Tag Archives: Clessie Cummins

Clessie Cummins Early Racing Cars – Proving The Diesel’s Mettle


Clessie Cummins first met W.G. Irwin when the twenty-two year old was a member of the pit crew for Ray Harroun’s race-winning 1911 Indianapolis 500 entry and Irwin was one of his sponsors. It was the beginning of a longstanding relationship that would eventually provide him with the time and money to develop his engines. But it almost came to an end soon after he made his big breakthrough with his Model “U” engine in 1928.

The combination of enclosed valve gear, full pressure lubrication and perfection of his disc type fuel injection timer on the Model “U” added up to a power-plant that could deliver good power and excellent fuel economy in a reliable package. By 1929 however, the bottoms of even Irwin’s deep pockets were beginning to show. He had announced that as of January 1, 1930, the well would dry up and Cummins Engine Company would be no more.

Video courtesy of Cummins.com.

In an inspired move to save his business, Cummins and his brother Don installed a”U” Model marine engine in a 1925 Packard less than a week before the deadline and drove it from Indianapolis to New York City arriving just in time for the New York Automobile Show. The favorable publicity generated by this almost 800 mile run breathed new life into his efforts.

After a barnstorming tour through the Northeast and Mid-West, he returned to Columbus, Indiana and transplanted that same engine into the Packard roadster seen in our top photo and the video. A 1060 mile run to Daytona Beach on $2.00 worth of fuel and an 80 mile-per-hour record run there proved to skeptics that the concept of a diesel powered passenger car was indeed viable.

  • Cummins
  • The 1931 Indianapolis racing car in Europe displaying it’s minimal road equipment.

Following his success with the Packards, Cummins next venture was a “real” race car. He sent another “U” Model engine to the Duesenberg shops and had them design a car around it. It became the first diesel powered car to enter and complete the Indianapolis 500 in 1931 and, although it was the slowest car in the field, driver Dave Evans still finished 13th overall going the distance without any pit stops averaging better than 16 miles-per-gallon and 86 miles-per-hour.

  • CP1      CP2       CP3
  • L to R: Model U engine in the Indianapolis car – Ready for the tour – Automobile Trade Journal, May of 1931 article that proceeded the 500.

A whirlwind tour on the roads of Europe with Irwin in 1932 in the same car that included runs on the high banks of Brooklands demonstrated the power and durability of the Cummins engine, but generated less-than-hoped-for interest in it, so Cummins concentrated most of his efforts on trucks and buses when they returned home. And the rest, as they say, is history. You can find out more about Clessie Cummins  here on The Old Motor and Cummins powered Indy race cars here.

  • Cummins3
  • The 1931 Cummins Indianapolis 500 racing car chassis.
1 Comment
Posted in Auto photos 1921 - 1942, Auto Racing 1894 - 1942 | Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Clessie Cummins’ 1932 Cross Country Marathon Run

  • Cummins2
  • Clessie Cummins with his Mack Model BK in 1932.

The name Cummins is synonymous with diesel truck power today. But the instinctive engineer had to travel a long and winding road before his engines became economically viable. It was only through dogged persistence and substantial bankrolling by benefactor W.G. Irwin that Clessie Cummins was able earn his place in automotive history. His experiments began as early as 1912, but it was only after producing literally thousands of prototype fuel injectors in the 1920′s and injections of large amounts of cash from Irwin that he was able to achieve his goal of building a reliable powerplant for motor vehicles.

  • BP1      BP2      BP3
  • Cummins’ run is described in detail in this article from the December 17, 1932 issue of Automotive Industries.

To prove his engines, he embarked on a number of promotional events beginning in 1925. High speed cross country reliability runs were not unique in the 20′s and 30′s, but attempting one in a ten ton bus certainly was. Achieving an average speed of almost forty miles per hour on the two lane roads of the day in such a substantial vehicle was quite an accomplishment, but the fuel economy numbers were equally impressive. It was this performance and a similar one in a medium duty Indiana truck in 1931 that got the attention of the trucking industry, so much so that by 1934, 70 per cent of the diesel trucks in the U.S. used Cummins power. You’ll find other posts about Clessie Cummins’ diesel drives  and more unusual trucks, buses and equipment on The Old Motor.

Leave a comment
Posted in Trucks, Buses and Equipment | Tagged , , , , , |

Diesel Engine Pioneers in America

Clessie Cummins was a early pioneer of the diesel engine in America and this press photo was taken before a highly publicized cross country trip he took to promote his engine. This 1934 Auburn Convertible Sedan, carried the innovative Model A six-cylinder aluminum diesel engine, on a NY to LA trip, between June 17, to July 4, 1935 and covered 3,774 miles, while only consuming just $7.63 worth of fuel getting more than 40 mpg.

We have another photo of  Clessie Cummins and his diesel-powered Auburn and also one of his racing car, which ran at the Indianapolis 500 non-stop in 1931, using only $1.55 worth of kerosene. You can also find links to excellent posts about Cummins by Dan Strohl at the HMN blog in the link (scroll down).

This press photo dated Dec. 27, 1931, shows Frank B. Stearns demonstrating a diesel or “crude oil-burning” engine to a group of bankers and engineers in Cleveland, Ohio. Stearns earlier built the well regarded Stearns automobile between 1901 and 1925, the year he sold the company to J. N. Willys. After selling the company, it appears he then went to work on developing and producing this engine.

The March, 1932, Popular Mechanics Magazine, has an article with photos that tells us much more about this fascinating engine, which Stearns had invested $500,000 dollars in, to bring it to this testing phase.

The unusual engine featured eight cylinders with sixteen pistons and two crankshafts, with one at the top and the other at the bottom of the engine, which were geared together. Think of it as a V-8 at the bottom of the engine, with another upside down on the top, both sharing common cylinders. From the appearances of the photo (above), it also utilized a roots-type supercharger, visible just below what appears to be a t-shaped intake manifold.

The engine appears to be set up on a dynamometer and the press photo caption states that it produced 160 h.p. You can see more photos a model and information here, in the Popular Science article.  Photos courtesy of the Benjamin Ames Collection.

Posted in Auto photos 1921 - 1942 | Tagged , , , , , , |