15 November 2016

Racing up Mount Equinox is a blast into the past

So you’ve got a classic sports car that’s prepped for competition, and you’d really like to wring it out sometime. But you’re not so committed that trailering it to California for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion in August is in the plans, what with all of the time and expense that would demand.

One appealing solution: a local hill climb. These low-pressure events, similar to autocrossing – car vs. clock – rightfully claim a long, rich tradition. And aside from, say, Pikes Peak, it’s generally a non-contact sport.

The Mount Equinox Annual Hill Climb – the second oldest hill climb in the United States – is a case study in how owners can enjoy their classics in an idyllic setting. This summer’s event gave owners of pre-1959 cars a chance to exercise their racing passion at a meet in Sunderland, Vt., for the traditional run to the top.

This hill climb first began in 1950, when a group of enthusiasts competed to see who could scramble up the mountain fastest. Big-bore Jaguars and Maseratis, along with small-bore Austins and MGs, did their best to carve up more than five miles of dirt road on the way to the 3,848-foot summit, each angling to set the fastest time of the day.

Rain and reduced visibility put a slight damper on this year’s action, but that didn’t stop the blasts to the peak. From a one-of-a-kind Saab Sonett roadster to a Sadler Formula Junior car to a Cadillac-powered Allard and a 1935 Ford Amilcar, the climb proceeded. The Mount Equinox Hill Climb occurs over two days annually during the summer and is open to spectators at the base and select points along the course.

While the dirt surface was paved in 1952, and the road has changed course over the years, the Mount Equinox race continues much the same way now as it was when it began. The racers are green-flagged, one at a time, for a run against the mountain and clock.

The Vintage Sports Car Club of America, which sanctions the Hill Climb, limits entries to pre-1960 models with period-correct engines and componentry. Modern safety equipment is a requirement. Cars that continued into the ’60s from their 1959 or earlier debut are allowed to motor through from the past.

The race has come full circle from its beginnings 66 years ago, during the postwar sports car craze, to its current iteration. Change began in 1958, when the SCCA transitioned hill climbs out of the national championship rankings into regional events. As sports cars evolved into the ’60s. drivers channeled more horsepower into ever-quicker times, with midengine Can-Am racers setting records. Faster cars, deteriorating road surfaces and the waning popularity of hill climb events led to the Mount Equinox race falling under VSCCA sanction in 1973.

Driving up to the top of Mount Equinox is an automotive and historical journey available to the public from May to October. Remember to save the racing for the VSCCA – and mind the brakes on the way back down.

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