales.

Production continued until the company ceased production in 1937. Little changed on the Model J over the years. The four-speed gearbox was replaced by a unsynchronized three-speed unit which was better suited to cope with the engines power. The last Model SJ's produced had ram-horn intakes and installed on two short-wheelbase chassis. Horsepower was reported to be as high as 400. These examples are commonly known as 'SSJ' in modern times.

In 1932, Fred Duesenberg was involved in a car accident which claimed his life. Development on the Model J had come to a halt which was not a problem at the time, but within a few years had become antiquated in comparison to the competition. An entirely new design and updated mechanical components were required for the Duesenberg name in 1937 in order to stay competitive. The cost and development time was too much for E.L. Cord to consider, and so he withdrew his financial support and the company dwindled.

August Duesenberg tried, unsuccessfully, to revive the Duesenberg name. Fritz Duesenberg tried again in the mid-1960s but again without success.

By Daniel Vaughan | Feb 2007
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