Pennzoil, Ab Jenkins and the Pierce-Arrow

October 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Pennzoil ad with speed-record holders, including Ab Jenkins

Pennzoil ad featurng test driver Ab Jenkins and the Pierce-Arrow

I’m not sure what year this ad for Pennzoil and featuring test driver Ab Jenkins appeared, but in 1932 (as related here), “Jenkins took to the Bonneville Salt Flats…with a stripped 452 V-12 roadster prototype that had already done 33,000 miles. It promptly ran 2710 miles in 24 hours at an average speed of 112.91 mph. Jenkins commented: ‘The car was stable at all speeds, more like a racing chassis.’ The car was stable enough that Jenkins could write notes to spectators and toss them out at speeds over 110.”

So I assume it is from some point about then, or perhaps the following year, when Jenkins went back and “set 79 world speed records over 251/2 hours, running as high as 128 mph. The road and weather conditions were more-difficult than the first trip, but neither car nor driver seemed to mind. Ab managed to shave during the final laps.”

In a recent piece in the Salt Lake Tribune on the documentary “Boys of Bonneville,” it says that Jenkins, a Utah native who had essentially discovered the Bonneville Salt Flats during a motorcycle ride to Reno in 1910, “set out to make Bonneville the place to race” in 1932, driving his 12-cylinder Pierce-Arrow for 24 hours, “stopping only to refuel but never leaving the driver’s seat.” At that point, points out John Greene, editor of the film, speed aficionados “had run out of room. Cars were better, cars were faster, and there was absolutely no place on Earth that they could go as fast. They had to build new tracks, but asphalt hadn’t been invented, really, so that’s not going to work. They had tried on Daytona, but people were getting killed, because as good as the surface was, they still had to go under piers and along hotel fronts. So Ab’s out here going, ‘Guys, I’ve got the answer.’ … Not only was it just bigger, it was a lot safer, because you can’t dig in, you can’t flip, you can’t run into anything.”

In 1940 Jenkins set a 24-hour speed record of just over 161 mph (meaning he averaged that over the 24 hours), a mark that would stand for 50 years. He also served as mayor of Salt Lake City during WWII. Jenkins died in 1956. His Wikipedia page notes that he is often called the “World’s Safest Speedster,” and claims that “There isn’t a race car driver alive today that rivals Ab Jenkins ‘humanity first’ mindset. The world speed record setter was prouder that he drove more than a million road miles without ever being involved in accident than he was of the dozens upon hundreds of speed and endurance records that only ended with his death at age 73.”

All in all, an amazing guy and a cool car-related ad, I’d say.


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