Champion Race Car Driver Phil Hill in His Own Words

From the King Rose Archives

“I had the privilege of sitting down to talk with Phil Hill about his career as the only American born, Formula One World Drivers’ Champion and someone who’d won three times at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Among many other accomplishments including becoming a writer for Road and Track magazine.

In addition to racing, he loved to restore antique autos and his attention to detail earned numerous prizes at major auto concours.

He caught the racing bug as a child who would use the streets of Santa Monica as his test track. Luckily he always beat the poor cops who could never catch him. But no one should hold that against them, the most skilled drivers in the world, couldn’t catch Phil Hill.

He started racing Alfa Romeos and Jaguars at Pebble Beach and kept moving up as he honed his skills to become a world-class contender.”

Hill was described as a “thoughtful, gentle man” and once said, “I’m in the wrong business. I don’t want to beat anybody, I don’t want to be the big hero. I’m a peace-loving man, basically.” (


Phil Hill Story – Formula One World Champion

From the King Rose Archives

Phil Hill was the only American born Formula One World Champion. He died at age 81 having lived a life full of victories on the track, in the classic car world, as a journalist and as a family man who was universally admired.

His racing career reached the ultimate height with his Formula One title, with Ferrari in 1961. Hill also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times and the 12 Hours of Sebring three times.

A Santa Monica native, Hill learned to race when he would take his parents car out at night and test his skills on the streets. One cop kept trying to catch him but Hill would always get back home, park the car in the garage and sneak back upstairs to his room. When his parents would answer the door they’d swear he’d been home the whole time.

Hill began his professional racing career at an early age, going to England as a Jaguar trainee in 1949 and signing with Enzo Ferrari’s team in 1956. He made his debut in the French Grand Prix at Reims France in 1958 driving a Maserati. That same year, paired with Belgian teammate Olivier Gendebien, Hill became the first American-born winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans [4] with Hill driving most of the night in horrific rainy conditions. He and Gendebien would go on to win the famous endurance race again in 1961 and 1962. Following his retirement, Hill built up an award winning classic car restoration business in the 1970s called Hill & Vaughn with business partner Ken Vaughn, until they sold the partnership to Jordanian Raja Gargour and Vaughn went on to run a separate business on his own in 1984. Phil remained with Gargour at Hill & Vaughn until the sale of the business again in 1995.[5]

Hill also worked as a television commentator for ABC’s Wide World of Sports.[6] Hill had a long and distinguished association with Road & Track magazine. He wrote several articles for them, including road tests and retrospective articles on historic cars and races. He shared his “grand old man” status at R&T with ’60s racing rival Paul Frère, who also died in 2008.

Hill, in his last years, devoted his time to his vintage car collection and judged at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance more often than any other individual; 2007 was the 40th time he had judged the event.[7] Hill was married to Alma, and had three children: Derek, Vanessa and Jennifer.[8] Derek raced in International Formula 3000 in 2001, 2002 and 2003, but was forced to retire when Hill became ill with Parkinson’s Disease.

After traveling to the Monterey Historic Automobile Races in August 2008, Hill was taken to a hospital, where he died after a short illness from complications of Parkinson’s Disease in Salinas, California on August 28.

He was a one of a kind driver who was a great competitor who loved the sport.

  1. Norman

    Thank you so very much to Dean’s Garage for this wonderful interview. It was great to have a mostly non-racing interview, if only to showcase Hill the intellectual as much as Hill the racer. A lot of us older gearheads probably knew the basics of many of his points made, but this interview really fleshed them out, like the comparison between the 8C/2900B and the XK-120. Really obvious, but not necessarily apparent.
    I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Hill at the Riverside Raceway Reunion and he was exactly the same as you see him here. By the way, he told me that the Ford GT was louder inside than the Chaparral coupe. But this article…breathtaking.

  2. Michael Barricks

    Absolutely wonderful!
    Through the kindness of our mutual friend, Marshall Mathews, I had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time with Phil Hill-especially at the annual Modoc tour.
    My memories are very much like this interview. Phil was very approachable and humble, but with encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of automotive history and mechanics.

  3. Thank you Gary and Deans Garage for this wonderful story about Phil Hill. It captured the honesty, intelligence, and empathy of the man. Though I first met him in 1961, I cannot add anything to his racing career. But let me tell you a story about his genius:

    While at Art Center in 1961, I was invited by Strother MacMinn to have dinner with Phil Hill at the local pizza restaurant near the school. It was just days after he had won the world’s championship at Monza. Instead of boasting about his victory or lamenting the death of his friend and team mate, he talked about player pianos and restoring organs (which was a passion of Mac). He even talked about my interest in car design and my aspiration to work at GM. All in all, a very open and friendly dinner. Not what I expected to be in the presence of this world champion.

    Forty years later, I bumped into Phil at Laguna Seca. He looked up, paused for a moment, and then startled me. “Roy, how have you been? I haven’t seen you since we had dinner with Mac”. He liked people. He never bragged about himself. His character and respect for others spoke volumes to me. He is missed.

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