A 356 on Mt. Equinox

by | December 2018

Photographs by Sean Smith

 

Tom Miller has been buying and selling cars since he was fifteen years old.

He started with a few Mustangs, then a couple of pick-up trucks. After that he got himself a VW bug; this got him involved in small-bore, German engineered cars. From there he went through a whole bunch of 69-73 2002 BMWs including the mechanical injected tii. The cars were a side project as Tom worked for a printing company.

With a friend in the printing business who spent a lot of time in Europe, the pair started importing a variety of sports cars that needed restoration; Tom got a feel for and appreciation of all types of machines.

Tom found a 1972 911 at the back of a used car lot that specialized in muscle cars. It had come in on trade and they just wanted to get rid of it. This gave him a taste for Porsches.

 

 

All at once he started finding 356s: first a convertible D, and then a Speedster. These all went out the door. Then in 1991, Tom found another Speedster and decided to restore it for himself. He lived close to the Paterek brothers – John and Ray, so got their input on the build and along the way met a lot of the 356 gurus. As the project progressed, Miller came to appreciate the little four cylinder jewels from Zuffenhausen more and more.

The Speedster was finished and put on the road. It had miles put on it, but Tom couldn’t really get to drive the Speedster the way he wanted to… fast. Miller had recently sold his own printing company and it was time for a little fun. He had friends in the VSCCA, so he thought it was time he and the Speedster went racing.

 

 

In 2000 the duo went to Lime Rock for the VSCCA Spring Sprints and Tom got his VSCCA racing license.

The Speedster went up to Lime Rock in Kurt Hoffman’s trailer along with a silver coupe. Tom finished the weekend racing against the Speedster’s trailer mate.

That coupe was a racecar Kurt’s shop had supported. Its driver, club member Michael Cohen, later brought the car to Sandy Sadtler in Pennsylvania for a new coat of silver paint, and added a lot of light-weight GT details to get it more into fighting trim, to the tune of around 50K.

 

 

Cohen went on to racing open wheel cars and the coupe moved off to Peter Brittingham, another VSCCA 356 racer, who ran it for years in the club. As he was a well-known Porsche mechanic, he added his own touches.

Brittingham then passed the car along to Dr. Alex Alexson, who ran the coupe mainly at the Pittsburgh Grand Prix. When Alexson was finished racing the 356, he put it up for sale.

A broker contacted Miller to see if he was interested. He saw a few pictures of a nice-looking 356 racer and he bought it, thinking he could flip it quickly.

Before the car got to him, the logbooks arrived. At that point Miller realized his history with the car and knew he couldn’t sell it. He knew that with the quality of the work and all the cash that went into it, it would be his new racer. (This is what happens when you buy and sell cars: you end up keeping a few for yourself.)

 

 

The year after, Miller joined the VSCCA  He took his Speedster to Mt. Equinox in Sunderland, VT.

The Mt. Equinox hill climb has been running since 1950 when the SCCA made it part of its annual schedule. The cars became too fast, insurance was a nightmare, and it became hard to fill the grid, so the VSCCA took over in 1973.

 

 

At the start, you’re 800 feet above sea level. At the end of the 5.2-mile run you are 3,248 feet above the briny.

It’s no easy ride to the top; along the way you have to deal with 41 turns, 20 of them being hairpins. You’re constantly at the red line to keep up the momentum, and other than one quick downhill, you’re always heading up!  After you pass the short-course finish, you’re blasting through a seemingly never-ending tunnel of trees, and being bounced around by the rippling tarmac. The trees suddenly disappear, and you’re streaking across “The Saddle”—the fastest point on the hill, where there’s nothing but a few posts and cable between you and green oblivion on both sides.

Tom ran the hill in the Speedster and was hooked!

 

 

It was a pricey proposition, having someone tow the car up and provide hillside service, so the following year Tom packed his father and all he would need for the weekend into the coupe and drove to the event from New Jersey. This became the modus operandi for the next few years. Soon Miller was pulling a single-axle trailer as he started to compete in a Porsche-powered special: the Mong/Bobsy. Soon an enclosed trailer was purchased to haul his precious cargo.

Whatever Porsche was being piloted, Miller had to take the hill on in the same way.

He is working with 75hp, so the momentum has to be kept up. At times he’d be flat out at 5,500 to 6,000 rpm in third gear and would have the urge to make that shift to fourth, but the hill wouldn’t allow it—he’d bog down. To keep his speed up on the tight uphill turns, he’d late apex to stay to the outside of the road, but not so far as when the back end swings out—you go off! Tire pressure has to be down around 20 lbs. to keep the coupe from getting airborne on the bumpy surface.

 

 

The rear-engined layout is a Godsend on the uphill turns, as the weight is right over the drive wheels—your traction is always there. It becomes a great equalizer when the V8 cars with more than four times the horsepower are sliding through the turns, spinning their wheels, trying to keep the power to the ground as they climb the mountain. The nimble, lightweight Porsche can flow through the turns and change direction with ease.

 

 

So a 356 Porsche is definitely Tom’s weapon of choice on Equinox—and he, like many others, will agree: “There is no substitute!

 

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