Traditional Ascent – Mount Equinox Hill Climb Motors Upward
Founded in 1958, the Vintage Sports Car Club of America or VSCCA recently celebrated its 60th year with the 70th running of the Mount Equinox Hill Climb in southern Vermont. Thirty race cars showed up from all over New England and beyond for a timed solo run at the 3,848 foot summit to carry on a racing tradition that began in 1950 with a run up the dirt road to the Skyline Inn.
The road has since been paved over and the summit is no longer a luxury lodging destination but the second oldest hill climb race in America is run as it always has been. Racers are green flagged one at time to challenge the mountain and the clock for the fastest time of the day or FOTD.
Pike’s Peak might be older and longer but the Mount Equinox Hill Climb course is steeper, with some sections of the 5.2 mile climb at a 14-degree angle. From the green flag at starting line 800 feet above sea level the drivers and cars ascended through 41 turns and over 3,000 feet of elevation. Uphill hairpins open up to the straight section known as the saddle and fastest part of the course with cars hitting triple digit speeds. A fleeting downhill stretch is the only rest for engines running at maximum RPM for bog free gear changes.
VSSCA competition entries are sorted into groups with Classes 1 and 2 limited to 1959 and earlier models. Class 3 consists of 1964 and older Formula Junior racers and Class 4 is made up of sedans up to and including 1965. Class 5 is for the rare and unusual automobiles built after 1959 but before the end of 1965 with continuation models approved for racing by the Board of Directors on a case by case basis. Period correct engines and powertrains join contemporary safety measures out on the course.
Entries ranged from a 1931 Flathead Ford-powered Bugatti and hemi-powered 1952 Cunningham C-3 Vignale Coupe, (designed and built by American racer and early Equinox Hill Climb competitor Briggs Cunningham) to a 1935 Hudson powered Indy racer. A 1963 Quantum powered by a 2-stroke, 3-cylinder Saab engine equipped with an angry camshaft, high-compression pistons and expansion chamber exhaust added some serious shriek to the quiet forest. The one of a kind Quantum was driven by George Vapaa while his son Stefan strapped into a “one of none” 1968 Saab Sonett V-4 powered open roadster that Saab never made.
True to the original road and track sports car ethos, John Schieffelin drove out to the mountain, raced his 1965 Volvo 544, and drove it the 90 miles or so back to his Massachusetts home base on Sunday afternoon. The Volvo is powered by a just under 2-liter 4-cylinder with famous Volvo safety built in from the factory. The only time the Volvo has been on a trailer under John’s stewardship was when it came across the country from its previous Pacific Northwest home. “Back in the day, most people would go to the races, take off the windshield, hubcaps or whatever, go racing, and drive back home. It’s obviously not a show car. It’s just a fun car to drive. Isn’t that what cars are for?” he asked. With that, we can say the 60th Mount Equinox Hill Climb ascended above our expectations. What a cool weekend.
The VSCCA sanctioned Mount Equinox Hill Climb runs two days each summer and is open to spectators at the base and select points along the course. The highest mountain in the Taconic range is home to the only Carthusian monastery in North America and the second longest running hill climb race in the United States. The Mount Equinox Skyline Drive Toll Road to the summit is open the public from May to October. Keep eyes and nostrils open for the brakes on the way back down!