Ab Jenkins. The name had a ring to me like that of Greek god. I remember seeing his sleek Mormon Meteor in a display case on the bottom floor of the Utah State Capitol and being totally captivated by it. It may not seem so much to a Star Wars generation, but to a child of the '50s it was the essence of speed and power.
I remember the elongated body, the huge single fin flaring out from the tiny aluminum cockpit, a pale yellow fuselage and a fire-red belly, monstrous Firestone tires with intricate tread and a sleek, slanted radiator that seemed to have been forced back and formed by the very air it breathed.Visiting it again, I didn't expect it to carry the same magnetism as it had as a child. However, in its forgotten west corner of the Capitol's basement I found it still poised in its gesture of a beast waiting to lunge.
On a cold floor of little octagonal, white tiles like you see in old rest rooms, with no special lighting and out of the general flow of foot traffic, you would think that the old race car would attract very little attention. But in the half hour I sat in the corner drawing it, I was surprised at the number of people who took note of the old racer.
And virtually everyone who saw it seemed intrigued.
There was a long string of fourth- or fifth-graders on a field trip who filed past with touches and glances. The boys, especially, couldn't seem to keep from reaching over the railing to touch the tires, which were almost as tall as they were. Two different families with small children came through. In each case the fathers went into considerable detail about it, and read captions from the signs describing information about Ab Jenkins and the Meteor as if they had worked in the shop where it was put together.
A group of about 30 middle-aged tourists, who spoke only German, came directly to the car and surrounded it for five minutes, many of them gesticulating wildly with ecstatic expressions on their faces. Other members of the group nodded in agreement with them, all the while studying the car the way you would a painting in a museum.
There was a grandfather with two kids in tow, followed by a grandmother and about six others. This seemed to be an unexpected highlight of their babysitting Capitol Building Grand Tour.
Even a mid-level bureaucrat came through in a white shirt and tie - probably on a coffee break. He walked around the car studying it and reading the captions on all the signs. The only person I saw who didn't stop and give the car a look was a delivery man. He seemed to be in too much of a hurry getting vitally urgent paperweights to one of the upper floors.
The Mormon Meteor has been sitting silent for several decades. Its advancing age is revealed in the obsolescence of its streamlining, its riveted seams and the leather straps that hold its cowling in place. Still, I can almost hear the roar of the massive 750 horsepower Curtis Conqueror engine hurling Ab Jenkins across the Bonneville Salt Flats at what must have been, at the time, marvelous speeds. And though I am able to see Ab Jenkins as a little less of god now, the husk of his outmoded Meteor still contains a spirit that inspires an exhilarating feeling of challenge and adventure.