By Steve Silverstein
First published Rootes Review: August 2005
The Mt. Washington Hill Climb is an event that is not well known, but to many it is one of the best motor sport events in the country. It’s certainly the oldest, dating to 1904. The setting is absolutely beautiful, the course is extremely challenging and the weather unpredictable. I ran the Alpine as I had done last year in the 100th anniversary event.
The first hill climb occurred when two rivals, one in a Stanley Steamer, the other in a Daimler, were bested by Harry Harkness in a Mercedes. The event closed after 2001; by then any car could run, including the rally based cars of Audi, Hyundai and others.
Tom Ellsworth of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America made arrangements with Mt. Washington management to bring back historic cars for a 100th anniversary event in 2004. Emphasis was placed on cars that had run the mountain in the past, limited to 30 entries. The same rule applied for 2005. Fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones!
The cars are not classified into groups since there are only thirty entrants. The cars started at the Toll House at 1565 feet above sea level and drove to 4100 feet, just above the tree line. The climb ends before the non-paved section, about a 5 mile run.
My runs were great! How lucky can one get but to be screaming up the side of a mountain in the rain! The rain was a big advantage for the Alpine. I don’t have a lot of power – in fact I still run a stock Series II head – so rain really equalizes everyone. I have only one rear end ratio for my Alpine, a 4.86:1, ideal for hill climbs.
Saturday had heavy rains. I was asked to lead off. I enjoy being the first one so I fired up the Alpine and pulled up to the starting line.
At times the rains were so heavy that I couldn’t see where I was going! Still, it gave me a chance to familiarize myself with the road without the pressure of trying to do well.
I improved during my second run of the day, only passing through one or two major downpours on my way up. This time I had the chance to focus on gear selection and keeping my momentum up. It paid off- I dropped almost 30 seconds off my time.
It was one of the faster runs made by the group that day. Jim Donick in his Allard was quicker but that must have been one scary run – all that power and not much suspension!
The skies cleared Sunday but the roads were still wet. During my first run I hit one rain shower that lasted for about 200- 300 yards. The second run was better, still wet but quickly drying out. Being the first one up I didn’t know what to expect. How hard could I push it on these slightly damp roads? Well, I ran about as hard as I could, and by the time I hit turn 14 I was smooth enough with enough speed to shift into 4th. I wasn’t turning too many rpm’s – maybe 4000- but I hadn’t been able to pull this gear before. I managed a 5:13, knocking 70 seconds off my first run of Saturday.
Bill Rutan had the fastest time (4:48) on Sunday, and for the weekend, in his Porsche Carrera powered special. Bill holds the record for the mountain when it was all dirt (1961). I was in the top five on Sunday – the two Porsche specials, including Bill’s, and a Ford V-8 powered Dryer sprint car were quicker. The VSCCA doesn’t award a FTD but they do give a most consistent award. Tom Ellsworth, in a Ford powered Amilcar was most consistent on Sunday, a mere 0.25 seconds difference between runs!
Thanks to Tom Ellsworth, Mt. Washington management and the VSCCA for putting on the event. There were 30 very lucky people at the finish line!
Additional photos of the event can be found at: www.vscca.org in the gallery section.
[Ed note: (Fred Baum) Now there’s a unique driving experience. Congrats, Steve, on your fine showing and representing the Rootes Group cars. ]