Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Jennie Mowbray
– 1927: Birth of Phil Hill – Scholar, Tinkerer, and Racer
“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”
~Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea~
Young men and fast cars have always held a magnetic attraction to each other and it was no different in Southern California in the 1940’s. Phil Hill’s first racing pursuits were unofficial, following the time honoured trail of young men racing their cars on public roads, pitting themselves and their vehicles against each other and the clock. So as not to attract any unwanted police attention these contests were held at night in the hills to the east of Los Angeles. They named themselves the California Sports Car Club which was then shortened to the Cal Club.
Phil Hill’s first car was an MG TC which he bought in 1947 from a dealership specialising in foreign cars which was situated on the exotic sounding location of Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, which was as yet to get the world-wide fame that it now possesses.
In 1949 the Cal Club held their first legitimate race meeting when they hired the Carrell Speedway, a half mile oval, and managed to persuade more than 8,000 people to buy tickets to come and watch the racing. Hill’s MG had now been supercharged and he entered it in all three sports-car races, winning his first race, a three lap sprint as well as the 25 lap main race later that day. It would soon become obvious that, in the words of racer and commentator Sam Posey, “He could jump into anything and make it go fast.”
After seven years in Formula One which included winning the Driver’s World Championship for Ferrari in 1961, he concluded his illustrious racing career with a win in his final race, also in a sports car.
For the 1967 season he was driving a Chaparral 2F in the World Sportscar Championship and team boss Jim Hall said, “When Phil agreed to work with us it was a real boon because we had not done international racing with our cars and I knew we needed somebody who, number one, knew what they were doing and, number two, was smart enough to talk about it.”
Although the Chaparral 2F was the fastest car on the grid it struggled with mechanical reliability the whole season due to its 7.0 litre engine being so powerful it destroyed its transmission in every race they entered but finally it all came together for the last race at Brands Hatch. Even then, they had a driveshaft failure during practice which meant they only qualified third.
The six hour Brands Hatch race was the first truly international non-Formula One race to be held in Britain since the Goodwood TT’s of the 1950’s and it attracted a full grid of 36 cars. Everyone who was anyone in Grand Prix racing wanted to be in it. Ferrari bought four works cars and their drivers included Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon while driving for Porsche were Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Jo Siffert and Bruce McLaren. John Surtees was driving a Lola as was the soon to be crowned World Champion Denny Hulme who was partnered with his boss Jack Brabham.
Ferrari and Porsche were fighting it out neck and neck for the championship with only one point between them but Phil Hill and Mark Spence bought their distinctive snow white bewinged sports car home in first place for their sole points finish for the year.
It would be Phil Hill’s last race. He said later, “I returned to Santa Monica, where the telephone rang with those offers to drive, but never from the sort of front-row team for which I was willing to work. Maybe my two years with Chaparral really had spoiled me. Very possibly I had been unconsciously looking for a way out. Most likely it happened to be the right time to call it quits, having spent half my 40 years racing automobiles. One thing is certain. I never lost much sleep worrying about it.”