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History Hupmobile that Raced at Bonneville Alongside Ab Jenkins

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Cord Blomquist, Mar 22, 2017.

  1. Cord Blomquist
    Joined: Jan 16, 2017
    Posts: 24

    Cord Blomquist

    I’m researching a custom Hupmobile that raced the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1935, 1936, and 1937. Here’s a photo I’ve created of the partially restored car rendered over a picture of the salt flats along with a picture of the car in 1937.


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    My father is restoring the Hupp and I’m hoping folks at the H.A.M.B. can help me find out more about the car. Here’s what I know so far:

    The “Bonneville Hupp” was originally owned and built by Dr. Norbert Knoch, a physician from Denver, Colorado who typifies the racing enthusiasm that took hold of America despite the hardships of the Great Depression.

    Knoch’s pursuit of speed was so relentless that he ended up working with executives and engineers not only at Hupmobile, but also at the Ethyl Gasoline Company, the Gambill Motor Company, Kendall Refining, Schwitzer Cummins, Ray Day Piston, and Firestone Tire.

    Knoch also recruited future racing legends like Bill Kenz to his team, traded racing parts with Babe Stapp, and acted as race physician to David Abbott "Ab" Jenkins on his record-setting runs in 1937.

    Dr. Knoch bought his Hupmobile Model H right off the showroom floor at the Hupmobile dealership in Denver, Colorado. We’ve even been able to obtain the original title.

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    Originally a 4-door touring car, the Hupp was brought to the Niederhut Carriage Company, a carriage company local to Denver, for the construction of a custom boat-tailed body.

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    The body was designed by Ernest H. "Ernie" Niederhut, son of Henry E. Niederhut, who founded the company (originally Niederhut Bros.), with his brother William G. Niederhut, in 1892. According to one document we received with the car, the fenders on the Bonneville Hupp inspired the fenders on the Mormon Meteor, as they cut air resistance and kept salt from spraying the driver.

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    Once the body of the car was complete, Dr. Knoch set about trying to find way to modify his Hupp to reach the fastest speeds possible. He started this by writing to Hupmobile about how he might raise the compression ratio of the engine to 7.5:1.

    These early letters from Dr. Knoch to the Hupmobile Motor Car Corporation seem to have been met with confusion, the executives seemingly unaware that Knoch was intending to race at Bonneville. They refer to the car’s performance “at Denver altitude,” referencing the doctor’s home town, and that Knoch’s questions about potentially using multiple carburetors made little sense for a “pleasure car.” Was Knoch being coy as to what he was hoping to do with his Model H? Perhaps that was the case as the Hupp executives may have assumed was still being used as a touring car by a simple country doctor.

    Knoch eventually achieved his desired compression ratio through the installation of new pistons heads. This change required an adjustment to the depth of the spark plugs, which further required special aluminum gaskets. Dr. Knoch kept the cylinder bore reading information from October 10th and October 12th of 1934 as well as correspondence from the Ray Day Piston Corporation.

    The next challenge was raising the octane of the fuel used in the Hupp, an especially difficult task in an era before modern gasoline. So Dr. Knoch sought out fuel additives, such as Ethyl Fluid, developed by the Ethyl Gasoline Company. However, Ethyl executives steered Knoch toward the use of Benzol, noting that a 20% benzol-to-gasoline ratio would achieve about 83 octane. Knoch proposed using 90% benzol.

    And so he did, and seemingly to great effect. Knoch and his team developed what one Ethyl Gasoline executive called “an ingenious method of operating your cars by bleeding benzol into the carburetor.” The benzol tank that fed this bleed is still part of the car today.

    Knoch also wrote to Hupmobile to inquire about twin carburetors, probably seeking to emulate the multi-carb approach of what was probably the world’s most famous Hubmobile, the “Hupp Comet.”

    The Comet was a race car driven by the famous Russell Snowberger. Before driving the Comet, Snowberger entered his own car, a Studebaker, into the Indianapolis 500 and finished 5th in 1931.

    This impressive upstart performance caught the attention of executives at Hupmobile, who wanted to promote their cars through involvement in the growing phenomenon of Indy Racing. Hupmobile coaxed Snowberger to pull the Studebaker motor out of his race car and install a Hupmobile H engine, of his design, to race at Indy for the Hupp Corporation. His car was then dubbed the “Hupp Comet.”

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    But with the deepening of the Great Depression, Hupmobile’s Indianapolis racing endeavors were short-lived. At the end of the 1932 season Russell Snowberger decided to go his own way and returned the engine and all Hupmobile-related parts back to the company.

    But the executive at Hupmobile were not about to let a good engine go to waste. Instead, they could sell the engine to Dr. Knoch, this new sort of upstart in Colorado. It would allow them to recoup some of their investment in the Indy team, but more interestingly it would allows them to foster what was essentially an unofficial Hupp racing team at Bonneville.

    This was especially interesting for the cash-strapped Hupmobile Motor Car Corporation as racing at Bonneville didn’t face the pressures of Indy, with its regular schedule of races and the pressure that go with them. Racing at the Salt Flats was less about drivers racing against each other, and more about racing against the bounds of what current engineering and technology made possible.

    By helping Knoch, the folks at Hupmobile had a race team that was self-financing, whose losses would go unnoticed, but whose potential wins would give them the headlines they needed to sell cars. This tiny downside, big potential upside logic lead executives like F. J. Snyder at Hupmobile to consistently entertain Dr. Knoch’s continuing stream of requests for special parts and engineering advice.

    So in 1933 the Hupp Comet motor was sold to Dr. Knoch and installed in the Bonneville Hupp. He then set about putting the motor to use, and of course, writing more letters to Hupp. He now made requests for replacement gaskets from the Victor Gasket Company, who had supplied gaskets for Snowberger's race team. Eventually, he found them, care of the Gambill Motor Company, a Hupp distributor.

    Finally, 1935 saw the first run of the Bonneville Hupp at the Salt Flats. According to an extensive write-up in the August 1977 edition of Cars & Parts, later republished in the Hupp Herald, Dr. Knoch himself drove the car to a speed of 136 mph. Photographs taken that day show Augie Duesenberg’s dog sitting in the car and it is believed that Augie himself timed the car.

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    But Duesenberg wasn’t the only connection Knoch made with Bonneville royalty in 1935. The Bonneville Hupp was prepared for racing the salt flats by Bill Kenz, who was just beginning what would become one of the most illustrious careers in racing. Kenz went on to partner with Roy Leslie, and together the two established a career in drag racing, midget racing, and a dominating presence at Bonneville. Their “Odd Rod” ran at over 140mph on the salt flats in 1949 and their later “777 Streamliner,” powered by three flathead eight engines, posted a speed of 261.81mph in 1956.

    [​IMG]

    The excitement of the 1935 run and the association with famed Duesenberg brothers pushed Knoch to go even faster. He was finally doing what he wanted to be doing, racing in big leagues. As he began rethinking the car’s design in 1936, Dr. Knoch sought out new gear ratios for the Bonneville Hupp.

    His original request for a 3:1 ratio was rebuffed by the engineers at Hupmobile, who instead were able to drop his Model H from the standard 53:13 (nearly 4:1) to 3.25:1. This was settled in a slew of technical correspondence in 1937 with letters dating from January 12th, January 22nd, February 11th, another from February 11th, February 18th, and February 19th.

    Gaskets were then upgraded, supplied by the McCord Radiator Company, who produced copper-reinforced gaskets that would hold up better when exposed to high temperatures.

    The car was run at Bonneville again in 1937. We have several photos from this trip to Bonneville.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    After this run, it seemed that the new axle ratio became a cause for concern. The 3.25:1 modified gears provided by Automotive Gear Works of Richmond, Indiana were overheating when the Hupp ran at high speeds over long periods of time.

    In May of 1937, Knoch sought to resolve the overheating problem by seeking advice from Automotive Gear Works, the same company who produced the axle gearing. They recommended using Castor Oil, rather than using a lead-based lubricant. Knoch also sought advice from Kendall Refining, who were happy to recommend several of their own products.

    In September of the same year, Knoch became part of Bonneville history, but perhaps not in the way that he imagined. It was at that time that David Abbot “Ab” Jenkins set at 24-hour world speed record of 157.27mph. Dr. Knoch tended to Jenkins, who was injured part-way through the run, having a piece of metal embedded in his arm, which Knoch is quoted as saying barely missed one of Ab’s major blood vessels. Brownie Carslake of Firestone Tire would later thank Dr. Knoch for his assistance, writing “none of us will ever forget how readily you stepped in and the timely assistance you gave when assistance was really needed.”

    After 24-hour record run, Dr. Knoch became friends with Babe Stapp, Ab’s backup driver, who sent not only advice but also parts to Dr. Knoch, including a steering gear and possibly a flexible wheel.

    Throughout 1938 and 1939 Dr. Knoch appears to have continued his pursuit for speed. He wrote to Schwitzer Cummins about supercharges and was met with some of the skepticism that he was met with in his early letters to Hupp. Lee Oldfiend, a Consulting Engineer at Cummins, reacted to Dr. Knoch’s proposed configuration of a supercharger by writing “such a combination could not be very useful except at speeds close to the peak” and “we should like to discourage you with this project.” Mr. Oldfield also didn’t contact “Mr. Duesenberg” about the proposed configuration, as Dr. Knoch had suggested. Oldfield didn’t realize he was writing to the man who quite possibly saved Ab Jenkins life!

    The letter writing went on and Dr. Knoch received replies from American Bosch regarding a magneto and to Air Associates regarding their Anilol fuel additive. Interestingly, Milton Chapel of Air Associates claimed that hundreds of race car drivers had adopted Anilol from its introduction to the racing community in October of 1938 to the time of his writing to Dr. Knoch, which was only seven months later.

    We don’t know if the supercharger was ever added to the Bonneville Hupp or if Dr. Knoch ran the car with alternate fuels or additives after 1938. Our records drop off after those dates other than the chain of ownership. We know the car was eventually sold to Don Crites, also of Denver. From there is was sold to Frank Kleptz of Terre Haute, Indiana.

    The Bonneville Hupp stayed in Frank’s possession until recently when John Snowberger, Russell Snowberger’s son, purchased the racer in order to turn back the hands of time and restore his father’s 1932 Hupp Comet.

    [​IMG]

    My dad acquired the body and chassis of the 1930 Hupmobile Bonneville from John Snowberger and is currently restoring it to its 1932 racing configuration, including an original Model H engine.

    [​IMG]

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    We are hoping the H.A.M.B. members can help us find anything related to the car, such as timing records, photos at the salt flats, articles that have been written about the car, or anything mentioning Dr. Knoch’s association with Ab Jenkins and the Mormon Meteor runs in 1937. We’re also hoping to find someone in the Denver area who might be willing to do some local digging for us.

    Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  2. gnichols
    Joined: Mar 6, 2008
    Posts: 9,725

    gnichols
    Member
    from Tampa, FL

    Very interesting. Gary
     
  3. alsancle
    Joined: Nov 30, 2005
    Posts: 1,540

    alsancle
    Member

    That is such a cool car with great history. Hopefully there will be some guys on the HAMB that can potentially add to the history.
     
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  5. That IS a truly great read.Wish you luck.
     
    Surfcityrocker and turboroadster like this.
  6. aircap
    Joined: Mar 10, 2011
    Posts: 1,303

    aircap
    Member

    Flippin cool.
     
  7. Spooky
    Joined: Mar 3, 2001
    Posts: 1,587

    Spooky
    Member

    Once again, my hometown is home to such a great and historic car.
     
  8. TagMan
    Joined: Dec 12, 2002
    Posts: 5,287

    TagMan
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    Can't help, but thank you for posting. I love these type of posts !
     
    Pufff and loudbang like this.
  9. jimdillon
    Joined: Dec 6, 2005
    Posts: 1,887

    jimdillon
    Member

    Really a cool car and a cool story. I too hope you find some more history on the car, as well as other pics.
     
    loudbang likes this.
  10. Cord Blomquist
    Joined: Jan 16, 2017
    Posts: 24

    Cord Blomquist

    Thanks so much for the positive feedback everyone. Please share this post with classic racing fans you know. Experience shows that additional information about cars like this one can found in the most unexpected places, so the more we share this with folks in the community, the more likely we are to find that old photo or letter related to the car.

    Also, does anyone know of books on the Duesenbergs that might talk about their activities at Bonneville?
     
    Stogy and loudbang like this.
  11. alsancle
    Joined: Nov 30, 2005
    Posts: 1,540

    alsancle
    Member

    To my knowledge there is no book that details the Duesenberg brothers at Bonneville. I believe Fred was gone at that point and it was just Augie.

    Cord, when did your dad buy the car?
     
    loudbang likes this.
  12. 302GMC
    Joined: Dec 15, 2005
    Posts: 4,436

    302GMC
    Member
    from Idaho

    Read through the 1951 Elbert Duesenberg book - lots of Augie's Bonneville involvement, but not a word on Hupp.
     
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  13. Cord Blomquist
    Joined: Jan 16, 2017
    Posts: 24

    Cord Blomquist

    @alsancle I believe dad bought the car in 2009.

    @302GMC do you know where I might buy a copy of the Elbert Duesenberg book?
     
  14. Cord Blomquist
    Joined: Jan 16, 2017
    Posts: 24

    Cord Blomquist

    Stogy, T-roaster, loudbang and 2 others like this.
  15. continentaljohn
    Joined: Jul 24, 2002
    Posts: 3,663

    continentaljohn
    Member

    Wicked Cool
     
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  16. loudbang and 302GMC like this.
  17. Cord Blomquist
    Joined: Jan 16, 2017
    Posts: 24

    Cord Blomquist

    I've found a clipping from the "Automobiles" section of the Omaha Daily Bee from 1909 that mentions Dr. Knoch accompanying a Denver businessman and his family on a cross-country trip to New York in a Peerless automobile.

    In 1909 traveling cross-country via car had to be quite an adventure, so much so that it was worth publishing in the paper!

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  18. Clark
    Joined: Jan 14, 2001
    Posts: 5,006

    Clark
    Member

    Very cool!
     
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  19. frank spittle
    Joined: Jan 29, 2009
    Posts: 1,331

    frank spittle
    Member

    I love these threads describing very interesting cars I was not aware of. I wonder when the doc had time to see his patients.
     
    loudbang likes this.
  20. s55mercury66
    Joined: Jul 6, 2009
    Posts: 1,498

    s55mercury66
    Member
    from SW Wyoming

    Have you tried contacting the Jenkins family? Marv has passed away but they might have photos.
     
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  21. Cord Blomquist
    Joined: Jan 16, 2017
    Posts: 24

    Cord Blomquist

    @s55mercury66 I guess I wouldn't know how to go about doing that. Are there surviving members of the family who preserve photos from Ab's racing career? I want to be respectful of their time, but if they are amenable to being asked questions about this sort of thing, I'd really appreciate speaking with them.
     
    loudbang likes this.
  22. love the old ads in the newspaper clipping. Thor motorcycles, White Steamers etc etc
     
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  23. alsancle
    Joined: Nov 30, 2005
    Posts: 1,540

    alsancle
    Member

    Cord, what was the engine when Frank Kleptz owned the car?
     
  24. Cord Blomquist
    Joined: Jan 16, 2017
    Posts: 24

    Cord Blomquist

    @alsancle The engine when Frank Kleptz owned the car was the Hupp Comet engine, which is why John Snowberger bought the car.
     
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  25. s55mercury66
    Joined: Jul 6, 2009
    Posts: 1,498

    s55mercury66
    Member
    from SW Wyoming

    @Cord Blomquist , I would imagine the Jenkins family would have a lot of photos, but getting in touch with them may require some searching. Ab's son Marvin was involved in a lot of his father's later attempts, and was also involved with the Novi, through his friendship with the Winfield brothers. The Salt Lake Tribune may have some photos in their archives also. Ab Jenkins was a driving force behind the salt flats becoming the record setting venue it was, and still is today. I do not personallyknow any members of the family, but I would not be afraid to reach and try to contact them.
     
    loudbang likes this.
  26. s55mercury66
    Joined: Jul 6, 2009
    Posts: 1,498

    s55mercury66
    Member
    from SW Wyoming

    Posting by phone is challenging at times. I would not be afraid to try to reach out and contact them.
     
    loudbang likes this.
  27. blackout78666
    Joined: Jul 3, 2009
    Posts: 517

    blackout78666
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    Awesome read , history lesson , and project. Best of luck!!!
     
    loudbang likes this.
  28. alsancle
    Joined: Nov 30, 2005
    Posts: 1,540

    alsancle
    Member

    Was there only one comet engine? The Mormon Meteor had 2 or 3 engines, the one in the car and 2 spares.
     
  29. Cord Blomquist
    Joined: Jan 16, 2017
    Posts: 24

    Cord Blomquist

    @alsancle I think Ab had more resources than Dr. Knoch, given that he was working directly with the Duesenbergs. As far as I know, the Hupp Comet had one engine and it's back with John Snowberger. I'm trusting that John only bought the Bonneville Hupp because it was the only way to get the engine back. All that said, I have no definitive record that says there was only one engine built.
     
    loudbang likes this.
  30. Cord Blomquist
    Joined: Jan 16, 2017
    Posts: 24

    Cord Blomquist

    Does anyone know if Ab Jenkin's correspondence is kept in a museum where I could request copies. Similarly, would the ACD museum have copies of Augie Duesenberg's letters? I'm trying to figure out the next threads to pull on this investigation. I feel like I'm in an episode of Cold Case!
     
    loudbang likes this.

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