Cliff Durant

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Durant in 1918

Russell Clifford "Cliff" Durant (November 26, 1890 in Flint, Michigan – October 31, 1937 in Beverly Hills, California) was an American racecar driver. He was the son of William C. Durant, the founder of General Motors. His wife Adelaide Pearl Frost (1885-1977), whom he married September 1, 1911, was a singing star who later married Eddie Rickenbacker. Durant had four wives: Lena Pearl McFarland, Adelaide Pearl Frost, Lea Gapsky, and Charlotte Phillips.

He was a co-owner and president of the Beverly Hills Speedway (1920–1924), a board track located where the Beverly Wilshire Hotel is today. Jack Prince designed the track; Cecil B. DeMille was another co-owner. In its day it rivaled the Indianapolis Speedway.

In May 1923 Durant shattered eight world speed records for events 75 miles (121 km) and under at the Beverly Hills Speedway.

In 1919 he was named the "Pacific Coast Champion," winning the Santa Monica Road Race.

He competed at many tracks and events around the country, including Elgin, Tacoma, Cactus Derby, Corona, and the Indy 500 from 1919 to 1932.

In 1923 Cliff had the largest stable of cars (6) ever to participate in the Indy 500 until modern times. He came in 7th that year.

Cliff Durant was the financial backer of the famous Harry Miller racing engines which dominated the racing world in the 1920s–30s.

His old car the “Detroit Special” which was designed by Tommy Milton and Harry Miller and cost $250,000 was later bought by Harry Hartz, who installed a new Miller engine. Durant was to have driven the car in the 1932 Indy 500 race, but Fred Frame drove it to victory instead.

Cliff had his own flight school, airplanes for sale, and 72-acre (290,000 m2) field, “Durant Field” in Oakland, California in 1919. It was located between 80th Ave., 83rd Ave., and Snell Street. He also had Air Mail contracts for mail delivery with the government.

He had a large estate in Roscommon, Michigan on the South Branch of the Au Sable River, where "The Castle," a 54-room mansion, burned to the ground Feb. 6, 1931. On the estate was his own private air strip, with several planes. On April 27, 1930 test pilot Herb Fahy died two days after an airplane he had been showing Durant had crashed on take-off at this airstrip. Herb and his wife Clair Fahy, both prominent pilots, acted as sales agents for Lockheed. Durant agreed to buy the airplane if Fahy could prove that the Sirius could land and take off safely from Durant’s personal strip. Herb and Claire landed the plane without incident, but as they took off, one of the wheels hit a partially hidden stump, which flipped the plane over. Herb, at age 33, suffered a fractured skull and a severe concussion from which he never recovered.[1]

The community airport in Roscommon, MI was named Durant Field in his honor on July 16, 1933.

At various times in his career he was also President of Durant Motors, and Vice President of Sales for Chevrolet in Oakland, CA.

Cliff was an accomplished musician as well, playing the violin. He owned the Guarneri del Gesu violin, and played the piano and trumpet.

In addition to being a businessman, race car driver, aviator and musician, he was also a yachtsman who owned the sailing yacht "Aurora."

Durant died on October 31, 1937 of a heart attack at age 46, and is buried in Los Angeles, CA.

Indy 500 results[edit]