Michael Leventhal turns over the steering wheel of his 1953 Ferrari 340 MM Le Mans Spyder to Derek Hill. The car is the very one that Hill’s father first drove and raced in Europe.
Report and photos by Larry Edsall
The 23rd annual Copperstate 1000 vintage and sports car rally was held April 7-10, 2013. An event-record 94 cars, their drivers and co-drivers, were entered in a four-day drive that would have justified changing the event’s name this year to the Copperstate 1111.1 on roads in northwestern Arizona (and far southeastern California and the lower little corner of Nevada).
Those roads varied from flat runs across the floors of the Sonoran and Mohave deserts to steep and winding routes over (and sometimes around) mountains more than 12,000 feet in elevation.
The weather was just as varied as the geographic and topographic surroundings, ranging from the expected high temperatures in the desert to unseasonal cold, warp-speed wind on the high plateau, and even snow in the mountain-level elevations.
The event begins with the annual Field of Dreams car show at Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team. This year, in addition to the 94 Copperstate cars, the playing field featured an elegant contingent of vehicles from the local chapter of the Classic Car Club of America, with various other clubs displaying their cars — from the exotic to the sometimes bizarre — in the parking lots on either side of the stadium.
The destination on the first day of the drive was Laughlin, Nevada, sort of a little Las Vegas, but instead of The Strip, Laughlin has The River, the Colorado River, as its main drag and as the reason for its location.
The glitz of neon gave way the second day to the nostalgia of driving historic Route 66 through Oatman, Kingman Hackberry, Peach Springs, Seligman and Ash Fork. From there, the route turned south, and then turned uphill, following tightly wound 89A up and over Mingus Mountain and then down between the red rocks of Sedona.
Day Three had the Copperstate contingent driving through one canyon (Oak Creek) and then peering over the rim of another (the Grand Canyon).
Day Four, the route was Sedona to Phoenix, but not via the Interstate. Instead, it was a by way of a wonderful and winding two-lane via Bagdad and Arizona’s Joshua Tree forest (which may be smaller and less well known but nonetheless is much better than California’s).
The Copperstate is organized by the Men’s Art Council as a fund-raiser for the Phoenix Art Museum, site several years ago of the famed Curves of Steel exhibit showcasing classic cars as rolling sculpture.
The drive is accompanied by a group of motorcycle officers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety. To show their appreciation, Copperstate participants created the 10-90 Copperstate Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization that provides emergency assistance to DPS officers and their families.
10-90 is the radio code in Arizona for “officer needs assistance” and it was sounded for real the final day of the rally when one of the DPS motorcycles was struck by a car (which was not part of the rally). The officer was flown from Sedona to the intensive care unit of a Phoenix hospital. He is expected to recover from his injuries, and the 10-90 Foundation will provide help for his family during his recuperation.
As usual, Ferraris, Jaguars, Porsches, Shelbys and 300SLs were numerous. But making this event even more special than usual was the presence of perhaps less prominent marques and very rare if not unique vehicles, which was one reason for the record size of the participant field.
“We had so many great cars apply,” said Kelly Whitton, program manager for the Men’s Arts Council.
Not only were the cars special, but in many cases, those cars were newly purchased, many being risked to a thousand miles — or 1111.1 miles — after being owned for only a few months.
One example — well, actually, two: Frequent Copperstate participant Rick Rome of Dallas bought a 1955 Devin SS — the last the 18 cars built by Bill Devin — at the Russo and Steele auction last summer in Monterey, California, and entered in in the Copperstate. But Rome and his wife and co-driver, Nancy, were only 20 miles along the route when the car’s small block V8 engine expired.
No worries. The Copperstate has title sponsorship from the Bell Lexus dealership, and the dealership brings along a few new vehicles just in case any of the Copperstate cars encounter mechanical problems.
But instead of finishing the route in the Lexus, the Romes drove it back to the stadium, where their even-more-recently acquired 1931 Chrysler CM-6 sport roadster was parked, awaiting its trip home to Dallas. The Chrysler formerly was owned by the late Martin Swig, founder of the California Mille rally, and was purchased in January by Rome at the Bonhams auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Back at the stadium, the Romes climbed aboard the Chrysler, which Swig had set up in the style of the Chryslers that raced the Mille Miglia and at Le Mans and Spa in a bygone era, and they caught up with and completed the Copperstate without further incident.
The Romes didn’t have a further incident, but John and Peg Leshinski of Scottsdale did, and it might serve as a warning to others who drive open cars.
The Leshinskis were driving their 1951 Allard K-2 — a car originally purchased, owned for 40 years, and raced up Pikes Peak by Indy racer Al Under Sr. — north on route 95 in California when a southbound semi created so much turbulence that even the hood strap on the Allard broke, with the hood coming loose, pivoting back and slamming down on the Leshinskis.
Tragedy was avoided, however, because — and for the first time! — the Leshinskis were wearing helmets.
Peg Leshinski said the impact was “like being hit by a railroad tie.”
John, who somehow got the car stopped safely, said that because the car had only tiny Brooklands-style wind screens, he knew there would be a lot of buffeting as they drove and he didn’t want Peg to be any more uncomfortable than necessary. He decided 1950’s-style racing helmets were the solution, and found a pair of French-made Chapal helmets — “they looked like what Phil Hill wore” — with clear but full-face visors.
“There were two good things that happened,” John said. “One was the helmets. The other was that Sydney Allard made the bonnet from aluminum instead of steel.”
Oh, and there was one other good thing, Peg added.
“The guys from Hagerty [insurance] were two cars behind us. After making sure she and John were OK, she said, they started taking pictures of the damage and said the Leshinskis would have a check to cover the repairs by the end of the week.
Although not as dramatic as the Leshinskis’, every car’s driver and co-driver have stories to tell after such an event. We have to share one more:
Chris Andrews of Fort Worth, Texas, brought two cars to the Copperstate this year. He and Jennifer Moore were in a 1962 Shelby Cobra and mutual friends helped him put Wayne Carini and Derek Hill in his 1962 Aston Martin DB4.
Carini is a car-restorer and host of the “Chasing Classic Cars” television show. Hill is an auto racer, son of Phil Hill and did the driving for a series of commercials in which a Cadillac ATS is flogged around some of the most dramatic pavement around the world.
“The variety of cars, the roads, the changing of the weather, it all gave it the elements of touring at its best,” Hill said of the Copperstate. “It was fantastic.”
Particularly fantastic for Hill was an experience in another Copperstate car. Michael and Katharina Leventhal of Chicago not only own a 1953 Ferrari 340 MM Le Mans Spider, but one that carries some important Hill family history.
The Leventhals invited Derek Hill to experience some Copperstate miles behind the wheel of their car, “the very same car that was the first car my Dad drove and raced in Europe,” Derek Hill said. “The same car!”
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