John Price's life reads like an action movie script, complete with an escape from Nazis, intrigue in exotic countries and very fast cars. 

Originally from Germany, Price (born Hans Joachim Praiss) fled the Holocaust with his family as a child in 1939. “All Jews had to wear yellow stars on our clothing—those are the things you remember,” he says. He also remembers Kristallnacht, when Nazis stormed through Berlin, destroying Jewish-owned shops. “We went to Panama—the only country that would take us in where we could get a visa,” he says. In 1940, the family finally made it to New York.

Price later moved to Salt Lake City to study geology at the University of Utah. After earning his degree in 1956, he started J. Price Construction Company, which led to many other businesses, including Salt Lake Hardware.

In 2002, Price, a friend and supporter of Pres. George W. Bush, became US Ambassador to the African island nations Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros until 2005. He and his wife Marcia helped fund the Utah Museum of Fine Arts building. 

Now writing on world issues for the Washington Times and other publications, Price still travels to Africa and is an advisor for his son Steve Price’s Price Realty Group. Through it all, he’s held a passion for vintage cars.

“My first car was a Ford Victoria from 1950, and I cherished that car,” he says. “I bought a new [Chevrolet] Bel Air in 1955, and when I could afford a little more, I bought a 1956 Cadillac Eldorado convertible.”

Now he acquires cars for display at the Price Museum of Speed in Salt Lake City. The museum houses 30 vintage race cars from around the world, including land-speed-record challengers and antique race cars dating back to 1904. The capstone of the museum’s collection is the Mormon Meteor III, which Utah racing pioneer Ab Jenkins drove to set 94 endurance records—12 still stand. 

Price says when he first approached Jenkins’ son Marv about buying the Meteor, the car was in the Jenkins’ home. Jenkins and Price became friends and began restoring the car to run on the Salt Flats. “I wanted him to get behind the wheel because he knew more about the car than anyone,” Price says. The motor was finished a year later in September 2008. “It was like music.” 

Jenkins, who was 88, died that month. Instead of attending the funeral, Price kept the appointment he’d set with Jenkins to take the car on the Salt Flats. “I drove the car seamlessly,” Price says. “I was daydreaming Marv was with me. I was shifting through the gears, and I felt at one time, Ab was with me.”

Touring the museum on 600 South in Salt Lake City is by appointment only and requests can be made by calling Price’s office. “We always invite people who have something to do with racing and racing history,” he says. Shirley Muldowney, the first woman racer to hold a top fuel dragsters license, was a recent visitor.

Price tells the story behind each vehicle, but he won’t reveal the price tags. “I don’t look at them as value,” Price says. “It’s immaterial.” But he offers a hint: “It’s more than $100 . . . per car.”

Call 801-478-0309 or visit pricemuseumofspeed.org for more info or to request a tour of the museum.

The Rest of the Story

John Price’s autobiography When the White House Calls; Speed: The Art of the Performance Automobile, a book featuring race cars exhibited at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts; Boys of Bonneville, a film produced by Price Museum of Speed telling the story of Ab Jenkins and the Mormon Meteor III.

Next>>>Read our Faces story on local movie critic Chris Hicks.

Back>>>Read other stories in our October 2013 issue.