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Sweet Rides: 'Speed' exhibit at UMFA to feature high-performance cars

Published: Saturday, June 2 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

1935 Duesenberg SJ "Mormon Meteor I," courtesy of Harry Yeaggy Auto Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio.

© Peter Harholdt

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ab Jenkins made more long-distance speed records in his race car Mormon Meteor III than any other automobile in history. Twelve of these records, set in the 1940s, still stand today.

His car will be among the many automobiles on display at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, starting this weekend through Sept. 16 in its newest exhibit, “Speed: The Art of the Performance Automobile.”

The exhibit will showcase 19 of the world’s finest and fastest automobiles. Each of the old and rare cars has its own story, and, for several, that story takes place at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

According to automotive historian and guest curator Ken Gross, Jenkins did many things in the Mormon Meteor III that no one has done again.

“He said it was his Mormon faith that made the difference,” Gross said. “He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke. Who can argue with that?”

Other cars on display include the Beast III, another famous Bonneville racer; the 1957 Jaguar XK-SS roadster once owned by Steve McQueen and several pre-World War I antique automobiles that could go 100 miles per hour.

To add to the experience, the museum will hold a variety of special events during the exhibition, including a lecture series, a film series and an evening with the host of "The Tonight Show," Jay Leno, on July 14.

Gretchen Diethrich, the museum’s executive director, said they worked hard to make the exhibit accessible to everyone.

“If you’re a car enthusiast, your head might explode,” she said. “If not, you will be astonished how beautiful these cars are. They are a symbol of power and of human achievement.”

Cars in an art museum might seem strange to some, but it’s something that’s been done since 1951 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Other exhibits have popped up in recent years at museums in Phoenix, Portland and even Paris.

“It’s like coming to a museum with Picasso, Rembrandt or Van Gogh,” said John Price, a museum sponsor whose car collection makes up a big chunk of the exhibit. “That’s the combined value of what you’re looking at (in this exhibit). It’s not a car, it’s art.”

Gross said that the cars in the exhibit are more than just Camrys, and the combined value of all the cars on display would be around $100 million.

Diethrich said one of the goals of the exhibit is to bring in a wide range of people from the community to experience what the museum is all about.

“Our great hope is to draw people who don’t usually visit,” she said, “and that they’ll be blown away by the beauty of the museum.”

For more information, visit speedumfa.com.

What: “Speed: The Art of the Performance Automobile”

When: June 2-Sept. 16

Where: The Utah Museum of Fine Arts, 410 Campus Center Drive, Salt Lake City

How Much: Adults (18-64), $18; youths and seniors (65+) and University of Utah faculty and staff, $13; U. of U. students with valid ID, $9; children (3-13), $3; and infants and toddlers, free, Group rate for parties of 15 or more, $15

Phone: (801) 581-7332

EMAIL: mgarrett@desnews.com

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