It’s Sunday lunchtime at the Goodwood Members’ Meeting. The rain has held off, but a freezing wind bites into every exposed piece of flesh. My lips turn blue and fingers fall numb. But no matter, I’m about to interview a gentleman who once worked with Phil Hill – a racer who fascinates me greatly. Often introspective and nervous out of the cockpit, his character transformed when sat behind the wheel. For most, the fury of the racing machine creates tension; Phil’s calm driving style suggested it had the opposite effect.
I regret never having the chance to meet Hill, but the man I’m about to speak to worked for him and thought of hearing his tales warms me to the core. My guest arrives and we squirrel ourselves away in the corner of the media centre.
“I put myself through graduate school working in Phil’s restoration shop,” says my guest. “I worked for about three months as a janitor, but I could sew so he allowed me to start working on the cars. I was an interior man. Then two years later I was one of his team at a place called Hill and Vaughn.”
Hill and Vaughn was a restoration workshop established by Hill and Ken Vaughn in 1968 after the driver retired from racing – but Hill’s interest in historic cars and automotive history did not begin here. Some 13 years earlier, in 1955, he had entered a 1931 Pierce-Arrow 41 LeBaron Cabriolet in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance – and much to his surprise won the prestigious accolade. With his racing career taking off, Phil found the time to restore the car himself; it was the first pre-war automobile to win the event outright.
“Hill started restoring and racing at the same time,” continues my guest. “He was the only guy to win the Pebble Beach concours and the Pebble Beach race the same year – so he was a real true car guy in my eyes. He was also very eclectic, loved the opera, spoke fluent Italian and was absolutely an incredible mechanic.
“He was a great boss, too. I learnt more about cars in those two years than I have in the remaining 35 working in the car industry. I learned everything about how to look at the car, how to evaluate a production car just from those two years. And actually, half of the employees – three, because there were only six of us – were illegal immigrants from England.”
Outside the media centre we hear another race get under way, and my guest smiles. He’ll be putting on his race suit soon and heading out in his Ford GT40 for the Surtees Trophy. I ask if he has any other cars tucked away.
“I have a few others. I have a Mustang 350R, the latest one, and then I’ll get the new Ford GT. I have the GT40, a Lola T298, that’s a 1979 model. I have a 1990 Trans-Am Mustang. Great car, 800 horsepower, sequential non-clutch gearbox, proper racer. Power steering, which is kind of weird. I also have a 1932 Ford that took me about eight years to build and that was probably my true passion project, other than the GT40.”
If you can detect a Ford theme, it’s because my guest is James ‘Jim’ D Farley Jr – the firm’s executive vice-president and president, Europe, Middle East and Africa. From an inauspicious start in the motoring industry as a janitor at Hill and Vaughn, the American now manages three key territories for Ford. To put that into numbers, in 2016 Farley oversaw a profit of $1.2bn for Ford’s European division, the best in its history. But what makes Farley unique is his broad interest in all aspects of automotive culture; it’s no wonder he speaks so fondly of Phil Hill.
In the last few years, he’s been able to satisfy his inner car enthusiast by bringing the Ford Focus RS hot hatch and the GT supercar to his markets – not least introducing the Mustang to Europe for the very first time. But the next challenge for Jim couldn’t be further removed from the trim shop at Hill and Vaughn: autonomous driving.
You may be reaching for the next page at the mention of ‘autonomous’, but it’s worth hearing Jim’s thoughts on the subject. I don’t know about you, but if I could pick a working group to tackle the biggest shift in the history of the automobile – and arguably the biggest shift in transportation – I’d want one of the panel to know what it’s like to wring the neck of a Lola T298…
“All of us, even enthusiasts, have times when we just want to go to the airport and we don’t really enjoy driving that much. We want to hit that switch, just get there and call an Uber. Even if you love driving and it’s like your passion, you have your favourite on-ramp or off-ramp or your favourite road. There’s definitely going to be 10-20 per cent of your life when you just want to get from A to B.
“Autonomy is going to be really important for that part of our life. That experience is actually going to be even more important for the enthusiast group, because they will have an opportunity to have a full autonomous experience and driving will be a bit of an escape.” Curiously, Jim finds a parallel in media – “I remember when VHS came out and everyone said
‘movie theatres are going to die’. But movie theatres have done nothing but move upscale.
“In my opinion there is going to be a very robust market for performance cars. They may not be your everyday transport, but many of them aren’t anyway. People will still want to put the top down and go for a road trip, they’re still going to want to do track days or go out with their mates and have fun. I don’t see it being as affected as maybe our mainstream Fiesta or Focus business could be.”
Does Farley believe that people like you and I will be ostracised because of their love of driving? “No, I don’t think there’s a risk. I hate to be so black and white about it, but I do think that we’re going to find places, we’re going to find ways. Will we have to convert some of our cars to electric? Are we going to have to make adjustments? You betcha. We made adjustments with unleaded fuel.
“Frankly the biggest thing I worry about with our hobby, not only in terms of enjoying modern cars but also old stuff, is craftsmanship. Where are we going to find people to do this work? Look at England. I don’t think there’s a country on the planet that has more skilled craftsmen dedicated to very narrow capabilities to keep pre-war Bentleys going. From F1 technology all the way to Edwardian experts – there’s no other place. How are we going to keep the people in their 30s or 40s wanting to do that for their living?
“I’m more concerned about this because I think we have an emotional connection with cars – no matter what people say about the millennials – that is fundamental, because it is personal freedom.” A sentiment, I’d imagine, with which Phil Hill would heartily agree.
A little plug to finish. We have created a new Motor Sport ‘issue commentary’ podcast in which key people on the editorial team describe the stories behind the stories you see on the page. It’s a fascinating listen (even if I do say so myself), particularly if you hear it with the magazine open in front of you. Go to motorsportmagazine.com to find out more.