Sunday, December 12, 2010

Driven Personalities - Phil Hill

Phil Hill, America's only Formula One World Champion (1961) had well-known links to Ferrari and Jaguar, but Phil was also a "Bentley Boy". In 1966 Phil acquired a Bentley Blower, which was no ordinary Bentley. It was the car owned by a brilliant engineer called Amherst Villiers, which he used as a test-bed to develop the famous supercharged Bentleys for Bentley Boy Tim Birkin back in 1930.

Phil owned the car until 1988, and took it out regularly, gaining a real affection for the Bentley marque. I had known Phil for many years, and in 2000 I invited him to join me and a group of our mutual friends for a "Bentley Grand Tour" through eastern Tennessee, in a Bentley Continental T coupe.

It was patently obvious as we wound through the mountain roads in Tennessee and North Carolina, that Phil, at 75, had lost none of his skill behind the wheel. He made that Bentley 'sing' and it was a real pleasure to sit alongside him and witness the performance!

I used to catch up with him every year at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance where he was one of the longest-serving judges, and he remained genial, good-natured and fun.

He always said of himself, "I don't want to beat anyone, I just want to have fun racing." He beat a lot of drivers to the chequered flag over his 18 year professional racing career, summed up by our mutual friend, Sir Stirling Moss, "He really was a true gentleman racer, talented, tenacious, but never aggressive."

Phil Hill died in 2008, after a short illness from complications of Parkinson's Disease.

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