The following is from a phone interview with Vic Elisher. It was a cold call, and he was watching a women’s soccer match, which I could hear in the background for the duration of our conversation.
VIC ELISHER: Tom Fukuya and I tossed around some names and came up with it. At the time there was only Breedlove’s car and his was much heavier and powered by a GE J33 with no afterburner out of a Lockheed F-80. Max Thrust around 5000 Lbs. We had a much lighter car, 4800 lbs. And we had an engine from a North American F86D with an afterburner and we could get over 10,000 lbs of thrust out of it for short periods. So our thinking at the time was that we had the most powerful car in the world. And it was true for about two years. Breedlove had a lot of money but we had a lot more ingenuity and a better car. We did run 385 without the afterburners on an early tune up run. And we only used a 5/8ths mile runup.
We routinely ran over 270MPH in the 1/4 mile with the earlier car (the Untouchable) in around 6 seconds in demonstrations at 1/4 mile drag strips around the country. That was all in 1960-61.
Did Infinity utilize ground effects?
VE: It was slightly curved, slightly raked. It had a slight down angle, a few degrees. The engine actually pushed it down too. Plus there was a vacuum created out of the back end. It was very stable, we never had any trouble with it, in terms of all the other runs. He just ran it off the course. He might have had a little crosswind. By the way, it was the same direction that Breedlove ran his car into the lake.
Glen had a background as a dragster driver and a jalopy racer. Is that the right background for an LSR attempt?
VE: This idea that you can drive out of it like a roadster or racing car, it’s just not that way.
If you think that it is a situation where there is crosswind that is throwing… He had plenty of time to pull the chutes. It would have absolutely straightened it right out, but it would have thrown him against the harness and knocked the wind out of him. At those speeds, it will definitely do that.
He cut power once he got off the course. That probably made it worse, because he didn’t have the down thrust to keep the force. I would guess that whenever you make… You don’t do anything quickly except throw the chutes and that has a stabilizing effect, right? They are way out behind the car and that straightens out the car.
What else can you tell me about the attempt?
VE: It was such a lost opportunity. The loss of life was the greatest shock. Afterwards, the lost opportunity. We were so close. We had run within a few miles per hour of the Land Speed Record. And that was without the afterburner! We had no problem at all. At that time Breedlove didn’t have an afterburner engine, neither did Arfons. They were both running J33s. We were the only ones with an afterburner.
The first time we were up there, we ran 385. We were so elated. It was in the bag. We hadn’t even run the afterburners, there was no way we weren’t going to run 409 mph. No way. It was really in the bag. I should have insisted on driving.
When we were doing it, it was the American kind of individuals. Now it’s about corporations. The fact that we didn’t make it wasn’t indicative of us not having the right stuff; it was indicative of us missing one piece — the psychological piece.