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Quality of Hill and Vaughn Restorations


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Hi -- Just curious if anyone is familiar with the quality of Hill and Vaughn restorations of Los Angeles, back when Phil Hill was around.

Did they pay good attention to the engine and mechanical aspects of a car to make it the best possible driving car. . . . or did they mostly concentrate on cosmetic restorations only, making the car pretty but leaving the mechanics pretty much alone?

From my experience, many professional restorations done in the earlier days paid very little attention to the engine. Tom Hubbard who did Franklin restorations for Bill Harrah was like that. This is why "older restorations" usually need to have the engine rebuilt for the fist time. My 1926 Packard was that way, too. Restored in the 1970's, but nothing done to the engine. I had to rebuild just about every mechanical aspect of the car. But I have no regrets. It just makes one cautious when buying a "fully restored car" and paying a price which should reflect that.

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Scott--I had experience with a 1941 Packard 120 woody wagon that Hill and Vaughn restored, frame up. It was a superb restoration in most every way. If I were to be critical of one thing, it woluld be the paint, the customer specified that Nitrocellulose Lacquer be used, and it did not age well, the only way we could get the car to shine up for a show was to use Pledge furniture polish, that would keep for a couple of weeks, then go dull again. I don't think that all Nitrocellulose Lacquer behaves this way, but the paint on this car did.

A word about restorations, restorers and customers: There are many great shops out there that do a fantastic job, and several that have earned a great reputation of making beautiful cars that drive well. Having said that, I have to go on record to say that a restoration shop does what the customer tells them to do. It isn't very often that a customer hands a car over to a shop and says "make it perfect, call me when it's done".

What can happen is that a customer gives the car over, pays his monthly bills on time, the shop starts doing some very good work, the powertrain and body start right away. Some (not all, some) body men will keep working until "it is perfect". I have seen cars where the engine , transmission and chassis were completed and the body was somewhere inbetween started and completed and the bills have added up to what the owner envisioned the total bill for the completed car will be, and sometimes the owner can not keep going, or can't keep going at this pace or grade of quality, and there is lots to be done yet. Some body men can really play the clock out, because "you want it perfect, don't you". Other times, in their defense, decay is discovered when the paint comes off that was not seen before, and that means more time = more $$$$.

I have seen cars done "for auction" which is a different criteria than a car that an owner wants to drive and enjoy for the rest of his life. Walk around the big auction on Labor day in the Hoosier state and you will see a lot of that going on.

I have seen cosmetically beautiful cars that you would be hard pressed to drive 5 miles in, I have seen kind of rough looking cars that drove beautifully, reliable as the day is long. I have seen restored cars with wavy body panels, orange peeled paint but ran like a top, I have seen cars on a Concours field with a flawless body, paint, chrome and interior that leave a blue cloud where ever they chug--I mean run.

Back in the 60s and 70s those engines had fewer hours on them, and as long as they ran that was good enough. A 1932 car, in 1972 was almost half the age it is now. There weren't as many parts being replicated back then, some engines you only rebuilt if you absolutely had to back then. Today we wouldn't think twice. I noticed the standards of restoration take a giant leap in the 1980s, a trend concurrent with the rise in resale values of cars, especially "Full Classics" , although I know of several "Full Classics" that were painted 1965 Ford Robin's egg blue in 1965 and are running on a tired engine.

The 1941 120 wagon had a completely rebuilt engine and trans, and drove like a brand new car, beautifully.

Edited by mrpushbutton (see edit history)
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Phil Hill was a Packard man from way back and had a couple of them from the teens that were in the family from new.

He DROVE his own cars at high speeds when he wanted to. As a professional racing driver he knew what it took for an old car to be capable of hard use.

So I would say a Hill and Vaughan restoration COULD be tip top in both appearance and performance. But as MrPushbutton points out, a lot depends on what the customer wants and is willing to pay for.

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The problem with the nitro lacquer stems from the fact that it oxidises easily. In the old days it was standard practice to polish the car then wax it. Polish would restore the shine but if not protected by wax it would get dull in a week or 2.

A good Simoniz job would last for a month or maybe 2 or 3 months depending if the car was stored in a garage, how it was washed and so forth. But it would need to be polished and waxed again regularly if it was to keep its shine.

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  • 10 months later...

Hi Scott

Just wandering around the web tonight and saw your question related to Hill & Vaughn.

As MrPushButton outlined, the degree of the restoration was largely set by the customer. Sometimes a restoration was determined by the initial condition of the car. Do less and maintain the original beauty.

I worked for Hill & Vaughn while in High School and a couple years in College, 1974 - 1979. I have always considered this a fortunate opportunity. As an impressionable High School kid, I learned how to work in a precise and complete manner. Hill & Vaughn set very high standards in work, they maintained an ideal of "doing things right" and never considered work which was "good enough".

As Rusty points out, original, older style automotive finishes do require care. That Hill & Vaughn finish required time to achieve, I know from first hand experience. While I haven't seen a Hill & Vaughn restoration in years, it is no surprise that they would require time and care to maintain.

Phil was no less then meticulous, ensuring every restored engine ran with the precision of a watch. It was his passion and I don't think he could have done anything different.

As a side note, I spent many hours after work helping Phil make the above mentioned running boards. It was challenging work, still we had refined the process to an art form.

Time to call it a night. Thanks for the chance to walk down memory lane.

Brett

Edited by hsbrett (see edit history)
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  • 3 years later...

Scott:

I know this post is old, but I did want to throw in my 2 cents.

I can attest first hand to the quality of Hill and Vaughn restorations. I am the proud owner of a 1935 Cadillac V-12 Town Cabriolet that was one of the first cars Hill and Vaughn did that was not their own. It came out of the shop in 1977 in time be shown at Pebble Beach. The engine is almost dead silent. She cruised quietly and smoothly, and shifts like butter.

It was painted in nitrocellulose lacquer in 1976, and has not been repainted except to touch up a few small chips. I have attached a couple of pictures. The secret has been to never touch the paint, keep it clean and waxed and it is kept in a temperature controlled garage.

My late wife and I rode out of the Hill and Vaughn shop when it was first completed, and across the awards stand at Pebble when it won first in class and most elegant. Ironically, it lost Best of Show to Phil Hill's Purple Murphy Packard! That Packard was up for auction at Pebble in 2008(?). It looked shabby and heavily oxidized.

I would not normally own a car like this, but Jack Frank, the man who had it restored, is a very good friend and I have had close personal ties to the car for many years. When Jack said he had to part with it, we were able to work a deal to keep it in the family. We do drive it, but not much.......there are a lot of "crazies" on the road who don't realize that it takes a country mile to stop a 6,500 lb car with drum brakes:rolleyes:

We have a few other cars we drive and tour regularly, three of which we ran in The Great Race--A 1941 Packard Coupe, a 1956 Thunderbird (my wife's high school car), and our current 1931 Buick Speedster.

Did Hill and Vaughn do good work? If our car is an example, You Betcha'!

Pat

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Edited by Pat_n_Pat
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Just a quick follow-up to the above post. I have no knowledge about the quality of Hill and Vaughn restorations after they sold the business in the mid 1980's. As a side bar, Ken Vaughn's son, Glenn, runs a restoration business in Post Falls, ID. Glenn was the "lead" and did much of the work on our Cadillac; he is well respected for maintaining the traditions set by Hill and Vaughn.

Pat

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  • 1 month later...
Just a quick follow-up to the above post. I have no knowledge about the quality of Hill and Vaughn restorations after they sold the business in the mid 1980's. As a side bar, Ken Vaughn's son, Glenn, runs a restoration business in Post Falls, ID. Glenn was the "lead" and did much of the work on our Cadillac; he is well respected for maintaining the traditions set by Hill and Vaughn.

Pat

It's a Hill & Vaughn reunion around here . . . I worked with Glenn, Ken, and Phil, briefly from 1980 through 1983 at Hill & Vaughn. I can attest to the emphasis Phil placed upon mechanical functionality. He placed his life in the hands of mechanical parts under great stress at high speeds. He communed deeply with cars with an organic comprehension of the interplay between individual parts and the whole, just like he could dissect a symphony with great aural precision.

Many customers hoped to economize where you could not see the parts. Phil darkened noticeably at such moments. We employees knew that nothing was going to escape his eye. I can still hear his voice almost squeaking, " what? what? you think this can go out the door sounding like THAT?"

As mentioned further up, he did not baby mechanical conveyances. Once he knew that they were correctly assembled, adjusted, and happy, he extracted all that the Laws of Physics offered, and then some. The most terrifying ride of my life was in his 1931 4.5 Blower Bentley down Topanga Canyon Road to the PCH. Just a sheer terror. Down at the stop light, he looked over at me with a little smirk, "it's like trampolining on a wooden ladder, huh?"

Colin

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  • 9 months later...

Colin:

You are absolutely correct that Phil (and Ken) would not let anything go through as "good enough". Mechanics were as (if not more) important than fancy looks.

Our '35 Cadillac won most elegant and first in class in 1997 at Pebble Beach. No mean feat, but expected for a Hill & Vaughn restoration. Our friend returned to Pebble in 1993, taking second in class with the same car; same restoration. We were honored to be invited to present the car again at Pebble Beach last August. Just to be selected as one of approximately 175 cars from around the world is a huge honor. The fact that we took third in class was way beyond anything we had expected from a 37 year old restoration (and yes, the same nitrocellulose lacquer paint from 1977).

How important were mechanicals to Hill & Vaughn? The Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance is a grueling driving event meant to test cars. In the event of a tie in class at the Concours, the Tour would be the tie breaker, giving the award to the car that successfully completed the drive.

I do not know exactly how many miles the tour covered, but it was approximately 90 miles and was designed to test car endurance. There were many VERY steep hills and twisty-turny mountain roads. Many cars broke down and/or overheated. On more than one long, steep hill we had to weave in and out cars stranded on the hill. I did have to slip the clutch a few times, but only to dodge stalled cars. Our '35 Cadillac performed perfectly and never skipped a beat!

Pat

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Hi Pat

I think it was 2011, the Petersen Museum featured Phil Hill. A few cars which were restored by Phil Hill, and Hill and Vaughn were on exhibit. The 1931 Pierce Arrow, 1927 Packard Murphy and the 1912 Packard. The Packard Murphy on display was in near pristine condition. Although I think it had just been sold and was on loan for the exhibit.

I remember the Packard Murphy as I was working for Hill and Vaughn when the restoration began. Many of the parts were in the rafters of Phil Hill's garage. One day he decided it was time to take them down and begin the restoration. I was amazed that the parts of the Packard seemed to materialize from the rafters and many other corners of his garage. I'll always remember the Packard Murphy as I had prepped the cane which was used on the doors. I also remember Phil selecting two very nice pieces of dark Cherry Wood for the running boards. Another detail was the aluminum trim on the running boards and the trick Phil used to fabricate them.

If you want an example of the degree to which Phil Hill restored an engine. One night after making running boards, Phil started the 1912 Packard. Not by cranking it as you would expect. He primed the engine with a couple slow revolutions, then applied spark to the coils while advancing the timing. It started right away. The impressive bit was when he reduced the idle so much that the engine was firing once per second.

I remember the 1935 Cadillac V-12 Town Cabriolet when it was in restoration with Hill and Vaughn. From the eyes of a High School kid, it was just amazing to experience such elegance. This was in the early days when Hill and Vaughn was in the Second Street location in Santa Monica.

There has been talk of the paint and finish, also of the mechanical restoration. Seems fair to mention Joe Maggio, the Hill and Vaughn trimmer. His expertise and attention to detail was to the interior as the paint was to the exterior. A great Guy who graciously reupholstered the seat of my Honda SL100 motorcycle for the trade of installing garden lights at his house.

I started Hill and Vaughn as the second employee, until Bob Mosier left. Bob did return sometime later and eventually left again to start his own business. Working for Hill and Vaughn was a great experience, Phil was a father figure of sorts and instilled a degree of precision and mechanical understanding in me that I may not have learned otherwise.

I don't know if Bob Mosier ever knew we did this. He used to listen to Country Western music while in the paint booth. The sound would echo all over the Garage. About then I was starting to design digital TTL circuitry. A simple 555 timer oscillator made the perfect jammer for AM radio. While Bob was in the paint booth, the rest of the employees were gathered around the jammer blocking each Country Western station until Bob finally turned off the AM radio.

It was this background in electronics which lead to a great opportunity. We had a 1913 Broc Electric in for restoration work. A new mechanic was tasked with replacing the battery cables on the 5 speed commutator box. The correct wiring was lost and I was tasked to sort it out. Working with 84 volts and several hundred amps can make a phillips screw driver disappear in your hands. There were still a few electric motor shops around with some knowledge of how the old motors were meant to function. I would like to think it went just a little bit faster after I had restored the wiring. And, no it did not receive CB radio as many speculated it might. (However the company intercom system, which I installed, occasionally did receive CB radio as someone with a linear amplifier drove by.)

Ken Vaughn's son Glenn had moved from Alaska to the area and started working for Hill and Vaughn. Glenn was also a flight instructor. He provided flight instruction in trade for my helping him work on his house. Today that instruction is mostly applied in piloting a Cessna 205 on adventures around California.

When I left Hill and Vaughn, to take a job at Cal Tech for the Summer before starting school at the University of Santa Barbara, I suggested that time card number 1 be retired for my years of service. Not that I was serious. I knew it was a funny joke as Glenn was time card number 2 and was looking forward to finally having the number 1 slot.

I hope in sharing these stories the reader might draw the conclusion that while Hill and Vaughn was

renowned for automobile restoration, there was an environment which fostered personal growth which many of the employees carry with them even today. A legacy with many facets which will not be forgotten.

Brett

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Hi Pat

I remember the Packard Murphy as I had prepped the cane

I started Hill and Vaughn as the second employee, I hope in sharing these stories the reader might draw the conclusion that while Hill and Vaughn was renowned for automobile restoration, there was an environment which fostered personal growth which many of the employees carry with them even today. A legacy with many facets which will not be forgotten.

Brett

I'll name drop, I am Phil's nephew (sister's son) who worked at at Hill & Vaughn for three years from 1980-1983. The cane work on the 27 Packard Murphy was gorgeous.

We lost much in Phil's passing. Battled I-10 into work one morning to lunge at the aforementioned time clock with my card, only to see a piece of paper scotch-taped to it. Phil's 3rd grade report card. Comments: "fools around in class" "does not pay attention" "not working to his potential".

Scrawled in red ink underneath "see, you too can become boss one day".

Colin

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Hi Colin,

I must have missed you by a year as I left in 1979. I visited the new garage on 7th? briefly, and was part of the celebration moving the automobiles from 2nd street to the new place. I was the driver of the Broc Electric for the day. We were giving rides to people as part of the move. Great fun!

Cheers,

Brett

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Hi Colin,

I must have missed you by a year as I left in 1979. I visited the new garage on 7th? briefly, and was part of the celebration moving the automobiles from 2nd street to the new place. I was the driver of the Broc Electric for the day. We were giving rides to people as part of the move. Great fun!

Cheers,

Brett

Lincoln Blvd!

Phil and Ken would have lunch almost everyday at Norms next door.

The Broc was a great car, so was the 1903 Baker, steered by a tiller, driver sat in the back seat and had to look out of the bevelled front windows through the passengers. Gorgeously turned out interior if not the most ergonomic . . .

Colin

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Hi -- Just curious if anyone is familiar with the quality of Hill and Vaughn restorations of Los Angeles, back when Phil Hill was around.

Hello, Just wanted to add that I worked as a mechanic at Hill and Vaughn for a year and a half, 1992 -1993 and the quality of the restorations were on par with the earlier years. Phil had an office and a stall in the shop and even though he wasn't the owner at that time, we sought his opinions on all things mechanical when we had questions and he was always happy to oblige and just as concerned about the quality of the work that left the shop as ever. His name was still on the marquee and he wanted to protect his excellent reputation I'm sure. I did a lot of work to a 1919 Locomobile just out of long term storage and rode along for the road test with Phil driving. He put the "beast" through it's paces and pronounced it fit. I still keep that feather in my hat!

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Hi -- Just curious if anyone is familiar with the quality of Hill and Vaughn restorations of Los Angeles, back when Phil Hill was around.

Hello, Just wanted to add that I worked as a mechanic at Hill and Vaughn for a year and a half, 1992 -1993 and the quality of the restorations were on par with the earlier years. Phil had an office and a stall in the shop and even though he wasn't the owner at that time, we sought his opinions on all things mechanical when we had questions and he was always happy to oblige and just as concerned about the quality of the work that left the shop as ever. His name was still on the marquee and he wanted to protect his excellent reputation I'm sure. I did a lot of work to a 1919 Locomobile just out of long term storage and rode along for the road test with Phil driving. He put the "beast" through it's paces and pronounced it fit. I still keep that feather in my hat!

Was that his Locomobile or a customer's car? He had one up at his garage with some huge friggen flywheel and leather cone clutch spinning just below the removed center floorboard. If it was, or became his car, we stuck in some trick little flat roller-bearing thrust washers in the steering knuckles in 2002, and improved the steering experience enormously. He was so loath to let me drive the thing on San Vicente up to Brentwood Blvd? and back down Sunset, because he was afraid I would not be able to properly double-clutch downshift with those pedals all ass-backwards and the main brake being on the outside. I did fine, PHIL, but it was terrifying being surrounded by hordes of little Hondas darting about, their drivers had no idea of just how powerful of a kinetic bomb was filling their rearview mirror.

He asked me to follow him home one night. He was in the 1917 Packard Twin-Six, I was in the maroon Mercedes 6.3. He thoroughly outdrove me. "I like the shocks on this thing," he said nonchalantly when I pulled in several minutes later.

Colin

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Was that his Locomobile or a customer's car? He had one up at his garage with some huge friggen flywheel and leather cone clutch spinning just below the removed center floorboard. If it was, or became his car, we stuck in some trick little flat roller-bearing thrust washers in the steering knuckles in 2002, and improved the steering experience enormously. He was so loath to let me drive the thing on San Vicente up to Brentwood Blvd? and back down Sunset, because he was afraid I would not be able to properly double-clutch downshift with those pedals all ass-backwards and the main brake being on the outside. I did fine, PHIL, but it was terrifying being surrounded by hordes of little Hondas darting about, their drivers had no idea of just how powerful of a kinetic bomb was filling their rearview mirror.

He asked me to follow him home one night. He was in the 1917 Packard Twin-Six, I was in the maroon Mercedes 6.3. He thoroughly outdrove me. "I like the shocks on this thing," he said nonchalantly when I pulled in several minutes later.

Colin

Hi Colin, I remember his gray 1925 Locomobile. The one I serviced was sort of creme color with black fenders/chassis and a customer car at that time. Some years later I heard that it became Phil's. I think it belonged to the Pond family. Great story regarding your stint behind the wheel! The '19 steered like all 4 tires were flat. I know what you mean about the little Hondas darting about. I once delivered Nic Cage's '37 or '38 Bugatti Atalante coupe to the Santa Monica Airport from his house. The thing wanted to stall so you were very busy with the gas pedal, clutch, brake and add in right hand drive. Going down Sunset was no problem but it got a little crazy on the 405 to the 10 with almost no visibility, trying to change lanes in stop & go traffic and people slowing down to gawk and not allowing any room. Not long afterwards it sold for over $800,00 - hence the white knuckles and sweaty palms. Jerry

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