Phil Hill - America's First F1 Champion - Race Cars in Miniature
by David Cook, images by Doug Breithaupt and David Cook

MGTD - Tootsietoy

Jaguar XJ120 - Tootsietoy

Ferrari TR250 - Hot Wheels

F1 Ferrari 1961 - Matchbox

Cooper Maserati - Best Box

Ferrari 250GTO - Maisto

Shelby Cobra - Hot Wheels

Shelby Cobra Daytona - Hot Wheels

Ford GT40 - Hot Wheels

Chapparral - Tyco

Chapparral GT - Hot Wheels

Our recent article on Mario Andretti reminded Doug & I of America's original Formula One champion, Californian Phil Hill (shown below driving at a recent vintage race in the Ferrari he drove in the Carrera Panamericana.)

Hill grew up in the car-mad Los Angeles area and an early aptitude for mechanics led to jobs in filling stations and eventually, local racetracks. The post-WWII imported car boom brought plenty of work for someone who could understand the fragile English and European models that began to appear. Mechanic jobs turned into driving gigs; some of Hill's earliest rides were in cars like the MG-TC and the Jaguar XK-120, both pictured here by Tootsietoy.

Success at the amateur level brought Hill to the attention of Luigi Chinetti, the Ferrari importer who acted as Enzo Ferrari's eyes and ears in North America. Several early "one-off" drives in Ferrari sports cars for private owners proved that Hill had the right stuff to handle a full time factory job.

So in 1956, in his early 20's, Hill found himself in Europe on a Ferrari team led by the great Juan Manuel Fangio, with a host of other experienced hands to learn from. But in those days, the sad fact was that few men grew old and retired from the sport; they usually wound up dead or too seriously injured to continue. Hill steadily worked his way up the bench to the better rides and big-time wins in sports cars.

Many of Hill's greatest victories came at the wheel of the famous 250 "Testa Rossa", so named for the red metal cam covers visible under the hood. In 1958, the 250TR carried Hill to wins in the Buenos Aires 1000KM, the 12 hours of Sebring, and the 24 Hours of LeMans; in 1959, Sebring again and a Can-Am race at Riverside, CA. The 250TR had a long, productive life for a race car and continued to perform for Hill; in 1960 he won at Buenos Aires again, and in 1961, Sebring and LeMans for the second time. The very nice example pictured here is a recent release by Hot Wheels.

But Ferrari management had Hill marked as a sports-car driver only and kept him waiting for an open wheel drive. Hill had to almost force himself into the Formula 1 lineup but by 1961, he was one of the top drivers on the team. For that season, the engine formula had changed and Ferrari was ready. The weapon was the shark nosed 156 F1, pictured here by Matchbox who made thousands of them. They are still available in various conditions but not many are as nice as the one proudly displayed here by Doug. I understand that Hot Wheels will release a version of this famous race car soon. Ferrari could field 4 or 5 of these cars in each race so except for a couple of all-time drives by Brit Stirling Moss, the "prancing horse" won almost every F1 race they entered. Hill and Wolfgang von Trips were neck and neck for the championship until the Italian GP at Monza where von Trips crashed and sadly died. Hill won and took the crown with what surely must have been mixed feelings.

But by 1962, Ferrari success in F1 was gone like a puff of smoke. The Brits with their new Coventry-Climax engines took all the gold. Sports car victories continued however, and Hill took his third LeMans driving a special Testa Rossa with a 4-liter engine.

By this time however, the competitive atmosphere at Ferrari had become too much for Hill. His "thinking man's" style of driving was just not flashy enough for Mr. Ferrari. Hill's method was to take it easy during the first half of the race, then pour it on at the end to win, if possible. A mass exodus of personnel at the end of '62 included Hill. "I wasn't sorry to leave; Enzo Ferrari never understood me. I wasn't his type, not super gung-ho enough to suit him. A lot of fine drivers died racing for him and he always favored the man who would take the extra risk in a live-or-die situation. I won a lot of races for him- which is why he kept me around- but I never was his kind of driver. I wasn't willing to die for Enzo Ferrari. I wasn't willing to become one of his sacrifices."

Hill bounced around for a few more years in Formula 1, driving his last F1 race for Cooper in 1964 in a car like the one shown here by Best Box, a rare example of this famous marque from the early 60's. Hill continued to race sports cars, and his deep experience and strong technical ability helped him play an important role for several teams. He was part of the early Shelby Cobra effort, racing to a class win at Sebring in 1963. The Hot Wheels version pictured here is one of many examples of this famous race car in small scale. In 1964, he teamed with Pedro Rodriguez to win the first Daytona Continental in a privately entered Ferrari 250 GTO like the very nice example shown here by Maisto. He was also part of the Shelby Cobra Daytona effort in 1964 & 1965.This very intricate Hot Wheels version is the best ever of this car. At the same time Hill was assisting with the Ford GT40 program, setting fastest lap at LeMans in '64 & '65 in a car like this Hot Wheels version. He then jumped to Jim Hall's Chaparral team for 1966, winning the Nurburgring 1000KM and the Laguna Seca Can Am race. Pictured here is a Tyco slot-car Chaparral along with a newer release of the GT model by good ol' Hot Wheels! 1967 saw Hill's last race and last professional win, at the Brands Hatch BOAC 6-Hours in a Chaparral.

Today Hill is a familiar face at modern GP's as well as vintage races (signing autographs - right). He keeps a close eye on his son Derek, who this season is racing in the F3000 series in Europe.