Son of the founder of General Motors, Cliff was a racing driver, pioneer aviator, musician, golfer and yachtsman. He raced at Indy seven times with a best finish of 7th.
Cliff Durant was born in Flint, Michigan. His full name was Russel Clifford Durant and he was the son of William Crapo Durant, also known as Billy Durant. William Durant was a leader in the carriage industry when he took over the tiny Buick Motor Co. in 1904. Within four years he promoted Buick into No. 1 and on the back of that success he founded General Motors in 1908. Durant lost control of GM to bankers in 1910 but regained control after founding Chevrolet Motor Co. with the former Buick racing driver Louis Chevrolet in 1911.
Durant helped build GM into a giant before losing control of the company again in 1920. He then founded Durant Motors, became a bull in the stock market, went bankrupt in the Depression and spent his last business years running a bowling alley in his adopted home town of Flint in the 1940s.
Cliff moved from Michigan to California to marry Adelaide Frost, who was a singing star and who later married Eddie Rickenbacher.
Cliff was an avid aviation enthusiast who started flying in 1919 and owned a number of different aircraft. he also built Durant Field in Oakland, California. He was also a fine golfer and yachtsman. He sailed around the world on his yacht, the Aurora. Aside fromhis sporting acievements he was also an excellent musician on his 1739 Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù violin, as well as other instruments.
He started racing a Stutz in 1915 racing on road courses and board tracks. He first raced in the Indy 500 in 1919 driving a Stutz entered by chevrolet, going out after 54 laps with steering failure.
He was a member of the Bevely Hills Speedway Syndicate that financed the building of the Beverly Hills Speedway which was also an airstip. Built on 275 acres in 1920, the site is now the location of the Beverly Hills High School, the Regent Beverly Wilshire and countless shops and homes. At the time, the wooden raceway was ranked second only to the Indianapolis Speedway. However after just four years, the land was deemed more valuable than the track and last race was held February 24, 1924 before a crowd of 85,000. By 1928, the Beverly Wilshire hotel had been built where the track's north-east turn was.
In 1921 Tommy Milton also had combined forces with Cliff and built a car that was almost unbeatable on the board tracks. With the "Durant Special" Milton won several important races and the 1921 drivers' championship, only to have the car outlawed in 1922 by the AAA in an argument over its name.
Cliff was back at Indy in 1922 with a Miller finishing the race in 12th spot and out of the money.
In 1923, Cliff Durant entered five Miller cars in the Indy 500 powered by the 122-cubic-inch Miller power plant and sponsored three other cars in the race, including the cars of Harry Hartz, Jimmy Murphy and Eddie Hearne, who finished second, third and fourth, respectively. Durant finished 7th.
In 1924 he ran out of fuel on the 198th lap to be clasified in 13th place The following year he got Harlan Fengler to help with the building of his car, the Locomobile Junior Eight Indy Car. The car suffered from fuel problems and went out after 61 laps.
Tommy Milton and Cornelius Van Ranst developed Cliff Durant's Detroit Special for 1927, a radical new car for Indianapolis. But when Cliff fell ill, Tommy took the wheel, bringing it home in eighth after a number of unscheduled pit stops.
Cliff's last appearance at the 'Brickyard' was in 1928 running a supercharged Detroit/Miller.
Cliff was also the Vice President for Sales and Marketing for Chevrolet of California and later West Coast Distributor and General Manager of Durant Motors of California.
Cliff suffered ill-health for a while, before passing away in 1937.