Friday, February 24, 2017

Penske brings back ‘Blue Hilton’

Team Penske sold the Blue Hilton in 1983 to George Boyd of
Urbana, Ill., who used it for years to haul his own racecars
before he retired the vehicle to a spot in his yard
It’s hard to believe there was ever a day when having a purpose-built truck haul a racecar from track to track wasn’t standard operating procedure. But back in the early 1970s, the concept was pioneered by Penske Racing. Now one of the pioneering transport vehicles is getting its moment in Victory Lane.

Team Penske is one of the most decorated racing teams in the world, with its cars and drivers having captured more than 440 wins in stock car, open wheel, and sports car racing competitions. The original “Blue Hilton,” a customized 1972 International Fleetstar, was thought to be lost to history’s scrapyard. Turns out, it was just in retirement in a yard in Urbana, Ill.

The transporter helped change the landscape of auto racing, serving as a precursor to today’s impressive closed transporters that carry cars, parts and equipment to race tracks all over the globe, according to a news release from Team Penske. Designed by champion racecar driver Mark Donohue, the payload area of the truck was based on efficiency and functionality. The “Blue Hilton” nickname came from its royal blue exterior and the sleeper area above the cab, now a standard feature in today’s transporters.
The fully restored Blue Hilton is on display at the Team Penske
headquarters in Mooresville, N.C.

The folks at Team Penske spent over 8,000 man-hours restoring it to mint condition, just in time for team owner Roger Penske’s 80th birthday on Feb. 20. The restoration is “complete down to the smallest detail, including authentic PPG paint and hand lettering,” according to a news release from Team Penske.

In its heyday, the Blue Hilton served the race team from 1972 to 1983, and transported the No. 66 McLaren that Donohue drove to victory in the 1972 Indianapolis 500 – the first of the Penske team’s record 16 wins in auto racing’s premier event. In conjunction with its sister transporter, “The White Hilton,” it was also used to transport the championship-winning Porsche 917s that dominated the landscape of the Can-Am Series in the early 1970s with Donohue and George Follmer.

After being sold in 1983, the Blue Hilton continued to serve as a racecar hauler for its new owner, George Boyd. In fall 2015, Boyd listed the rig for sale in an automotive trade magazine where it was spotted by longtime Penske team member Jerry Breon.

“After we confirmed that it was, in fact, the Blue Hilton that was for sale, I called Brian Hard (president of Penske Truck Leasing), and we agreed that we had to find a way to bring her back to life,” Tim Cindric, Team Penske president said in a news release. “This transporter was there when the foundation was laid for Team Penske, and it is symbolic of the way in which we operate today. Everyone at PTL did an unbelievable job restoring this vehicle. I can’t wait for Roger to see it in person, as it is something he will cherish.”

After verification and removal from the Boyd property, the Blue Hilton was towed to the Penske Truck Leasing Collision Center in Fort Wayne, Ind. where the restoration began with the help of Donohue’s original blueprints.

“When you talk with the crew members that drove and worked out of this transporter over those years, and you look at the photos from the many cars it carried, you see how the Blue Hilton was an integral part of our history,” Team Penske historian Bernie King said. “It’s certainly very much a part of the Team Penske heritage. Everyone at Penske Truck Leasing that was involved did a fantastic job of restoring this truck to how it was when it ran and carried many of the team’s winning cars.”

Team Penske says for now the Blue Hilton will be on display at team headquarters in Mooresville, N.C., where fans can view it from the Fan Walk that runs the length of the shop floor.