Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bob McKenzie -- Transcontinental Speed Record Holder during the 1930s

Cannon Ball Baker -- Abe Jenkins -- and Bob McKenzie.  All transcontinental and endurance drivers during the decade of the 1930s, the last decade that featured these "competitions" until Brock Yates' resurrection of the idea with the Cannon Ball Rally in the early 1970s. So let's learn something about a great driver now largely forgotten, Bob McKenzie.
Bob McKenzie's business card, featuring some of his notable driving achievements.
THANKS TO ANDY BECKMAN AT THE STUDEBAKER NATIONAL MUSEUM FOR THIS AND THE FOLLOWING IMAGE


Bob's last major accomplishment, taking a 1948 Playboy (made in Buffalo, NY) on a New York to LA trip in 62 hours, 20 minutes.


AS A STUDENT AT CARNEGIE TECH IN PITTSBURGH, YOUNG BOB MCKENZIE BECAME INTERESTED IN AUTO RACING AND IN PARTICULAR THE EXPLOITS OF CANNON BALL BAKER. DROPPING OUT OF SCHOOL, MCKENZIE PURCHASED A WILLYS 77 IN OCTOBER 1931. ON OCTOBER 30 HE STARTED OUT AT THE BRIDGE IN TOTTENVILLE , LI, AND TIMED BY WESTERN UNION BEGAN HIS FIRST TRANSCONTINENTAL QUEST. AFTER AN ACCIDENT IN WASHINGTON PA, BOB'S FIRST TRY ENDED, BUT HE RETURNED TO NY IN A NEW CAR.

WITH JOE HARBERTH AS AN OBSERVER, MCKENZIE SPED THROUGH INDIANAPOLIS; SPRINGFIELD, IL; TOPEKA AND DODGE CITY, KS, AND ON THE THRID DAY ARIVED AT ASCOT SPEEDWAY IN LA. RESTING FOR 15 MINUTES, HE POINTED HIS CAR EAST, BUT SOON LEARNED THAT THE RETURN TRIP WOULD BE MORE DIFFICULT. EATING ONLY PEANUTS AND STAYING AWAKE BY REMAINING HUNGRY, HE ROLLED INTO NYC 5 DAYS AFTER THE ORIGINAL DEPARTURE, 135 HOURS AND 22 MINUTES COAST TO COAST TO COAST.  BOB DROVE ALL BUT 8 HOURS!

THE FOLLOWING YEAR BOB PLANNED A NEW ADVENTURE, DRIVING A HUDSON ESSEX THAT WAS FITTED WITH AN EXTRA FUEL TANK, STRONGER REAR SPINGS, AND A SPOTLIGHT.  THIS TIME THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENED ALONG THE WAY, AS HE WAS STOPPED IN SALINAS, KS AS A SUSPECT IN A BANK ROBBERY. THREE HOURS LATER HE WAS EXONERATED, WENT ON, ONLY TO ROLL DOWN A MOUNTAINSIDE EAST OF OATMAN AZ.  THE ACCIDENT RESULTED IN A DAMAGED HEADLIGHT, DENTED FENDERS AND TRUNK, AND JAMMED DOORS. HIS RETURN TRIP ENDED WITH  A RECORD OF 60 HOURS AND 26 MINUTES -- AND HE MET CANNON BALL BAKER WHILE DRIVING THROUGH INDIANAPOLIS.


LATER TRIPS WOULD INCLUDE DRIVING AN AUBURN IN 1933, STUDEBAKER DICTATOR IN 1934, A FORD V-8 ROADSTER, AND A 1936 CHEVROLET THAT SET  A NEW REORD.IN 1936 MCKENZIE WOULD TAKE A HUDSON FROM LA TO NY IN 51 HOURS AND 58 MINUTES. HE DROVE ON STUDEBAKER DICTATOR FROM LOS ANGLES TO SAVANNAH IN 49 HOURS AND 37 MINUTES. PASSING THROUGH PHOENIX, FORT WORTH, MERIDIAN MS, AND MACON, GA, ON THE WAY TO HIS END DESTINATION OF SAVANNAH, MCKENZIE COVERED 2870 MILES.  THE DECEMBER 14, 1934 STUDEBAKER NEWS, REPORTED A TRIP THROUGH OKLAHOMA WHILE VISITING STUDEBAKER AMD FIRESTONE DEALERS, AVERGIING 55 MILES PER HOUR. DURING THAT TRIP HE STOPPED IN OKLAHOMA CITY, LAWTON, CLINTON, CHICASHA, ENID, PONCA CITY GUTHRIE AND OTHER TOWNS.






AFTER ALL OF THE THEATRICS, HE WOULD HEAD UP A BLACK CAT THRILL SHOW.  IN 1939 HE DROVE THROUGH 48 STATES IN 9 DAYS AND 21 HOURS.

WERE THESE EVENTS MIMICKING AVIATION SPEED TRIALS DURNG THE SAME DECADE? EMPHASIS WAS NOT ONLY ON SPEED BUT ECONOMY DURING THE 1930S. MCKENZIE  USED A VACUMATIC CARBURETOR  DURING THE 1930S THAT WAS ADVERTISED IN POPULAR SCIENCE MAGAZINE, IN WHICH HE CLAIMED ENHANCED FUEL ECONOMY (BY ADDING A BURST OF OXYGEN)..


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