Cummins debuts American automotive diesel 85 years ago

Though his products never made it all the way to the family automobile, Clessie L. Cummins debuted diesel power on the American highway in 1930. He started his journey of achievements when he served on the pit crew of the first winner of the Indianapolis 500 mile race in 1911. Ten years later, he had incorporated the Cummins Engine Company in Columbus and received two patents for fuel injection on diesel engines.

1935 Cummins Auburn
Clessie in the Cummins-Auburn
Copyright © 1935 Cummins Engine Company

Cummins introduced the automotive diesel to the United States in January 1930 with a 792-mile trip from Indianapolis to the New York Automobile Show in a Cummins powered Packard seven-passenger limousine. The trip required 30 gallons of fuel at a total cost of $1.38 with fuel consumption of 26.4 miles per gallon. In August 1930, a Cummins diesel-powered truck set a coast-to-coast record of 97 hours and 20 minutes on $11.22 in fuel. Later in the year, the Cummins truck set a non-stop record around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 13,535 miles.

In 1931, the number 8 Cummins Diesel started the Indianapolis 500 in the sixth row and finished the race nonstop. The diesel-powered car finished 13th with an average speed of 86.17 miles per hour, while averaging more than 16 miles per gallon.

Cummins demonstrated the cast-aluminum Model A diesel engine exclusively designed for automobiles in June 1935. This engine powered a sleek, rust-red colored Auburn convertible with a fawn top. On a tour from Manhattan to White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., the car used fuel at a total cost of $1.12 with a fuel consumption of 40.2 miles per gallon. If the planned 1936 Auburn-Cummins vehicles would have been produced in quantity, they would have been the first American diesel-powered passenger cars.

In 1955, he launched Cummins Enterprises Company to develop his new ideas. He immediately patented the diesel engine brake, a popular feature on today’s highway truck diesels. He also introduced new fuel injection metering pumps in the late 50’s. Today, Cummins Engine Company is a major force in the world-wide diesel engine market.

Clessie Cummins worked on his mechanical dreams throughout his life. In a career spanning more than 56 years, his inventive genius garnered 33 U. S. patents and numerous honors for his pioneering achievements. It all started over 80 years ago with Cummins innovative work on the automotive diesel.

Check out “The Diesel Odyssey of Clessie Cummins” here

For more on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Leave a Reply