1957 Jaguar XK-SS Roadster. Photo: Peter Harholdt
Like Maverick, I’ve got the need … the need for speed. As Reese Bobby quaintly put it, if you’re not first, you’re last. And without that glorious burst of generated thunder provided by pounding pistons and burning fossil fuels creating the torque in the vein of 400-plus horses tugging at a one-ton wagon, then you’re certainly not going to win. So to celebrate a century of pure, unadulterated adrenaline in the form of designer shuttle boxes, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts is proud to present, “Speed: The Art of the Performance Automobile.” The exhibit opened this past Saturday, but I was lucky enough to get an invite to the private peepshow.
After a long day of delayed flights, broken airplanes and neck cramping naps, I finally got back to Salt Lake City with just enough time to learn that my computer was dead, my rent was due and I had to attend an early morning exhibit. I awoke not very excited to see some old pokey cars in a museum showroom, but my girlfriend assured me that the show would be cool (she’s a pure motor head and car chick for sure. A real lead-foot Tommy: anybody ever see that movie? EPIC). We arrived just behind Big Buddha. Wow, I thought, this must be a real to-do around here. We scurried in, grabbed some press passes, a free cup o’ Joe and sat in on the press conference. Delivered by Museum Director Gretchen Dietrich, Guest Curator Ken Gross, Ambassador John Price, and VP of the College of Fine Arts, Raymond Thymas-Jones we learned the brief history of the Bonneville speedway, the inspiration for this exhibit.
In the early 1900s motor enthusiasts discovered that this surface of dried salt provided an ideal location to maximize speed and distance. It wasn’t until the ’30s when former mayor of Salt Lake City David “Ab” Jenkins set out to break the world’s speed record that this area gained popularity. With the help of German-born engineer August Duesenberg, Jenkins modified his Duesenberg SJ into the “Mormon Meteor” (on display). In 1935, the meteor went out to the Salt Flats and broke 12 speed and endurance records. With a new stage set, racers from around the world traveled to Bonneville to try their hand at breaking speed records. What followed is a long history of speed based on the art of engineering, design and aerodynamics traced through automobiles in this exhibit.
After gaining a new sense of appreciation for that long stretch of deserted lake in between here and Wendover (city of broken dreams), the speakers opened up the floor to questions. Wanting to sound just as sophisticated and important as the panel, the Simpson’s comic book guy look-a-like blurted out the burning question, “So why are these cars art?” We were given the obvious answer, “Goggle ‘art,’ dumbass” response. Wishful hoping on my part, but the table handled it very professionally as I shook my head in disgust because said guy made us press types look bad.
Not wanting to lump myself in with the rest of the “pressing” press (huddled around Gross like he was the last life boat on the sinking Titanic) on the exhibit floor, my affiliate (haha!) and I made our way around 18 of the world’s most unique and historic race cars. My girlfriend was like a kid in a candy shop, “Oh look, a 1929 Bugatti. Let’s check out this Bentley. Ehh, Shelby Cobra, seen it! That’s a Ferrari, no way a Duesenberg, a Model T frame!” An endless stream of car knowledge erupted from within. As she explained things I did and didn’t understand, I became engaged in each car, the design, materials used and the technology advances throughout the brief history was crazy! We finally caught up with the group and listened to some more background stories of the cars in the exhibit. I don’t want to ruin anything, but these cars have stories that even the most interesting man in the world would have trouble competing with. And I must tip my hat to Ken Gross, that man loves these metallic souls like they’re children and knows how to brag about them!
We finally slipped off in order to snap a few photos of these exotic and expensive pieces of modern art. Being a semi-professional iPhone photographer (and instagram wizard! @superjunkshow) we began to snap every car at every angle. It was when I tried to lean over and capture the old gauges on Steve McQueen’s Jaguar that I was promptly reprimanded to not lean over the designated rope. I apologized sincerely even though I didn’t appreciate his stern and rude manner. It was but thirty seconds later that I turned to see Big Buddha directing his cameraman to film him leaning over the rope and having the security pretend to give him a hard time. Was this a crack at me? I’m not sure, but my advice to you and your kids: unless your face is on a van or billboard, don’t break the rules!
Although the exhibit does cost a fee, I suggest that everyone who is into cars, film, art, mechanics or engineering check this out. The exhibit runs till September 16 and will be coupled with special lectures and events highlighted by a “Hoods Up” evening hosted by car connoisseur Jay Leno. Seriously, how often do you get to see a collection of cars that span the world of racing worth over $100,000,000 under one roof? For more info and schedule of events, please visit speedumfa.com