[AutoWeek, February 2011] So it might seem unlikely for a Ferrari team driver to choose as his road car a black VW Beetle. But this was 1958. The driver was Phil Hill, not yet in Formula One but a reliable victor in sports car endurance races.
He had just won his first 24 hour of Le Mans (with Olivier Gendebien). I was sharing the Beetle back to Modena.
I was shoe-horned into what was left of the back seat after the assorted luggage of three people was stuffed into place. The front passenger seat pressed my knee caps to accommodate the long legs of the third occupant. Dan Gurney had burst into racing headlines and caught the eye of Luigi Chinetti who put the lanky wide-grinned Californian into a NART Ferrari for the 24 hours. Dan’s maiden voyage at Le Mans (with Bruce Kessler) had lasted 63 laps. The winners did 301.
Phil didn’t like the thought of a disconsolate Dan climbing on a plane to go home. Go with us to Modena, visit the factory, meet Enzo Ferrari and maybe drive something. “Drive something.” Always an attention-getter with Dan.
So we Beetled off. It turned into a script for a road movie, one rejected because it would amuse only the participants and only when they looked back through the mist of passing years. Phil would win Le Mans twice more and be world champion in 1961. Dan would win Le Mans in 1967 (with A.J. Foyt) and many other races and build his own race cars.
But in the real time of post Le Mans, 1958, Phil and I agreed that since Dan might never be in Europe again he should see the Alps so we would take a longer route to Modena. I doubt we checked with Dan. I think his inbred politeness would OK whatever we were promoting. And I suspect “drive something” was keeping his synapses transmitting.
As we headed toward the mountain wonders I was not enjoying the ride. Every lurch of the Beetle caused the bags next to me to list against my shoulder like a drunken seat mate. Stuff cascaded off the stack - camera bags, newspapers. About the fourth time I was stoically replacing the debris my eye caught the rearview mirror. There was a grinning Phil as he gave the steering wheel another little twitch and watched the papers fall back into my lap.
Phil also grinned up at me from those newspapers. He and Olivier in the raised-hands victory pose. We had bought one of everything at the newsstand. Then we stopped for gas on the outskirts of Le Mans. I handed the papers out the window to Phil. “Show them to him,” I nodded at the owner coming to man the pumps. “Oh, no!” Phil demurred. “Yes! He can tell his friends the winner bought gas here.” I could hear two voices in discussion. Phil spoke fairly good French. He got in the car, silently handing the papers back to me. Off we went.
“So what did he say?” Pause. “He asked me if that was my cousin.”
The rain that had drenched the race had moved with us. We found the Alps hiding in dense, low clouds. Not to be deterred, we enthusiastically described to Dan what he would be seeing if he could see. “Through there you would see the Matterhorn!” “Silver against blue sky!’ “Log chalets way high next to unbelievable water falls.” “Really gushing this time of year.” Dan nodded. He bent to stare at grayness. He smiled. A dutiful tourist.
What a powerful concept is “drive something.”
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