Phil Hill Tribute at Petersen Automotive Museum – Preview

Phil Hill in the Ferrari 156 F1 Sharknose picture
Phil Hill, driving for Ferrari at the Monaco GP in the first race of his championship-winning season, 1961. Credit: Ferret Fotographics

For its thirteenth annual fall celebration of the Legends of Motorsport, The Petersen Automotive Museum, along with The Phil Hill Family and The Checkered Flag 200, will present a very special “Tribute to Phil Hill” and the 50th Anniversary of his Formula One World Drivers’ Championship, to be held at The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles on Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 6:00 p.m. This is a uniquely memorable one-night event for all who join The Petersen’s distinctive guests, friends and colleagues, and which includes the separate Phil Hill: The Life of a Legend exhibit (independently sponsored by The Auto Gallery) of Phil Hill-related cars—classic and racing—and personal memorabilia provided by eminent collectors and The Phil Hill Family, now in the Museum’s Bruce Meyer Gallery through November 27th.

The Petersen Museum’s previous yearly tributes to Dan Gurney & Riverside Raceway, Phil Hill & Le Mans, Andy Granatelli & the Indy 500, along with those honoring Parnelli Jones, Carroll Shelby, Don Prudhomme, Corvette Racing, and Trans-Am Racing, and other treasured evenings, have each been applauded by all and widely covered in the motor racing press.

Tom McIntyre, continuing chairman of these special Petersen tributes, states, “This year we will celebrate America’s first Formula One World Champion with those you knew and loved Phil Hill as the extraordinary person he was and remains to be in our memories.” Author, historian, gentleman, and one of the greatest race drivers of all time, Phil Hill’s 1961 World Championship Grand Prix season was his title winning year in F1—Hill clinched it at Monza in September when his Ferrari teammate and closest-point rival Wolfgang von Trips crashed in the race, killing himself and 14 spectators. Hill won two of the seven GPs he started in ‘61, finished second and third twice, was on pole five races, setting fastest lap in two.

Winning his first race in 1949 driving an MG TC, and his last in 1967 with a Chaparral, Phil Hill tallied an incredible and varied list of motorsport achievements in between that included overall wins at the 24 Hour of Le Mans and 12 Hours of Sebring three times each, conquering the cruel Nurburgring, and being the first American to earn the Formula One World Championship, as a team driver for Enzo Ferrari’s Scuderia in 1961, an era when race cars and tracks incorporated few safety measures and frequent driver and spectator deaths were common horrors. It wasn’t easy, driving for Enzo, but Hill had the focus to stick with it, even suffering the abuses of team authority. Oddly, Hill found his happiest years to be when in the late 1940s he was a mechanic on oval track midgets. At age 70 he confessed, “Never before or since have I ever been as genuinely content. You know,” he asked, “how some guys end up ski bums? I could have ended up a midget bum.” On the other hand midget racers scared him, and he moved on.

Phil Hill in a MG TC picture
Phil Hill, early in his career, driving his MG TC in the California Sports Car Club’s Goleta Trials at a former Marine Corps Air Station, 1949. Credit: Jack Campbell, Edgar Motorsport Archive

Throughout his life, Phil Hill kept those both in and out of media laboring to define his intricate persona. Striving for brevity came portrayals such as Hill being “totally frank and blunt on any subject” … “ruminative” … “gifted” … “a meticulous writer” … “always intrigued by the wider world” … “never one to brag about accomplishments” … “hates decisions” … “the worse case of pre-race jitters ever seen.” He was teacher and mentor to his kids, loved pet animals, and would “read the newspaper with a bunny rabbit” as his wife Alma would say. She, for whom marriage to Phil never occasioned a boring moment, notes her husband was curious about everything. “He all but took over from the doctors,” she said of the births of their children, Vanessa and Derek.

Derek Hill, now 36 and recently into vintage racing a 289 Cobra at the Coppa InterEuropa Storica Monza and Tipo 151 Maserati at the Goodwood Revival, where Alma green-flagged the RAC TT warm-up lap, recalls of his father, “He probably drove racing mechanics absolutely nuts, also team managers and engineers, but they loved him in the end because he delivered, and the hard effort paid off.”

He lived long and loved life. Philip Toll Hill, Jr., born April 20, 1927 in Miami and raised in Santa Monica, earned world-recognized greatness in racing and shared loving relationships in family life. He died in Monterey, California on August 28, 2008 of Parkinson’s disease and multiple systems atrophy. Phil’s final laurel wreath was placed on his grave, and a Ferrari parked nearby was revved to its delicious V12 howl and favorite low-end purr that Phil once described as the “valve train’s rustle of metallic leaves.”

The Petersen program will begin with no-host cocktails and a Museum presentation that includes cars and collected memorabilia representing Phil Hill’s life in motor racing. A buffet dinner follows, before a screening compiled of highlights from Phil Hill’s career. Much of the footage comes from an in-production film that Derek Hill is putting together on his father’s event-filled life. Says Derek of this work, “I’m looking forward to finally sharing some of this documentary because I have been doing so much on it.” Renowned drivers and Phil’s friends whom we all have known or read about will then be introduced to tell some of their best stories—both passionate and amusing—about their knowing Phil Hill. John Lamm, longtime friend and media collaborator with Hill, joins Master of Ceremonies Bill Stephens in the on-stage interviews. Among those who’ve been invited are Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Jim Hall, Sam Posey, Denise McCluggage, Jesse Alexander, Augie Pabst, and Carroll Shelby, for whom Hill raced at Le Mans.

The evening’s guests will recall how Phil Hill got started in racing as early as 1947. To vividly bring back those times “in the metal,” the cars exhibited in the Petersen’s galleries will include the Hill family’s 1931 Pierce Arrow that Phil restored to win Best of Show at Pebble Beach in 1955; classic family Packards; the Jaguar XK120 Lightweight which Hill brought from England aboard the RMS Queen Mary to win his first big competition with it at the inaugural Pebble Beach Road Races on November 5, 1950; Hill’s Pebble Beach race winning Ferrari 250MM ride, along with tail-finned Ferrari 375MM that Hill, with Richie Ginther navigating, drove to finish 2nd in the 1954 Carerra Panamericana; plus famous Hill-raced TR59 and 750 Monza Ferraris, and Chaparral, his last race’s win at Brands Hatch, England, on July 30, 1967.

Phil Hill with Caroll Shelby picture
Phil Hill (center), with Carroll Shelby (left) and mechanic Joe Landaker, during Hill’s mid-1950s SCCA sports car racing period. Credit: Lester Nehamkin, Edgar Motorsport Archive

Dan Gurney, one of Phil Hill’s dearest friends, comments on this Tribute in saying, “Phil and I were young together when motor-racing was still young also. Fifty years later I look back with nostalgia and amazement at the times we shared at the classic Grand Prix races in Europe. Phil will be at this Petersen gala in spirit, and undoubtedly would be very proud to be honored for the contribution he made to our sport.”

Driver and photojournalist Denise McCluggage recalls, “He just saw things differently, and had a wonderful way of commenting on them. One of the greatest pleasures of my life was having conversations with Phil, about anything, cars, movies, or whatever. His mind was like Velcro, and it was covered with lint from everything.”

John Lamm says, “I could never get over how much he knew about cars. Once at Pebble Beach we walked past a Duesenberg that looked perfect to me, and Phil said, ‘A beautiful restoration, but it’s too bad the type face on the speedometer isn’t quite right.”

Stirling Moss called him “a charming bloke.” Says Moss, “He was a good competitor, always having a go with you and, as a person, someone who was good fun and you could enjoy the company of a real gentleman, actually.”

Road & Track banner shot in Turn 11 at the Monterey Motorsports Reunion 2011
Road & Track banner
Continuing the Petersen’s annual tradition of honoring the most illustrious people and cars in motorsport, the Museum’s program includes prized Phil Hill-related memorabilia in a lively interlude of competitive charity auction bidding that always delights the dinner audience. As large as large might get, there’s Road & Track’s 12×24-ft “Fifty Years Ago Phil Hill” Turn 11 banner from 2011’s Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca, plus, small and exquisite, a luxury Parmigiani timepiece—and much more to keep the excitement going, such as a pair of Bob Bondurant Racing School experiences donated by Global Auto News and Bondurant!

Because the Petersen Museum tributes are routinely sell-outs, early ticket purchase is a must for those who won’t want to miss the “Tribute to Phil Hill.” To guarantee your admission for this gathering with full-course activities, please call the Petersen Automotive Museum office at 323-964- 6325, or 323-964-6325 for reserved ticket purchase at $125 per person for Museum Members, $150 for non-members. Ticket price includes buffet dinner, the evening’s complete program, and parking. A cash bar will be available. Tickets are not mailed; your reservations will be held at the door. Tickets may also be purchased online at www.petersen.org.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is located at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90036-3605, with enclosed Museum parking entrance just south of Wilshire on Fairfax Avenue. “Tribute to Phil Hill” is industry sponsored and brought to you by the Checkered Flag 200 Group of the Petersen Automotive Museum. For more general Museum information, call 323-930-CARS or visit the Museum’s website at www.petersen.org.

[Source: William Edgar; Peterson Automotive Museum; photo credit: as noted]