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Part II: The Old Motor Volvo 1800s runs the 2018 VSCCA Mt Equinox Hill Climb

Updated: The 70th running of the Mt Equinox Hillclimb, was sanctioned by the Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA) which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The event was held on August 11 & 12th, 2018, on the Skyline Drive that travels to the top of Mount Equinox. The Mountain is 3840 feet high, is the second tallest peak in Vermont, and is located five-miles south of the town of Manchester on the southwestern side of the State and 25-miles north of Hemming Motor News in Bennington.

The famous Hillclimb is still run on the same road that it has for the last seventy years. In that time span famous drivers including Carroll Shelby, John Fitch, Briggs Cunningham, Bill Milliken, and French driver Rene Dreyfus, among others have traveled at high speeds in pursuit of a win that was important on the sports car and racing circuit yearly calendar in days gone by.

  • Waiting for the Flag Man to drop the green flag and then begin climbing within the first 100-feet.

The race course is 5.2 miles long and climbs to 3140 feet over the distance, and the average grade is a quite steep 12% grade. The run includes forty turns, twenty switch-backs and the majority of them are extremely tight, steep, challenging to navigate at speed, and a number of the corners contain an increasing radius. If a car leaves the roadway, it either ends up in a pond, a field, the woods, or it can fall down the precipitous and abrupt drop-offs containing a substantial number of large-sized rocks.

  • This is the beginning of one of the sharper turns or a switchback on the bottom half of the course.

The bottom half of the hill was repaved recently and is quite smooth, although the second half is very rough, and is filled with uninterrupted areas of bumps and is known as a car killer. To add to the difficulty of the climb, tire pressures need to be reduced to 20 pounds or lower which eliminates all tire and seat of the pants feedback to the driver.

  • Passing the half way mark and parking lot at speed while entering a very sharp and tricky bend.

Just before starting a run the driver can choose to climb to the top of the mountain, which the majority of the racers do, or select the short course option which is a good spot to end a run for fragile racing cars or prewar cars equipped with high-pressure tires. Choosing this option ends the climb at the three-mile point and an elevation of about 2525 feet.

When climbing to the top, from that point on the run becomes more arduous for both the racing car and the driver, and the car speed increases to its highest point of the run on two straight sections if the vehicle is powerful enough to accelerate on the grade before it goes through the speed trap.

  • One of the few areas on the top half of the course that does not contain a steep climb.

The record time was set on July 21, 1968, by John Mayer at 4:08.8 minutes behind the wheel of a very powerful and aerodynamic Can Am racing car equipped with an American made injected V-8 racing engine. Skilled drivers of good-handing and powerful purpose-built vintage racing cars are quite happy to set a time below the five-minute mark. Lower-powered production cars usually set times ranging between the six and a half to the eight-minute mark.

Wait and listen for JR Mitchell’s Lotus 18 as it passes through the speed trap at 91 M.P.H. during a run at the 2015 VSCCA Mt. Equinox Hill Climb.

The Old Motor 1967 Volvo 1800s project car made its competition debut fifty-one years after it was constructed at Equinox. The Swedish automaker is widely-known for building very durable and safe cars, and the sixties era 1800 series cars and 122s sedans are known as being “tough as nails.”

The vehicles have won many important world-class on and off-road rallies around the globe. The early P1800 (1961 to ’63) and later 1800s cars (1964 to ’69) were competitive in the SCCA F-Production races and one driver of a 1800s almost won the championship back in the period. An early P1800 racing car has won the modern F-Production championship five years in a row in one of the largest vintage racing series which runs events all across the country, it continues to remain competitive today.

  • The original 110 c.i. (1.8 liter) o.h.v. four cylinder engine remains in the car. The aftermarket brake booster on the lower-left side of the photo has since been removed.

The Old Motor 1800s is a matching numbers car powered by its factory original 110 c.i. 1800cc rocker arm actuated o.h.v. four-cylinder engine with a 10:1 compression ratio and twin SU carburetors, it produces 115 h.p. at about 5500 rpm. It is backed up with its original drivetrain consisting of a 4-speed manual transmission fitted at the factory with an overdrive, followed by a two-piece driveshaft, and a Spicer model 30 rear axle with a 4:56 final-drive ratio.

  • The picture gives you an view of just how steep some of the sections are on the top half of the climb. 

After the drivers meeting only one brief slow-speed orientation run was available on Friday evening. Over the two-day competition that would challenge a mountain goat, the best time of 7:05.39 seconds was established by the 1800s on its 11th and final run on Sunday. This time was set after learning the very technical course and just how the car was capable of performing on the hill.

  • A view down one of the formidable switch backs filled with sharp bumps and increasing radius bends on either end that are difficult to maneuver at speed

The first and slowest timed run of 7:42.24 was set on Saturday in the rain and later improved by a margin of 37:15 seconds. Some of the runs were hampered by rain, dense fog, and a wet road surface. The lack of a posi-traction or locked differential resulted in wheel spin in the wet or when using 1st and 2nd gears coming off of the corners of the steepest, and roughest switchbacks.

  • The fog that lingered on the top of the mountain all day on Sunday when the Volvo’s fastest time was set. This this is the parking lot at the visitor center on top of Mt Equinox. The cars and drivers that have finished the Hillclimb wait for the last car to arrive. Only then do they return to the bottom and start the process all over again.

Instead of trailering the car to the event it was done the old-fashioned way by driving the 110-mile round trip daily through rain and fog each day over the famous Vermont Green Mountains. On Sunday morning your Editor was peasantry surprised to find that the Volvo with its unmodified B18B engine in a fine state of tune managed an impressive miles per gallon figure on Saturday.

The gas mileage figure includes six 5.2-mile competition runs totaling up to 31.2-miles, along with six runs back down Equinox along with the round trip to the Hillclimb and back home to the other side of the state amounting to 141.2-miles. The total mileage for the day amounted to 173.4 miles covered with only six gallons of 93 octane pump gas for an impressive 28.9 m.p.g. figure. During the climb the engine was run at wide-open-throttle at between 5500 to the 6500 rpm redline in first, second and third gear, with only a short stint near the bottom run in 4th gear.

  • Vintage brake warning sign near the top of the Mountain.

It is even a chore to drive back down Mt. Equinox. The vintage photo above containing a few no longer standing wind-powered electric generators includes a warning sign to remind you to let your brakes to cool off. The still applies to the 1800s which is equipped with British made Girling disc brakes on the front designed in the early 1960s with unvented solid rotors. The back of the car is equipped with US made Warner drum brakes that were also used on some American cars and jeeps of the period. Photo courtesy of Monnt Equinox Vermont.

Learn more about the VSCCA on its website, and view more photos of the event and videos at VSCCA on Facebook.

27 responses to “Part II: The Old Motor Volvo 1800s runs the 2018 VSCCA Mt Equinox Hill Climb

  1. Simple minds want to know: Why does the car have different front and rear license plates?

    It looks very well prepared, and I’m sure you had a lot of fun.

    • The only reason is because of the discovery of the year of manufacture 1967 front plate with an interesting number.

      Older Vermont farmers have saying that applies, “You can’t see the front and back of the barn at the same time.”

      The plate will be removed before running in the faster-paced VMCCA “Fall Finale” race meet at Lime Rock Park in CT.

  2. I’m really digging that side exit comp exhaust. Also, might want to proof read the last sentence of the sixth paragraph, I think you mean’t minutes, not seconds. Gorgeous car David, jealous of those wheels!

    • The exhaust was constructed in the manner of that Volvo Competition Services recommended for racing and rally cars. It is the same length that was correctly tuned for running at higher rpms’. It was designed here in the shop so that it bolts right on without having to drill any extra holes underneath the car. Thanks for catching my typo and the nice words about the car.

      • I’d love to hear some sound clips. Trying to decide how to exhaust my B20 bored out to a 2130cc with dual 45 DCOE’s on R Sport replica intake manifolds.

  3. Sellers remorse continues. I see you put the original SU carbs back on. Have you tried the car with the supercharger yet? Love to hear the dino numbers from that. Thanks for the pics.

    • Sorry to hear that you still are missing the car, its a pretty special automobile. Put the SU’s back on with the correct needles for the B18B engine to get a base line to compare with later when a either a set of Volvo Competition Services intake manifolds and Weber 40 DCOE carbs or the Judson blower are installed.

      You still have visitation rights if you travel down this way or to NYC.

  4. Congratulations on your series of successful runs up the hill. This is one of the best VSCCA speed events. I’m sorry that I’ve not been able to fit it into our schedule for a number of years but it has been one of our favorites. One of my great personal accomplishments behind the wheel has been to hold the Allard throttle wide open across the “Saddle”.
    Great thrills.

    • Thanks Jon, the “Saddle” was very interesting to cross at wide open throttle like you did except on Sunday it was socked in with fairly thick fog. It certainly does get your attention and almost stops you heart when you really can’t see where you are going very well and have to drive by memory.

  5. Congratulations on your times and wins! Have any suggestions for someone with a 1970 1800e converted to a 2bbl webber. It’s been setting for 25+ years, is in decent shape… I’d like to run trials and rally’s. Thanks!

    • The Weber two-barrel kits work if the carb is jetted properly but you will sacrifice at least 10 to 20% power and maybe more, plus the carb is not big enough for a B20 2-litre engine.

      If you can find a 1969 B20 manifold for (US) Stromberg carburetors see if a set of SU’s will fit on it and use them.

      I have a feeling you maybe from the UK seeing as you like trials? There might be a European B20 manifold that was make for SU’s?

      If not, a dual Weber 45 DCOE setup properly jetted will provide the most power.

    • Why the plates are different has been answered in reply to Frank Barrett earlier.

      The black 143 numbers on a white background were some that the club had and used on the first day. The second day the number changed to 43 and black tape was used as it often was back in the old days. It now has a permanent VSCCA number 114.

  6. David, brings back years of fun with 444s, 544s and a 122. I ran a side exhaust (actually illegal for PA inspection) because the exhaust systems were forever rusting out. Could never find stainless pipe the right size. That much less to replace!
    I’m wondering why the 20psi limit on the tires?

      • Ah David, this is what makes hill climbs so much more exciting. A lot of that excitement left Pikes Peak once they paved the rest of the climb over. A competitor facing such different extremes really had to make some innovative decisions, adding to the achievements of those who ‘mastered’ such climbs. Driving skills were another area of advancement as the differences between dirt and pavement are so marked. Loved watching some of those old time sprint car racers do PP, as they were among the few who faced both dirt and pavement in competition. Love the car, great job!

  7. Looks like great fun with a great car! Count me among those wishing for some sound clips of that B-18B in action, especially with that “blooey-pipe” side exhaust. I had the same problem with exhaust rust-out as Herb on my ’60 PV544 and only solved it when I swallowed hard and shelled out the bucks for an Abarth system after three years. A good decision as it not only sounded FANTASTIC but it looked super-cool and probably lasted long after I sold the car. It even came with a little cloisonne Abarth scorpion emblem that I mounted on the trunk lid for extra panache’!
    Keep on telling us of the “Further Adventures of the Crimson Volvo” and best of luck.

    • David, Thanks, the exhaust is LOUD and is the same style and length as what Volvo Competition Services recommended for use at the time, with the exception of an added straight through sport muffler. After finding one, a new old stock Abarth system was installed on the shop 122s station wagon. Its interesting to hear about your cloisonne Abarth scorpion emblem.

      Hope to do an in car video in the future.

  8. Love this article. In 1974 I bought a 1968 P1800S It was my main transportation and I had a 200 mile commute. Dark green with saddle interior. With the first gas shortage I was able to go 400 miles on 12 gallons. I was talked into looking at a new BMW 2002TII After a 2 hour sales pitch , he asked for my keys so the appraiser could look at my car. I had to tell him I wouldn’t trade even. The bemmer was much faster and handled well, but when you got out on the interstate at 70 the 4 speed with 411 gear in the bemmer screamed. The P1800 could be dropped into overdrive and it was as quiet as an Odsmobile plus the seats came all the way up under your knees making it a long distance cruiser. My P1800 also had Cadillac carpet custom fit instead of the stark grey. The big problem was parts. The master cylinder was a one year only product available on the 1800 and 122s as an option. Volvo had contracted the production and the contractor went out of business at the end of the run. I ran into P1800’s sitting in dealerships with no brakes waiting for parts for 6 months I bought every rebuild kit I could find. Then one day I saw a dealer as I drove threw Baltimore, stop to ask about rebuild kits and he said I have a new master cylinder do you want that!!! I did have distributor trouble also. I had driven it across country to Oklahoma city. I went to install points and a condenser. The insulator was made of paper an fell apart. The local dealer was hit by a tornado so I finally had to buy a distributor at a yard who knew he had me. It was a later model and had a plastic insulator. In a cold rain one morning at 5 A.M. on a reverse curve in the rain she started to spin. I didn’t want to spill coffee on my white shirt so I thought just let it spin and when it comes to rest we’ll start over. Well the rear tire found the only culvert within 5 miles and she went over. I should of retained ownership but I was getting married and my mind was on other things. I had paid $1800 for the P1800S and insurance paid $3600 2 years later

  9. This race looks very similar to the race at the Maryhill Loops Road just south of Goldendale, Washington. Great to see the vintage sportscars racing. I had a “66 1800S sometime ago, (stupidly sold it) just two chassis numbers from Irv Gordon’s car. I’m certain you all know who Irv Gordon is.

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