When Pierce-Arrow entered the cylinder wars of the late 1920s and early ’30s with a V-12, they had trouble pumping any more horsepower out of it than their straight 8. Notable race car driver and engineer Ab Jenkins got a call from the automaker, hoping he could help. With his assistance, the team added 45 more HP to the engine. Then Jenkins got a wild idea.
Jenkins pitched the idea of driving a car with the new engine for 24 hours straight to promote the reliability and power of the Pierce-Arrow 12-cylinder. Jenkins promised he’d cover more than 2,400 miles, averaging more than 100 miles per hour, all while never leaving the driver’s seat. The folks at the luxury automaker were skeptical, to say the least. This included Jenkins friend and Pierce-Arrow sales manager Roy Faulkner. In the end, Faulkner agreed, but he didn’t secure a brand new car for Jenkins to drive. Instead, he offered him a 1932 Roadster with 33,000 miles on its V-12. It’d do the trick.
First 24 Hour Solo Drive
Jenkins had a 10 mile circular track created on the Bonneville Salt Flats for the event. Before taking to the sand on September 18, 1932, he removed the vehicle’s fenders and windshield to reduce drag. In further preparation, he smeared grease on his face for protection from sun and dust. He then donned a pair of goggles and was off.
When the 24 hour run came to an end on this day in 1932, Jenkins averaged 112.91 mph and covered 2,710 miles, marking the first 24 hour solo drive in the US. Though Jenkins made pit stops for fuel, food and drink, he never left the driver’s seat for the duration of the run. Pierce-Arrow management was quite pleased with the results, but the would-be record wasn’t recognized by the official sanctioning body for endurance attempts at the time, the Automobile Association of America Contest Board.
The Official Record
The previous year, AAA had suspended and fined Jenkins for a number of alleged infractions at Muroc Dry Lake during a different record attempt, in turn refusing to certify the Bonneville run. Pierce-Arrow, nonetheless capitalized on the event by capturing Jenkins’ efforts in a 41-minute documentary titled Flight of the Arrow, which was used to market the new 12 cylinder engines. Despite the success of the marketing stunt, Jenkins still desired to have the record formalized. The next year, Jenkins set out to mimic his previous run, this time with AAA officials on hand. When go-time came, windy, rainy conditions settled in, but Jenkins wouldn’t let Mother Nature stop him. This time he covered 3,000 miles in 25 and a half hours, averaging 117.8 miles per hour. He finally got his record.