Gordon Eliot White is a prolific writer with seven well regarded automotive titles to his credit; among them a wonderful written historical perspective on the father and son endurance racing team of Ab and Marvin Jenkins. White has been a correspondent for the Salt Lake City Deseret News for more than thirty years and is fortunate enough to have personally known the Jenkins family, thus affording him opportunities to interview family members and also access to the family records and photo archives so important to telling the Jenkins story.
Ab Jenkins was hands down the best automotive endurance racer who ever lived. His son Marvin was a close second. For decades Ab single handedly promoted the Bonneville Salt Flats as the greatest natural race course in the world. He set more high speed endurance records for his automotive employers than anyone while persistently pressing racers in America and Europe to come to the salt flats to pursue speed records. Ab discovered the Bonneville Salt Flats by motorcycle while still in his youth and immediately recognized its potential for high speed driving. Now Gordon White’s thoroughly entertaining book chronicles the pleasant mannered Jenkins humble emergence and subsequent rise to prominence as the premier automotive test driver and record setter of the early twentieth century.
A carpenter by trade, Jenkins was a driven man from an early age and he quickly became a well respected building contractor and ultimately mayor of Salt Lake City. Along the way he managed to make a pretty good living as an automobile demonstrator and test driver. He was the go-to man for automotive endurance testing in America. Ab was sponsored by many of the major automakers and ancillary companies including Studebaker, Auburn, Duesenberg, Cord, Goodrich and Firestone Tires, Mobil Oil, Pennzoil, Kendall Oil, DX Oil and General Petroleum among others. These companies contracted with him to demonstrate the superiority of their products via the solitary and exhausting, but romantically heroic venue of long distance high speed endurance racing. Jenkins and later on Marvin performed extraordinary feats of speed and endurance day and night on their beloved Bonneville Salt Flats; man and machine hurtling through the night at breakneck speed hour after hour without relief, driving relentlessly to exceed seemingly impossible physical and mechanical limits.
As the story unfolds, readers lean about Jenkins’ humble origins as the son of a Welsh immigrant who was recruited to America for his iron working skills. Father David Jenkins carved a place in the world for his family in Spanish Fork, Utah where Ab was born. Ab grew up racing homemade goat powered carts, then bicycles and later motorcycles. Author White relates his rise to racing prominence in thoroughly researched detail; describing Jenkins natural driving talent and extraordinary ability to spend long hours behind the wheel at very high speed with no lapse in attention and near total mastery of the machines he commanded.
Jenkins spent a lengthy part of his career driving Studebakers in transcontinental competition and other endurance events established to showcase the durability and power of Studebaker cars. Over the years he accomplished much the same thing for Pierce-Arrow, Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg and others who sought his near robotic skills to promote their products. Along the way he developed a strong following and enormous respect. Son Marvin Jenkins grew up on the Bonneville Salt Flats watching his father set record after record; eventually taking the wheel himself to set even more records. The Jenkins legacy of speed records is unrivaled in American racing history and indeed motor racing activities worldwide. Jenkins was a tireless promoter who never missed a chance to help others race at Bonneville. Next to his family and his devout faith, Bonneville was the love of his life.
Author White captures the essential spark that lit the personal fires driving Jenkins and later son Marvin to test not just the endurance of powerful cars, but their own physical and indeed mental endurance as well. His relationship with the family provided him considerable insight into their motivation and tireless pursuit of amazing speed records, many of which still stand more than eighty years later. Many of us who work in the performance industry or participate in motor sports and hobby pursuits with high performance cars feel we are fairly well versed in automotive history and in particular the hot rodding origins of salt flats racing after World War II. But the Jenkins saga reveals a whole new perspective about a man who was hot rodding some of the best cars available and racing them at impossible speeds across the salt flats decades before the hot rodders came to Bonneville. Indeed hot rodders universally recognize Jenkins as the true father of Bonneville racing thanks to his ceaseless promotion of the salt flats for high speed driving.
Hot rodders and automotive enthusiasts of all persuasions owe it to themselves to own this book and gain a first-hand perspective of how speed records were set in the early days before you could order your choice of performance level through mail order catalogs. Gordon White has clearly put extraordinary effort into the research and writing of this book; making it a real pager turner from cover to cover. It’s one of those books where you’re reading late at night and you know you should go to bed because you have to get up for work the next day, but you repeatedly keep trying to get in just a few more pages. And suddenly it’s 3AM and you’re still going strong;
just like Ab and Marvin. − JB
About the Author:
Gordon White is a dedicated author, researcher and historian of racing, aeronautical and marine subjects. He is fully immersed in automotive and motorsports culture, holding a US/FIA 2000cc speed record and serving as a senior judge for the Antique Automobile Club of America. He is an auto racing advisor to the Smithsonian Institution, archivist for the Harry A. Miller Club, an affiliate to the American Society of Appraisers and a USCG certified Master mariner for both sail and powered vessels. Gordon has authored four other automotive titles including Lost Race Tracks, Kurtis-Kraft, The Marvelous Mechanical Designs of Harry A. Miller, and Indianapolis Racing Cars of Frank Kurtis 1941-1963.
The Ab Jenkins book can be ordered directly from the author. It is $32.95 plus $5.95 shipping and handling and well worth it I might add. Those who order all five books together can have them shipped together for the same low $5.95 shipping cost. Watch our Racer’s Library regularly as we hope to bring you a review of The Marvelous Mechanical Designs of Harry A. Miller in the near future.
Ab & Marvin Jenkins: the Studebaker Connection and the Mormon Meteors
Author: Gordon Eliot White
Gordon Eliot White
PO Box 129
Hardyville, VA 23070