Hard to believe there was a day when having a purpose-built truck haul a racecar around wasn’t standard operating procedure. Yet back in the early 1970s, Penske Racing pioneered the concept. Now one of the pioneering transport vehicles is getting its moment in Victory Lane.
One of the most decorated racing teams in the world, Team Penske has captured more than 440 wins in open wheel, stock and sports car competitions. The original “Blue Hilton,” a customized 1972 International Fleetstar, was thought lost to history’s scrapyard. Turns out, it was just in retirement in a yard in Urbana, Ill.
The transporter helped change the auto racing landscape, serving as a precursor to today’s impressive rigs that carry cars, parts and equipment to tracks worldwide. Designed by champion racecar driver Mark Donohue, the payload area was a mix of efficiency and functionality. The nickname came from its royal blue exterior and the sleeper above the cab, now a standard feature in transporters.
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. That Indy 500 was the first of Penske’s record 16 wins in auto racing’s premier event. Along with its sister transporter, “The White Hilton,” it hauled the championship-winning Porsche 917s that dominated the landscape of the Can-Am Series in the 1970s. Team Penske spent over 8,000 man-hours restoring it to mint condition, in time for 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,” Team Penske says.
While sold in 1983, the Blue Hilton continued hauling racecars for its new owner, George Boyd. Boyd listed it for sale in an automotive magazine in 2015. The listing caught the eye of longtime Penske employee Jerry Breon.
“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 removal from Boyd’s property, the rig was towed to the Penske Truck Leasing Collision Center in Fort Wayne, Ind. Team Penske began a total overhaul 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.”
Team Penske says for now the Blue Hilton will be on display at team headquarters in Mooresville, N.C. Fans can view it from the Fan Walk that runs the length of the shop floor.
Greg Grisolano, associate editor, joined Land Line in 2013. His passion is finding and telling compelling stories about the people who make up the trucking industry. Greg is a graduate of Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kan.