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Cliff Bergere and Americas Safest Tire

Cliff Bergere (1896-1980) a native of Toledo, Ohio, had quite a long career as both a stunt and racing driver. In 1923 he did the stunt driving for the movie, The Eagles Talons, which was about an unscrupulous gang attempts to corner the wheat market. It was a low-budget, but popular serial from Universal Pictures, starring future cowboy ace Fred Thomson and veteran Ann Little. A later picture of  Begere here in 1926 shows him in his Model A Duesenberg.

He went on to sixteen starts in the Indianapolis 500 from 1927 on, including starting on the pole in 1946 and finished as high as third in both 1932 and 1939. The last photo (below) appears to be from his first start at the 500, where he finished ninth in a 91 c.i. rear-drive Miller, which was entered by the Muller Bros. The photos of his Model J Duesenberg (above and below) are now part of the Fred Roe collection, these photos and the photo of him in the Miller (below) recently came out of an estate in Florida, where he lived for some time in Dade City, before he died.

We discovered the short film below, America’s Safest Tire by the Fisk Tire Company, just before the Bergere photos and this car can be seen featured and driven in it a few times. Be sure to watch the whole film as it is quite interesting and it shows a jump scene over four cars near the end. In the film, Bergere possibly did the stunt driving for Rush B. Hughes, a stage actor, occasional silent film actor, radio performer and cousin to industrialist Howard Hughes.

The Fisk Safti-Fight tires seem to have been marketed between 1937-1941, judging by the period advertisements that we were able to find.


The photo above in the thumbnails has the hand written notation; Duesenberg roadster. Cliff Bergere. HO 3541 – day or night, written on the back, which shares the same phone number as on the photo at the top.

New information*** Thanks to information from Robbie Marenzi, our suspicions are confirmed. With the car number 2221, we were able to find it in Fred Roe’s book and here is what Roe had to say about it. “Originally this was a Murphy torpedo convertible coupe, body number 898. About 1936 a southern California body shop revamped it, destroying the boat tail and relocating the radiator much farther forward “.

The Duesenberg itself is a bit of a mystery, we have seen photos of it in other Hollywood scenes in the past, but have not been able to find out exactly which car it is, or if it has survived.

The body does not appear to match up with any other Duesenberg roadster bodies we have seen in Roe’s book or others. The fenders have been skirted and modernized and oddly the radiator appears to have been moved forward between eight to ten inches. It is wearing supercharger style side-pipes, but even under magnification of the top photo, we cannot tell if it in fact is supercharged.  Photos courtesy of Racemaker Press.

4 responses to “Cliff Bergere and Americas Safest Tire

  1. Cliff has a real place in Indianapolis 500 history. For decades the held the records for most laps completed and number of starts. He also ran the 1941 Indianapolis 500 without a pit stop. He qualified second in 1947 driving one of the fabled Novis.

  2. Posted for Tom Jakeway, In Don Butler’s book “AUBURN CORD DUESENBERG” on page 333, this same picture is shown with this caption to the picture. I quote: “Believed to be a 1936 updade, this Duesenberg (chassis 2221/engine J198) began life as a 1929 Model J Convertible Roadster by Murphy. It has been determined that Thurmond, a southern California body shop, did the extensive update although it has frequently been attributed t Bohman and Schwartz. Modifications consisted of replacing the body’s original boat tail with a longer, more sloping rear deck; relocating the radiator further forward on the chassis in the contemporary idiom; skirting the fenders; and, adopting 1934 LaSalle taillamps. It is also possible that the cowl was shortened during the rework and the doors re-oriented to open from the rear. Whether or not the engine was upgraded to SJ specs or merely fitted with exhaust headers is uncertain.”

    If Butlers book is available to you, there is a long wheelbase car by Bohman & Schwartz on page 285, that looks very similar, but that caption claims it originally had a LeBaron Convertible Berline body that was scrapped. This rebodied car was owned by Roy del Ruth, a movie director. I can understand why the confusion exists, by the similarity of the two cars.

    Fred Roe’s hard bound book DUESENBERG THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION also has the same photo on page 238 and he mentions this car still exists in Florida, in deteriorated condition, but the owner planned to have it restored to it’s original form. Wonder if this ever happened, as that owner died according to your caption. Was that Cliff Bergere’s estate the photos came from?

    • Tom, Thanks for the additional information. The car was restored by Rick Carroll and turned back to its original configuration in Florida before he died some twenty or more years ago. The photos came out of the estate of an antique dealer in Florida who may have gotten them from Bergere’s estate

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