REPORTAGE / Mount Equinox Hill Climb

René Dreyfus, honorary member of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America, loved the Mt. Equinox hillclimb. In 1987, he became part of it’s history, driving a Bugatti Type 37. Remembering his win in 1928 at La Turbie, he explained – “We taught ourselves in the best school of all, the hill climb school. It was the best school in the world… When you race in the hillclimb, you have to go to the maximum every instant.”

The inaugral running in 1950 was a Sports Car Club of America contest attracting drivers such as Briggs Cunningham in a brand new Jaguar XK-120. The dirt road to the summit twisted like a python over 6 miles to the 3,848 ft. peak of Mount Equinox near Manchester, Vermont.  William Milliken was the overall victor in his 1932 Miller FWD, the four-wheel-drive Indy car beating all comers. A young racer named John Fitch won the MG class.

For 1951 Cunningham was back, this time in his 1948 Ferrari Tipo 166 Spyder Corsa (#016-I), the first imported into the United States, claiming 1st place in class 4. In the big bore class he trusted his new Cunningham C1-5101 (the 1951 Cunningham C-1 prototype) to Fitch, who placed it second.

Photo by Simon Aldridge.
Recce of the fastest section of the course – ‘The Saddle’ on Friday evening as the clouds roll in – speeds exceed 100 mph here.

Skyline Drive was paved in 1953, and the new 5.2 mile road became the longest paved hill climb in the world, gaining 3,140 ft in elevation. Encompassing some of the trickiest miles in any form of racing, it has 41 turns, 20 of which are hairpins, with a gradient that exceeds 15% in sections. The fierce competition for the record – attracting drivers from Carroll Shelby to Sam Posey – peaked with John Meyer setting an all-time record of 4 min., 8.8 sec. in 1968 in the ex-Penske/Donohue #6 Lola T70 Mk 3B.

Since 1973, the hill climb has been a VSCCA event for period correct pre-1965 sports and racing cars, with timed runs on Saturday and Sunday, along with an awards banquet on Saturday evening. The weekend kicks off with the drivers and machinery assembling at the top of the mountain for the traditional Friday night soireé. This year, as the drivers watched storm clouds roll in and enshroud the summit, all hopes of fast times evaporated. Speeds can exceed 100 mph, but with sheer drops on both sides this year’s timed runs saw the drivers excercising caution as they raced into the clouds.

Photo by Simon Aldridge.
Jim Donick in his 1951 Allard J2.

As historian and racer Jim Donick explained, “under five minutes is the Holy Grail”. Although several of the cars at the event have managed that in the past, it was not possible this weekend. But VSCCA events focus on the originality of the cars, rather than who sets fastest times. The Mal Donaldson Award went to Dick Waite, and Tom Miller, with his 1957 Porsche 356A, won the René Dreyfus Cup, awarded to the driver and car that demonstrates the spirit of camaraderie and elegant driving embodied by René Dreyfus.

Mount Equinox Hill Climb Mount Equinox, Arlington, Vermont, USA  8-10 July 2016.


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