America’s first Formula One champion
Phil Hill became the first American to win the Formula One World Drivers Championship and, to this day, remains the only American-born Formula One champion. Hill was born in Miami, Florida, in 1927 and was raised in Santa Monica, California. His first driving experience came in a neighbor’s brand new Oldsmobile at age nine. At age 12, he convinced his aunt to help him buy a Model T, after which his focus on cars, mechanics, and racing never wavered. As a teenager, Hill became one of the founding members of the California Sportscar Club in 1946. His first taste of victory came in a club rally through the wilds of the San Fernando Valley.
In 1949, Hill was sent to England as a Jaguar trainee, and brought a Jaguar XK120 back to the U.S. Hill would win numerous races around California in that car, and those victories helped propel him up the ladder to the highest echelons of racing. In 1956, Hill received his first F1 contract courtesy of Enzo Ferrari. He made his F1 debut at the 1958 French Grand Prix in a Maserati. Later that year, Hill won the 24 Hours of Le Mans co-driving with Olivier Gendebien, the first of three Le Mans victories. Hill would also win the 12 Hours of Sebring three times, the Grand Prix of Italy twice, and the Belgian Grand Prix. Hill retired from racing in 1967 at age 39. Remarkably, in a time of little or no safety equipment and when driver deaths in competition were commonplace, Hill was never seriously injured in a racecar.
After retiring, Hill became associated with Ford motorsports, helping develop the famed GT40 and Daytona Coupe. He was also a partner in the world-renowned Hill & Vaughn car restoration business, and assembled his own car collection. He became a regular judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and even worked as a television commentator for ABC and as a contributing editor for Road & Track magazine. Phil Hill’s storied racing career and prolific obsession with cars made him one of most revered personalities in motorsports.