He started racing his motorcycle after that, and soon, like most young guys, tried to get some money by racing or riding endurance times and distances. He was setting distance and time records during 1923-25. He quickly was hired on by Studebaker after 1925 as their engineer and test driver, and set many records in their cars from 1923 to 1927, as these couple of photos show. He set or still holds? 8 records, and driving Studebakers, and some were only from some big city to Salt Lake City, but he also set two from New York to San Francisco, one in each direction
The movie "Boys of Bonneville" does a better job of filling you in on his abilities as a driver with no peer, literally, and is a better bio-pic than most of the A&E Biographies that I've seen, and I do like them. Maybe it's because the movie shows more than Ab's life, but his accomplishments and family connection where his boys were with him at the salt for his racing. Maybe it's because I was interested in the racing, as much as the driver, I'm not sure. It's possible that because I knew nearly nothing about Ab, or his racing, that learning while being entertained, intrigued, and having my attention captured with the variety of vehicles, and those being described by racers and not a narrator with a script... it's that good of a movie.
After Studebaker, Ab was hired by Pierce Arrow to spotlight the abilities of their already impressive and reputable car. It was too late to save the manufacturer, the depression took away the customers with disposable income, the ones the competition didn't... when you compete with the best, Duesenburg, Packard, Bugatti, Voisin, Delage, etc you take your chances that they might get the edge.
All of that happened before racing on the salt at Bonneville was an annual event. Before the SCTA was conceived. Before anyone else had ever raced there, timed their cars, made a road to it, etc etc.
That he could set records is astounding. You ever hear of anyone from Utah doing anything? Ab set records at Bonneville that no one could compete with. No one, anywhere. Because, in my opinion, he was the most impressive endurance car driver I've ever heard of. He sat in a car and put up with engine noise, boredom, heat, cold, wind, sun, and everything I can't think of, for 24 hour runs. Many of them. Even a 48 hour run, which he still holds a record for.
So when he learned that the English people were trying to set records at Pendine Sands and Daytona, he mailed them that they should try the salt. He probably could have kept that pristine flat to himself for a long time, no one else was using it, but he opened it up to all comers who had a desire to achieve. That is pretty selfless.
No storms, no beach variations, no limits on round track courses, no spectators crowding the track... pretty much the ideal place to achieve high speeds, and Campbell was having a lot of problems trying to get to 300 mph in the Bluebird. Campbell broke 9 records (LSR = Land Speed Record) and Pendine and Daytona, but couldn't get his goal achieved. 300 mph
Campbell realized he was getting the best advice for a location, and when he came to Bonneville by Jenkins offer... it started the world to pay attention to world land speed racing at Bonneville, every year when the salt dries out. Campbell was the first man over 300mph, and Bonneville was the only place on land to achieve it.
Quite a switch from high speeds, Ab took an Allis Chlamers down the salt, and set a record mile on a tractor at 67mph for a mile. June 1935
In late 1935, he switched to a Duesenburg, the Mormon Meteor / Duesenburg Special to compete in the new higher records being set with airplane engined cars, like the Bluebird, and the Napier Railton (John Cobb)
the Duesenburg was a 1934 SJ, engines built by Augie Duesenburg and Ed Winfield. The best Indianapolis could make. This is the last Land Speed Record setting car that is made from car parts. Everything since is one off vehicles that come from no car manufacturer, share no parts with it resemblance to a streetable car
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, 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. (these 4 paragraphs lifted uneditted from http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/3314/Duesenberg-SJ--Mormon-Meteor--Special.html )
So the below was a special construction, longer, designed to keep the front back balance true.. and a vertical stabilizer for the high speeds
This isn't the end of the film, not the end of the story.... but as far as reviewing the movie, it's a good place to close.
The car was amazing, and with it he made or set every record from 10 miles 7,138 and 1 hour to 48 hours, and Ab loaned it to the state of Utah (about the only amazing car in Utah state history I can imagine) and they placed it in the capitol building for visitors to be impressed, amazed, and educated by. In 1940 Ab held 153 speed records, 26 with the Meteor III, and today, 13 still stand.
The movie goes into about 20 minutes of the rest of the story, and I don't like to spoil the surprise for movie watchers... it isn't a nice thing to do when I was given a copy to watch and review for you readers to learn what I think about it... the movie makers would prefer you buy or rent a copy, and I assure you it's worth the cost. I will tell you the car is still around, and the family stayed with it, and what happened is astonishing afer Ab raced it.
I also want to point out that Ab was serious about safety, and that has a lot to do with why he didn't race among other racers (very many of whom never lived long) and Ab though setting records for speed and endurance, and cross country public road driving reocrds... he never got a ticket, he never was in a crash/wreck/accident. He was like a hero to his countrymen, for his personality was pleasant, his achievements were incredible, and he was a car guy. . . and they elected him mayor or Salt Lake City, without him running for office, without him giving a speech, without him spending money on an election. That is a well liked guy.
He still raced while in office, and set 21 more records while mayor. No one will do something that cool as mayor again I think. People never get elected to office because they are great people anymore. Ab was likely the last good honest man to be elected in America. Ever since, it's been politicians, lawyers, campaigners.
Like I said in the title, phenomenal
images from the movie "Boys of Bonneville" as is most of the info, some is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ab_Jenkins
Following images are from http://content.lib.utah.edu
But though the movie is reviewed, and the public library archives are shared... this next bit is pretty cool... the Utah Museum of Fine Arts is having an exhibit with it!
from June through September 16th http://needthatcar.com/2012/06/21/quick-hitter-mormon-metro/ on the campus of he University of Utah, guest curator is Ken Gross. Car guy deluxe.
The local news did a terrific story full of cool info here: http://go.standard.net/story/speed-exhibit-puts-famous-racing-cars-on-display
http://www.speedumfa.com/about.html tells that the Jaguar XK-SS that was Steve McQueens, Ab's Mormon Meteor I and III (which holds more records THAN ANY OTHER CAR EVER), Chet Herberts Beast III, and 11 others like a Cobra Daytona Coupe, a Delahaye, a 37 Cord, and a 54 Ferrari