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Markers to honor Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg racing history

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The Mormon Meteor Duesenberg. Photos by David LaChance.

Next month, an event commemorating the racing successes of some of America’s most storied carmakers will feature an appearance by a landmark Duesenberg racer.

The Indiana Racing Memorial Association will unveil two historic markers honoring the competition successes of Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg automobiles at 4 p.m. on September 2, at the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum Education Plaza in Auburn, Indiana. As part of the unveiling, the Duesenberg-powered Mormon Meteor land speed record car will be on hand.

The Meteor was built by Duesenberg in 1935 and then known as the Duesenberg Special. At the time, David Abbot “Ab” Jenkins, a practicing Mormon, was on his way to becoming one of the most celebrated long-distance and land-speed record holders of all time. So, seeing a promotional opportunity in the making, Errett Lobban “E. L.” Cord, the magnate who owned Auburn and Duesenberg (Cord automobiles were manufactured by Auburn), urged Duesenberg’s president Harold Ames to build a car for Jenkins to race at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The car, which became famous as the “Mormon Meteor,” a nod to Jenkins faith, was built on a Duesenberg Model SJ chassis with a dropped front axle and powered by a specially prepared supercharged straight eight. The tuned-up engine made an impressive 400 hp whereas a stock Duesenberg eight with a supercharger made 320 hp.

Mormon Meteor Duesenberg

The car’s streamlined and lightweight alloy body was penned by Duesenberg’s chief designer, J. Herbert Newport. It had a full belly pan to help cheat the wind and removable front fenders for speed record attempts.

Jenkins drove the car to a 24-hour speed record at Bonneville with an average of 135.580 mph. (In those days, races at Bonneville were run on a 10-mile-long circle track that competitors would lap for hours.) For more about the Meteor’s amazing history and the details of its concours-winning restoration check out the December 2007 feature in Hemmings Classic Car.

Aside from the Meteor, the racetrack successes racked up by A-C-D are numerous and impressive.

Duesenberg of course won at LeMans in 1921, becoming the first American make to ever win there, and was a mainstay at Indianapolis, scoring wins in 1924, 1925, as well as 1927.

Mormon Meteor Duesenberg

Auburn Indy cars debuted at the Indianapolis 500 in 1930, but it was in speed trials that Auburns found their greatest acclaim. Record runs at the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Muroc Dry Lake, and on the board tracks of the Atlantic City Speedway placed the marque firmly in the public eye in the 1920s and 1930s.

Cord also achieved great racing success: Ab Jenkins drove a Cord 812 to victory at the 1937 Stevens Trophy Challenge, which was awarded to the American car that maintained the highest 24-hour average speed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For more about the Indiana Racing Memorial Association’s ongoing efforts to raise awareness about Indiana’s rich auto racing heritage check them out at or on the Indiana Racing Memorial Association Facebook page.