Archive for November, 2008

Charles Duryea and his Hill

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

The Historical Society of Berks County houses a small, but very nice museum at its home in Reading, PA.  Tucked among its numerous Berks County centric items is but a single car, a 1902 Duryea.  The Duryea is commonly known as the “first gasoline powered commercial American car”.  Quite a mouthful, but suffice to say this is a classic American car.


My interest, though, is less for the car and more for the Hill.  Charles Duryea built his cars in Reading, PA for a time and he used a steep and winding road that climbed Mt. Penn to test his cars.  In his honor, the road was renamed Duryea Drive.  To this day cars, and drivers are tested on this hill in the Duryea Hillclimb.  I got to know this hill, its turns and straightaways in my college years as a form of relaxation, recreation, and adventure.


At the time I owned an Austin Healey 100/6 and it was ideally suited for that hill.  It had plenty of low end torque and enough gears (with overdrive) to easily top 100mph.  Duryea Drive became my nighttime hangout.  Nighttime was best because one could see approaching cars by the cast of their headlights on the trees; so the entire road could be used when blasting to the top.  Police were also not a problem since if you met one on the hill, you were long gone before they turned around to give chase.  (I never thought about radioing ahead back then).


I probably learned more about car control on that hill than all my other driving combined.  Skinny street tires probably did not make for terrific times, but it was great fun broad sliding and then recovering around the numerous hairpin turns and feeling the wind in my hair (I had some then) at top speeds across the top of Skyline drive from the Pagoda to the old Fire Tower.


Luck more than skill contributed to an accident free driving record on the hill.  I can’t say as much for my parking record.  One night while parked with a companion at an overlook on Duryea Drive I accidentally depressed the clutch when distracted by other activities and rolled into a stone wall.  But that is a story for another time.

Duryea Hillclimb - 1960's

Duryea Hillclimb - 1960's

A fitting tribute to Phil Hill, see Vintage Motorsport magazine

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Phil Hill was lucky to grow old, and the rest of us were fortunate to share the reward.  Phil’s best known racing days were in the 1960’s; a period filled with danger for racing drivers.   Many of Phil Hill’s contemporaries of that period died in racing accidents, while Phil managed to perform at the highest levels with barely a scratch.


There were many equally famous racing drivers in Hill’s generation, but something made him stand out in my mind.  I think part of it was that he drove intelligently and always was mindful of his car.   He rarely broke and he seemed to have an uncanny ability to get a sick car to the end of a race.


Of course becoming the first American Formula One champion ensured Phil Hill’s special place in the hearts of all of us American fans.  After his retirement from professional racing in 1967, Hill continued to be a prominent spokesman in the racing community.  He became a broadcaster briefly and a long time contributor to Road & Track.  His insights and recollections made for fascinating reading.


I never met or spoke to the man, but I was lucky enough to see him race several times and managed to capture a few pictures of him.   You can see some at



Read the tribute to Phil Hill in the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Vintage Mortorsport,, it’s the best I have seen.


Phil Hill at Sebring in 2002

Phil Hill at Sebring in 2002

Road & Track’s Peter Egan no longer visits my garage

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Peter Egan no longer dwells in my garage.  For many years I have looked forward to Peter’s monthly “Side Glances” in Road & Track magazine.  We were distant brothers, about the same age, and similar automotive interests.  But now Pete has gone “up market” on me.  Where is that “hands on” guy who could resurrect a rusting hulk with bondo and a box of used parts?  A favorite old column of his described how one could rid oneself of accumulated used parts by storing them in dated cardboard boxes.  Then after a respectful period, perhaps a year or two, if the box had not been opened, one moved it to the dumpster.  Not!  Of course we couldn’t trash those potentially useful items.  They just continued to accumulate, but now neatly stored in dated boxes.


In the December R&T, Peter tells us of his latest restoration project; a worthy one, a vintage Lotus Elan.   He had a good start, given his clever separation of body and chassis, but it all went up scale from there.  Bought a new chassis to the tune of $3K and shipped the body off for a many month restoration at a body shop.  Yeah, I know it all looks really great: in fact so great Pete is now paralyzed with the fear that the car has become magically attractive to anything that might mar the finish.  How is he going to get the courage to drive this thing?  And poor old Sam (his dog) is probably banned from the garage for life.


So now all that’s left is screwing it back together; and using all new parts, I bet.


So I yearn for the return of the Peter E I once knew.  The one who spilled coffee on the new seat covers, stored empty beer cans in the trunk, and spent hours sand blasting old suspension parts for reinstallation.


Sigh.  Pete you may have moved up scale and may even be thinking of moving to a warmer climate, but you will still write the first page I turn to each month in R&T.