Ab Jenkins


(January 25, 1883 - August 9, 1956)

Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile

Ab Jenkins' father left Cardiff, Wales, in the 1870s for a job in the United States. Ab's mother followed soon after. David Abbot Jenkins II was born in 1883 in Spanish Fork, Utah, and took the nickname "Ab".

Prior to his period of building his own streamliners, Jenkins was setting speed records by driving cars such as Pierce-Arrow, Auburn, Cord, and Studebaker between cities and also beating the speed of railroad steam engines pulling coaches. His contract drives were determined to get people off the train and into the client's car. He was also active at Indy earning the Stevens Cup, a 24 hour enduro maintaining over an average of 60 mph in a Cord Coupe. Ab competed on board ovals driving for records supervised by AAA officials. He was also associated with Firestone tires and Conoco motor oil in addition to car companies.

Jenkins was the mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah from 1940 to 1944 and was a professional race car driver.

Jenkins's interest in motorsports began with racing motorcycles on dirt tracks and cross country. He then became interested in land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats. He held land speed records for a while. He was instrumental in establishing Bonneville as a location for such events.

In 1939, Jenkins brought a new car to the flats. It was the mammoth Mormon Meteor III. Built on a 142-inch wheelbase with specially-made 22-inch Firestone tires, it used the same Curtis 12-cylinder airplane engine from the Mormon Meteor II. The car was nearly 21 feet long and was once again engineered by Augie Dusenberg. It was designed to run with two airplane engines, although only one was ever installed. It generated 750 hp at 2,000 rpm and its top speed was 275 mph. It was estimated that it could run at 400 mph with front and rear supercharged engines installed. It had a 112 gallon gas tank and got three and a half miles to the gallon at 200 mph.

His son Marvin, a commercial pilot, took over from his father after WWII. Ab Jenkins found the record runs becoming too laborious for him at the age of 67. Chapter Ten is devoted to the achievements of Marvin Jenkins, carrying on with his father's drive. Both Ab and Marvin have land-speed records untouched to this day.


Monday, Aug. 05, 1940

At dawn one morning last week, bronzed, begoggled Ab Jenkins, 50-year-old mayor of Salt Lake City, strapped a crash helmet under his grease-smeared jowls, stepped into his airplane-motored speed car, set out on his favorite tour: around a 12½-mile circle on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats.

With only a few mechanics, timekeepers and the grim, grey mountains looking on, Mayor Jenkins coddled his thundering 2½-ton Mormon Meteor once around the course. Then in a twinkling, the wooden markers (set at soft, intervals) became a picket fence, the flat track a gigantic bowl of salt. Round & round he whirred. In less than 15 minutes, a huge blackboard was raised outside the timekeeper's shack: "New World's Record for 50 kilometers—172.915 miles per hour." An eyeblink later, another board went up, marking a new record for 50 miles. Then, in quick succession, 100 kilometers, 100 miles, 200 kilometers, 200 miles, 500 kilometers.

At dawn next morning, when the mayor of Salt Lake City stepped out of his automobile, he (and his relief driver, Cliff Bergere) had traveled 3,858 miles, had broken 21 world's speed records. Average speed for the 24 hours: 161.18 m.p.h., almost 4 m.p.h. faster than the 24-hour world's record Jenkins set on the same course three years ago.*

Cracking records is nothing new to Ab Jenkins. Son of a Welsh master mechanic who went to the U. S. to supervise the construction of a Kansas steel mill (and settled in Utah because his wife had joined the Mormon Church), young Ab—christened David Abbott—was a bike racer in the early days of the Century, later raced motorcycles on half-mile dirt tracks. In 1921, when he was a successful building contractor, he won his first auto race—on a $250 bet that he could drive his Nash from Blackfoot, Idaho to Salt Lake City and back (at that time a four-day auto trip) between dawn and dusk.

Five years later, Speedster Jenkins won another bet: that he could drive from New York to San Francisco faster than he could travel by train. Although he had never been east of Cheyenne, Daredevil Jenkins scooted across the continent in 85 hr. 20 min. (train time: 100 hr.). So impressed was Studebaker Corp. it hired Jenkins to test its cars. So chagrined were the railroad companies (especially after a red-hot Hearstpaper ribbing), they put on faster transcontinental trains. But Jenkins embarrassed them again in 1931 when he drove a Studebaker, with a top speed of 90 m.p.h., from New York to San Francisco—observing speed laws through towns and stopping for every red light—in 51 hr. 10 min., faster than present Streamliner time (55 hr., not counting stopover in Chicago).

From then on, Ab Jenkins' hobby became his profession. Backed by manufacturers of tires, oil, gasoline, he began to build racing cars, drive them in endurance runs. In 1932 he "discovered" Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. On its marble-hard salt, 4,300 ft. above sea level, he set his first endurance record with a 24-hour grind at an average speed of 112 m.p.h. When he upped his speed in 1933 and 1934, British auto racers sat up and took notice. To Bonneville with their 6-ton monsters went Racers George Eyston and John Cobb.

For four years the Britons engaged in a record-smashing orgy that finally boosted the world's record to 368.9 m.p.h. (over a measured mile).

For mile racing Mayor Jenkins has no great fondness. Already holder of 153 speed records, Ab Jenkins - whose popularity with home-town folks made him mayor last November - has no intention of re tiring. His goal: 200 miles in one hour, 4,000 miles in 24 hours and - just to prove that he too can set a record over a straightaway mile - one mile at 400 m.p.h.

*Highest average in an Indianapolis 500-mile auto race: 117.2 m.p.h

The Salt of the Earth
Ab Jenkins’ own Story of Speed

by Ab Jenkins & Wendell J. Ashton

Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

The Salt of the Earth – Ab Jenkins’ Own Story of Speed, by Ab Jenkins and Wendell J. Ashton, is a small paperback book that has seen at least 3 printings. For land speed racers and fans, this book is very special and has taken on a special meaning. The book measures 5 ¼ inches in width by 7 ¾ inches in height, with 130 pages on high quality glossy paper. There are 70 black and white photographs, but none in color, since the book precedes color photography. The photographs are old and somewhat dull and grainy. This doesn’t take away from the value of the book because of its historicity and originality. There are three letters, three charts, one map and one drawing of Jenkins’ famous Mormon Meteor. The book has a Prologue, Foreword by W. D. Rishel, Preface, 13 chapters and a first class Index with over five pages. The Index is better than any that I’ve ever seen. Rishel first saw the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1896 and is a legendary figure. He wrote the Foreword in 1939, long before many land speed racers were even born. The Salt of the Earth - Ab Jenkins’ Own Story of Speed is not only a classic in the way that the Bible is revered among Jews and Christians, but it has a story to tell that is fascinating. Or at least it is to those who love land speed racing. 

The book is self-published by the late author and by his son, Marvin Jenkins of St George, Utah through the Dixie College Foundation. Their address is 225 South 700 East, St George, Utah. Or contact Autobooks/Aerobooks at 1-818-845-0707.

The Salt of the Earth – Ab Jenkins’ Own Story of Speed tells the story of pioneers in the taming of the West and the taming of speed. Those that grew up and knew Ab Jenkins and those that made the Salt Flats famous, marveled at their accomplishments. These men were accepted as human, with frailties and talents, driven by a need to tame speed. Today, we look back and can barely comprehend what those pioneers went through, because it seems so impossible a task for any man to accomplish. The Bonneville Salt Flats was known for some time. Pioneer scouts had seen the broad expanse of salt a decade or more prior to the trek of the ill-fated Donner Party in 1846. The salt caused delays to the wagon train, which helped to put them behind schedule and thus face destruction in the snows of the Sierra Nevadas that marked them for infamy. Trails were blazed to the north and to the south of the barren wastes. Rishel set out to cross the desert in 1896 to chart a course across the salt pans for an intercontinental bicycle race. Rishel returned to the lakebed in 1907, this time in a Pierce Arrow. Teddy Tetzlaff discovered for himself the unique qualities that the salt desert provided in his speed runs of 1914. Rishel and Tetzlaff set the example that inspired Ab Jenkins to take his need for speed to the salt. Jenkins was of Welsh descent, barrel-chested, square-jawed, powerful and optimistic. He became a tireless promoter of the salt flats and of his native Utah and the pioneers who settled there. 

The Salt of the Earth – Ab Jenkins’ Own Story of Speed relates Ab Jenkins life that was centered on the Bonneville Salt Flats. He did far more than set long distance records and speed runs. The book isn’t big enough to tell his entire story, but it’s a start and it will enthrall you. I’ve seen the Mormon Meteor, or what is called car #3. The car is huge and powerful, a roadster grown up on steroids. But there is nothing ugly about this car. Its engineering and design proved to be very aerodynamic and the records that Jenkins set over 70 years ago are still standing. But perhaps it is the man himself that is unique. Racecars can be designed and built today that will break old records, but can we also design and build men to equal what Ab did? On oval courses at the salt flats, Ab would set records of one, three, six, twelve and twenty-four hours at a time. He set records for 50 all the way up to 5000 Kilometers and from 50 to 3000 miles, all in one effort. While endurance racing has been around for ages, LeMans and Sebring come to mind, they are team efforts. Ab was the team. Occasionally a driver such as Babe Stapp would take over for an hour, but Ab would usually drive the distance. I’ve talked to big time endurance drivers and they tell me that there was no one like Ab Jenkins. Danny Oakes, the famous Midget racer, told me how he used to hire out as a car company driver in endurance runs. The big cars would usually break down long before the tests were over and the drivers would alternate after only a few hours. Ab drove 24 hours or more, straight through, and the Mormon Meteors hardly ever gave him any trouble. 

Had Jenkins preferred to bask in the glory all by himself, there was no one to stop him. But he was a man driven by a cause and that was to shout to the world about what a great place Utah and the Bonneville Salt Flats were. He wanted the world to know, especially the Europeans who were always looking for a better place to run their unlimited land speed cars. Jenkins was elected the mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah and used his position to promote the state of Utah as a place to visit. His efforts paid off when Brits such as Sir Malcolm Campbell, Captain George E. T. Eyston and John Cobb came to the salt flats and set their records. He was even prouder when the racers went back to Europe and told everyone what a special place the salt flats were. A group of Southern California land speed racers from the dry lakes came to see him in 1948 to request the right to hold their racing events on the salt flats. He encouraged them and in 1949 they conducted the very first Speed Week land speed race under the sanction of the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association)/BNI. The Bonneville Salt Flats are now home to two organizations, the SCTA and the USFRA (Utah Salt Flats Racing Association) and a total of 4 events are held there annually. The salt flats are also used for individual time trials and for movies and ads. Utah and the Bonneville Salt Flats have grown up and no one would be prouder than Ab Jenkins and his son Marvin


  1. Ab & Marvin Jenkins, The Studebaker Connection and the Mormon Meteors, by Gordon Eliot White, Iconografix, PO Box 446, Hudson, Wisconsin, 54016, USA, 2006, ISBN 13:978-1-58388-173-6, 160 pp, US$32.95
Ab Jenkins next to the tail of his record setting Mormon Meteor, 1931.
[GEORGE ALBERT SMITH Collection, P0036]