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C-Type to relive its 1952 Elkhart Win
by Frederick Welk, Wisconsin Jaguars LTD

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XKC 007 is coming back to Wisconsin to relive a day of glory 50 years ago. That’s when Phil Hill, a lanky 23-year-old mechanic turned race driver from California climbed in and made Jaguar history by winning the Sheldon Cup. The race marked Jaguar’s first C-Type North American victory and coming on the heals of the impressive win at Le Mans in 1951, it offered welcome publicity in the important American market. Hill would go on to become America’s first world champion Formula One driver.

Phil Hill at the wheel at Elkhart Lake in 1952, Jaguar's first C-Type Win in America

Nowadays we think of road racing as a twisty drive around a long course like Road America. In those years the great road race courses were… well, on public roads. The biggest races were at Pebble Beach, CA, and Watkins Glen, NY, but about 1950 members of the Sports Car Club of America in Chicago decided the Midwest needed a similar venue. Organizers surveyed the area around the resort town of Elkhart Lake, generated local enthusiasm and sponsorship and held the first events on Sunday July 21, 1950. Between 1,500 and 5,000 spectators showed up for five races (including one for ladies) and a concours d’elegance. An XK 120 placed second and third in two of those races.

Considered a success, the SCCA billed the 1951 race as the first International Elkhart Lake Road Race.

The course was expanded from 3.35 to 6.5 miles, vectored around the lake, and the event moved to late August. Nationwide promotion attracted celebrities including Dave Garroway, host of NBC’s Today show, who entered his SS 100 in the novice race driven by Frank Bott of Chicago. It took second, beaten by an XK 120.

Phil Hill was at Elkhart that year as well, driving factory prepared XK 120s along with George Malbrand. In the 30-lap feature race they placed third and fourth respectively. In all, 98 cars were entered that year and crowd estimates ranged from 15,000 to 75,000. Elkhart Lake’s reputation in racing was growing along with Jaguar’s.


Phil Hill at the wheel at Elkhart Lake in 1952, Jaguar's first C-Type Win in America

By 1952 with the excitement of Le Mans still fresh, Charles Hornburg, the Beverly Hills based Jaguar dealer, persuaded Sir William Lyons that America represented the largest potential market for sports cars and racing was the best advertising. On August 1, 1952 XKC 007, sold to Hornburg, and XKC 009, sold to New York dealer Max Hoffman, were dispatched to the U.S and prepared for running at Elkhart.

On Saturday, Sept. 6, Phil Hill, driving XKC 007 won the 15-lap race for cars powered by 1950 to 4000 cc engines. He averaged 89.50 mph around the 6.5 mile course. George Weaver driving XKC 009 finished third. The next day the pair competed for the Elkhart Lake Cup in a 201.5 mile race for cars over 1950 cc, finishing fourth and fifth. More than 100,000 spectators turned out over the weekend to watch 238 cars race.

Hill would drive on in 007 under Hornburg’s sponsorship to more glory at Watkins Glen and Torry Pines.

Unhappily, 1952 would be the last year for the road course at Elkhart Lake. Not only were road courses dangerous for drivers but many spectators had been killed or injured worldwide. Fortunately mishaps at Elkhart caused only minor injuries. A legal technicality finished off the concept in Wisconsin. From the outset in 1950, organizers were mindful of the state’s "right of access" law that allowed any citizen to appeal to the governor for unfettered access to their property from any public road. C. Bayard Sheldon, the general chairman of the race had met personally with each resident along the course to gain cooperation. But one resident resisted and complained to the Sheboygan County Highway Department beginning in 1951, and after 1952’s race officials decided the law must be followed. Road America opened nearby in 1955.

Editors Note: WJL member Jerry Nell, XKC 007’s ninth and present owner, reports Phil Hill will be reunited with the car at Pebble Beach in August during another celebration of his triumph.



Phil Hill (left) and Charles Hornburg (right) confer before the race.


XKCs 009 (left) and 007 (right) line up in downtown Elkhart Lake to be examined by spectators.

Photos courtesy of Jerry and Kathy Nell who also provided historical material for this article. Additional information obtained from the MG Vintage Racers website: www.geocities.com/mg_vintage_racer/rdamer01.html

 

 

Posted: 7/17/2002

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