ATHOL GRAHAM / CITY
OF SALT LAKE: HARRY MUHLBACH INTERVIEW
Muhlbach rebuilt and drove Athol's racer "City of Salt Lake"
for the land speed record in 1963. He and Athol's widow Zeldine
were together at the time and married the following
year. I interviewed Harry
phone at his home in Salt Lake City, Utah on September 11, 2009.
in the early 1960s, how were you
I had an
automotive shop, and before that I was in the
trucking business. I leased a dump truck to a ready-mix outfit. I was
employed. I didn’t have any employees.
year were you born?
you serve in the Korean War by any
you know Athol Graham?
you weren’t a friend of his?
did you become the driver for the car the "City of Salt Lake," after
Otto Anzjon drove it and crashed?
corrected me by saying that Otto did not crash in the car; he had a
but didn’t crash. As for Harry's involvement with the car, he first
with Zeldine. He started seeing her (they would eventually marry) and
subsequently came up with the idea of fixing up the car and trying for
record again with Harry as driver.]
it started with your personal
relationship with Zeldine, not with your intention of driving the car?
stated again that the car hadn’t been in a crash. He couldn’t remember
what sort of fixing up it required, but no major work was required.]
think we had to do something with the engine, I can’t remember what. I
engine up to Seattle,
to a gentleman there who was a specialist in Allison engines, and he
work on it. And then we built a nose guidance bar...You had to drive it
up in front and if you started to lose control it was a little bit hard
it, sitting right in the nose. So we built kind of a triangular-shaped
that went out in front that you could use as a sight to stay on the
went out from the front of the car about eight or ten feet. It was
like an antenna, straight out with a little horizontal bar, and we used
a guidance sight.
also installed some automatic switches to trip the chute in case of a
you have a sponsor to help you pay for
the use of the salt flats and the timing officials?
There was no sponsor, no.
can you remember about your crash on
October 12, 1963?
there wasn’t anything too spectacular about it. The switches I had put
behind the tires were not designed well. We put them there because we
concerned about a tire blow-out. The purpose of them was to trip a
that would trip the chute. The tire didn’t blow, but evidently salt
tires went up and there was enough pressure to trip the chute. It was
kind of a
pedal switch then when you pushed on it...it was designed so that when
hit that switch it made a connection and then that opened the chute
evidently the salt thrown up from the tires hit these switches and
parachute. A tire didn’t blow.
that caused you to lose control...
tipped the car over. The parachute came out and I had no indication
that the chute
was out. There was no warning light and I couldn’t see behind me at
all. So I
had no idea the chute was out and I was still trying to accelerate. So
it threw me around and I went upside down and stayed upside down until
to a stop.
news reports at the time said that this
occurred when you were going about 300 mph.
was going about 400. I thought I had the record, in my own mind,
still had plenty of power left.
no. Other than a little bit of salt.
about the car? I guess it would have
sustained a lot of damage.
a terrific amount. I skidded for better than a quarter mile on its roof.
it didn’t tumble end over end. It flipped
over and skidded on its roof for a long ways.
That’s what saved me, that it didn’t flip up and down and take type of
It turned over and stayed right on the ground and just cut a hole in
until it came to a stop.
deciding not to repair the car and try
again in 1964, was the fact that Craig Breedlove had broken the record
looked set to push it up still higher a consideration?
that didn’t have anything to do with it. See, Craig Breedlove was
driving a jet
engine and I was interested in piston engines. Actually, I think I
went faster with a single piston-driven engine than anybody ever did.
the others had...Mickey Thompson I think had four engines. But this was
one engine. I guess it doesn’t count for much, but...When they reported
the Deseret News, the headlines on it read that it was a 300 mile an
crash. But I was pushing 400.
why did you decide to pull out of
competition so to speak and not try again the next year?
there were financial problems, and then I started a business, and it
happened. There was no particular reason.
don’t know if this is pertinent information for you, but there was a
named Hack Miller...
sports editor for the Deseret News.
I had some conversations with him and he was quite upset about the car
of Athol Graham being killed in it and so forth. And he at one point
told me that
he wasn’t going to allow me to, quote, “publicly commit suicide.”
said that to your face?
that was over the telephone. [Harry indicated that this was not a
factor in his
not running the car again.]
Hack tell you that before your crash or
was after my crash. I was interviewed by reporters and I said we would
it and try again, but we never did. But it was after the crash that he
that he would do all he could to stop me. But as I said, that didn’t
anything to do with me not rebuilding the car. I don’t know why we
just didn’t come to pass.
asked Harry about Zeldine’s interest in the
car and the land speed record. I explain that she maintains today that
wasn’t interested; that rebuilding it after Athol’s death was for the
Otto's health, and that running it again after Otto was all Harry’s
would say that she was as interested as I was. That would be my
feeling. She was there with me a hundred percent...She was just as
anxious as I
was to achieve the land speed record.
it was a team effort between you and her.
is correct. I had her opinion and so on and so forth, and she did most
paperwork, and you have to notify an outfit in France.
She handled all that.
[Harry confirms the approximate dates Zeldine gave me re. their
married in 1964 and divorced in 1969.]
you know Otto Anzjon?
I never met him.
don’t know if this is of any interest, but we ran the car at the
Speed Week and went 293 and it ran absolutely beautiful. But at that
problem we had with the car, it was shaped too much like a plane wing.
wanted to fly. In that run in Speed Week, that 293, it was just as
silk. But the canopy that went over the cockpit, it was held down
springs in it. But at 293 that canopy stretched the springs and raised
six inches over my head indicating that it was lift, and no wind came
at that point I knew the car was creating lift.
of the big problems with the car was that when you got up over 300 mph
started to fly, it wanted to leave the ground...There were a couple
worked on jets there at Hill Air Force Base, they were helping me in my
endeavor, they put some spoilers on the car to try to stop the lift.
they worked or not, I don’t know.
Athol supposedly having trouble with the tire blowing out, that what
led us to
make these switches behind each tire, one on each side. They were just
piece of metal that when pushed down tripped a solenoid and that
chute door to open and the chute would come out. They were put on there
we figured Athol’s problem was the blow-out of a tire...These switches
the tire wells directly behind the tires. The idea behind them was that
tire started to shed rubber, the remnants from the tire disintegrating
fly back and hit the switch and close the circuit and trip the chute.
that was the problem I had. We didn’t have the foresight to put an
light on the instrument panel. If we had I’d have known the chute was
I’d have slowed down...We had wanted a way to automatically trip the
there was a tire blow-out so that it would slow you down before you
over. But it turned out that it wasn’t good because there was enough
the salt being thrown back from the tires to trip the switches. At
was the only thing we could think of, because something tripped the
the car have a seat belt or harness?
had a harness.
couple land speed books that mentioned
Athol Graham say that he didn’t have a seat belt or harness in the City
of Salt Lake.
I find this
hard to believe. What’s your opinion?
I’d just be guessing, same as you, but I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t
had them. But he may not have. I have no idea.
did you have any prior racing
experience before you drove the Graham Special?
I had been involved in some road racing. I drove a Corvette.
it a hobby or occupation?
I ran in a couple of professional races, but when I got started, the
I belonged to, they had races.
* * *
phoned my the next day, September 12, 2009, to clarify a few things. He
concerned that I hadn’t understood the automatic chute release system
over that again, adding that the pedal-switches were flat pieces of
steel 3 or
4 inches across. He also clarified the guidance sight projecting
the nose of the car. It consisted of three long rods projecting outward
the top and either side of the car and coming together out front to
tripod, with a little piece projecting up from this point like a gun
regard to the problem with lift, he said that a number of L-shaped
were attached to the car at various points, maybe half a dozen all
the crash he said: “There was no anxiety during the wreck. Once I
though, I had a lot of fear about fire because I was trapped in the
car. It was
maybe five minutes before they came to pry me out, but it seemed like
Harry did begin to rebuild the car, but he never finished. One of the
did was to redesign the canopy so that it could be opened from inside
cockpit even when the car was resting on its roof. He also encased the
in fiberglass and installed a shut-off valve to shut off the flow of
the gas tank. Both of these measures were to address his concerns about