The Hill Climb at Mount Equinox
And there he goes . . . lining up at the starting gate.
Every August, aging ladies and gentlemen who are also sports car enthusiasts gather in Manchester, Vermont for the Mount Equinox Hill Climb. I’ve never put myself in that group, but now that I am aging, I am becoming indistinguishable from real gentlemen. With that in mind, and fortified with a stiff drink, I decided to attend.
Some successful guys will choose much younger sports cars later in life. I've read that it makes you feel younger, being fifty and driving a two-year-old Porsche. I've never fully subscribed to that view. I always feel good around cars my own age, which may be one reason I was comfortable at the Hill Climb.
I had actually hoped to drive to the top of Mount Equinox in my vintage Land Rover, but attending the race turned out to be almost as good, and considerably less risky. The last time I took an old Land Rover up that mountain I’d just come from a company driving school event, and my rear axle blew up halfway down the in a spatter of oil and metal chips.
This time, I parked my old Rover among the aged racers and climbed out with my camera. And that points out one of the great things about Vermont. You can leave an old truck like mine, full of tools and belongings and stuff, with no locks on the doors, and everything will be right where you left it, six hours later.
That would never have happened at any of the NASCAR races I attended. But you could see this event was different, right from the start. There were so many things missing . . . no carnies selling corn dogs and beer. No outlaw bikers or campers playing loud country music. And I did not see a single fistfight the whole time.
In fact, this race was so civilized that wives actually held umbrellas over their mate's heads as they sat in their cars waiting to start their runs. That's something you never see at a motocross or sprint race, for sure.
You can see my ex-NATO Land Rover Defender in back of the red sprint car in this shot. One fellow is adjusting the passenger side tomato can while my friend George Holman and another fellow look on. I asked George what the sleigh runners under the front axle were for, and he said, "They are supposed to keep you from rolling over when a wheel comes off." Why don't modern cars have features like that?
The race begins at the base lodge on Vermont Rt. 7, a few miles south of Manchester. From there, Skyline Drive winds 5.2 miles to the top of Mount Equinox. There are 41 turns on the course, 20 of which are hairpins. The elevation gain of 3,140 feet may be less than Pike’s Peak, but it’s still a strenuous course, especially considering that every vehicle in the race is at least fifty years old.
That’s only fitting, since the race is run by the Vintage Sports Car Club of America. Since there weren’t very many American sports cars in 1959, most of the entries in today’s event were from Europe. There were Allards and Aston Martins – the big bruisers of the British sports car world back then – next to dainty MGs and Morgan three-wheelers.
This is one of the big Aston Martins
In the picture above you can see the Morgan's driver securing the wheels. He does not have sleigh runners under his axle, so he has to take special care to make sure his wheels don't come off
A few minutes later, he was suited up and ready to go. When the flag dropped, the little Morgan went fishtailing up the road in a cloud of smoke.
I would have liked to see some old Corvettes or Thunderbirds on the mountain, but it was not to be. At least, not today. There was a 1912 Mercedes running, along with several depression-era sprint cars.
The fastest cars climb the mountain at an average speed approaching sixty miles an hour, while negotiating curves so sharp you’re going fast if you jog around them. To hold that average, drivers hit speeds near one hundred on the straights. This year, the excitement was increased with the addition of rain.
Sometimes the cars departed in dry weather only to hit rain halfway to the top. That was the case for George, in his Plymouth sprint car. This year's race was delayed, and there were already signs of fall in the trees halfway up. If they'd run a few weeks from now they might have had to contend with ice, too.
Conditions were variable for the two-day race, but I don't think the drivers cared. The people I talked to described an individual competition, where each person strived to beat his personal best time, after running this course many years. So perhaps the rain just made things different. Some of the cars, like this Porsche 356, departed in a steady drizzle that worsened as they gained altitude.
Here are a few images from the race:
There were not many Italian cars in evidence. Here's one - a Fiat Abarth. I remember driving the street version of this car long ago. I fixed them too, in my first job as a mechanic at Don Lorenz in Greenfield, MA.