Early autumn in the high peaks of the Adirondacks is about as perfect a time as one can imagine for a wee motoring adventure. Thus we accepted the invitation to take the J2 Allard north for the 7th annual Keene Mountain Hillclimb reunion in Keene, New York. Keene is just a long stone's throw from Lake Placid. In the early days of the event, which ran from 1950 to 1966, Allards and Allard personalities figured large. More on that later.
We motored up on Friday the 19th in beautiful sunny weather. While only late September, the high peaks were already sporting the first blush of autumn's colors. It was lovely.
Meeting at Marcy Field in Keene, a tiny grass airstrip snuggled within the mountains, we had the warmest of greetings from the organizers, Mike and Ann Hartson, who could not have been more welcoming. They created this reunion seven years ago and are credited with keeping it and the memory of the hillclimb alive.
The Keene Hillclimbs were a fixture in the early days of postwar sports car competitions in the northeast of the USA but, perhaps oddly enough, they didn't actually begin with the SCCA. In those days around New York there were several clubs that vied for prominence. The SCCA was one of them and it ultimately succeeded. Another was the Motor Sports Club of America (MSCA). Also founded and centered in New York, it is said that the Motor Sports Club may have been for folks who either weren't welcome in the SCCA or at least didn't feel welcome. There's a fair bit of controversy there to this day so we'll leave that discussion alone for now. Suffice to say that Keene was first a fixture of the Motor Sports Club.
By the early fifties the Motor Sports Club was well established with its signature event, the "Great American Mountain Rally." It started in Manhattan or in Poughkeepsie, NY, and ran up into the Adirondacks or into the Green Mountains of Vermont. One of the usual stops was the Mountain House at Keene and a hillclimb took place there. Later the hillclimb became a standalone event.
Nowadays the hillclimb reunion is a gathering of enthusiasts with appropriate cars from the entire span of the event. Some of the original drivers come as well, though their number is dwindling. There are three or four runs up the hill, but it is no longer a speed event. For one thing, one might meet traffic coming down. That experience could prove interesting, but not too pleasant for the soccer mom motoring down the hill. That being the case, we took out the rollover bar and popped on the head rest fairing. Instead of full face Bell helmet we took along a period cork-lined leather one. Nomex was forsaken in favor of an old leather flying jacket and a pair of old fashioned driving gloves. The Allard and yrs trly looked the part.
The hill at Keene is one and one half miles long with eight twisting turns and a "thank-you-m'am" bridge. The grade ranges from almost nil to as steep as 18 percent and rises 800 feet from the starting line to finish. The bridge has since been replaced with something more driver friendly. Otherwise, the course is as it was fifty years ago.
In the 1954 event Erwin Goldschmidt won handily in his 4.5 liter Ferrari. He may have driven an Allard in an earlier event but hadn't won.
In 1952 the only Allards competing were a K2 driven by one John Bye of Montclair, New Jersey and a J2 driven by Fred Nemith of Troy, New York. Nemith finished fifth overall. As one would expect, there were a number of J2's and J2X's figuring in the results over the years, but, at Keene, the most successful Allard driver of them all was the late Bob Bucher in his ex-Goldschmidt JR, known as "Big Jake." Big Jake was caddie powered and was likely the most successful of all of the JRs when they were new. (Yes, a case can and should be made for the one Sidney used in the UK for hillclimbs and some circuit races.) When Bucher drove it the paint was still what I believe it had been for Goldschmidt, dark red with a white and blue band around the grill opening. Near the end of its career it had a fairly low full width rollover bar and may have been repainted a brighter red. Bucher turned in FTDs in '56, '57 and '58, setting new course records every year. He was quite a driver.
By '66 the event was finished due to the town finally getting tired of the noise and the folks who lived along the road complaining that they couldn't get in and out of their driveways while it was going on.
The organizers would seem to have unlimited enthusiasm so the 8th reunion taking place next autumn must be considered a forgone conclusion. We rather expect to be there. Even more Allards would be a pleasant addition.