The engine covering to the historic Mormon Meteor III was cracked open Friday for the first time in several decades, and Bill Spoerle, restoration chief for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, took a peek inside.
"The car in general looks very good for its age," Spoerle said.Max J. Evans, director of the Utah State Historical Society, said the organization asked Spoerle to look at the world record-setting race car before its planned move from the Capitol to determine its restoration needs and recommend a means of transporting it safely and a method of long-term preservation.
He said Spoerle is reputed to be one of the best curators in the country and the organization trusts his judgment. Spoerle came on his own time, but the Historical Society provided his room and board while in Utah. The request for the inspection is independent of a dispute between the state and the family of the man who drove the famed car, Evans said.
The controversy began when Marvin Jenkins, son of the late Ab Jenkins, the driver of Mormon Meteor III, and other Jenkins family members sought to take back control of the vehicle from the state. The family said the state has not taken proper care of the vehicle as agreed. The family wants control so they can protect the car and display it when, where and how they would like. The family recently filed a notice of claim to sue the state for control.
Marvin Jenkins was present for Spoerle's inspection. He said he did not believe some of Spoerle's findings, specifically that the present dents occurred before the last painting in 1950 because of the lack of cracks in the enamel. Jenkins said a human fist wouldn't crack enamel, and so he still believes some of the dents occurred while the car has been on display at the State Capitol.
Concerning the controversy between the state and the Jenkins family over the car that Ab Jenkins sold to the state for $1 in 1943, Jenkins said he and Gov. Norm Bangerter are still negotiating. The two met in a private session earlier this week.
"We've gained ground," Jenkins said. "We're not through yet, but we've gained ground."
Spoerle said damage to the car is minor, and restoring it would not be expensive. However, he said, several man-hours would have to be invested because the last paint job was poorly done and would have to be stripped by hand. He also said it needs some body work. But with a little cleaning, he said, the engine would probably start right up.
Spoerle also said the state has protected the car much as any other state would. He said the family could not expect the state to have a 24-hour watch and other major securities measures for the car. Even a race car in mint condition will deteriorate some over a period of 40 years, he said.
Jenkins disagreed. "If the family has control, we know this (damage to the car) won't happen. The state's just not with the original agreement."
In reference to its monetary value, Spoerle said, it would be unfair for him to even mention one because the car's historic value was greater. He said it is probably one of the most historic items belonging to the state of Utah. He also mentioned the car has value because of its Duesenberg engine.
"It would be a shame if something like this leaves the state of Utah," Spoerle said.
Officials plan to eventually move the Mormon Meteor III to the old Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Depot that houses the Division of State History and the State Historical Society to become part of the transportation museum. The car is being moved because of expansion at the State Capitol.
There has been talk of the race car being taken to St. George for repairs by the Jenkins family, but Evans said negotiations are still being made and the state will wait for Spoerle's recommendations. Spoerle will issue a report to the historical society in a couple of weeks.
"The family and us want the same thing - to have the car kept in the best possible condition and be on display for the people of Utah," Evans said.