The restored 1972 International Fleetstar Blue Hilton transporter. Photos courtesy Team Penske.
In 1972, Team Penske debuted an enclosed race car transporter that served as storage, garage and even living space at a time when most teams still relied upon open trucks or trailers to ship cars and spares from race to race. Sold in 1983, the Blue Hilton (named for its forward bunk space) was recently rediscovered by the Penske organization and restored to as-new condition in time for Roger Penske’s 80th birthday.
Beginning with a 1972 International Fleetstar 2110A chassis powered by a 257-horsepower, 549-cu.in. gasoline V-8, engineer and star racing driver Mark Donohue drew up plans for a rig capable of hauling the team’s Indy Cars as well as its Can-Am Porsches. Inside, there was space for two cars (a primary and a back-up), as well as storage for spares, tools and any other supplies needed on race weekends. Exterior doors allowed easy access to storage, and the above-cab bunk, accessed via a hatch in the cab, gave drivers and crew of average or below height and build a place to rest as the schedule allowed. A sister rig, the White Hilton, also handled hauling duties for the team.
The Blue Hilton, circa 1973.
The Blue Hilton hauled Donohue’s 1972 Indianapolis 500-winning McLaren M16B, and also carried the Penske Porsche 917/10s that dominated the Can-Am series in 1972 and ’73. The Blue Hilton remained with the team through 1982, and, in 1983, was sold to George Boyd of Urbana, Illinois, who continued to use it as a race car transporter, using tape to mask the Penske Racing lettering on the doors.
Then, the rig dropped off the radar. For years, Penske Racing assumed it had been scrapped, but no one thought to give Boyd a call. In late 2015, Penske’s Jerry Breon came across an ad for the truck in a trade magazine, and a few phone calls soon had Penske employees convinced of its authenticity. The Blue Hilton had never been sold to a third owner; after Boyd was done with the hauler, it was simply parked on his property and forgotten.
As found on George Boyd’s property.
Team Penske president Tim Cindric placed a call to Brian Hard, president and CEO of Penske Truck Leasing, and both agreed that the rig needed to be purchased and restored. Penske Truck Leasing would tackle the work from its Fort Wayne, Indiana, Collision Repair Center, with a string of volunteers, help from truck body manufacturer Morgan Corporation, and guidance from Team Penske historian Bernie King. Mark Donohue’s engineering drawings aided the restoration, and PPG paint true to the original shade (plus hand-lettered signage) ensured that the work was as accurate as possible.
As Penske Truck Leasing’s James Svaasand explained to us, Morgan was able to supply many of the original extrusions used in building the box section. One Morgan employee had been with the company when the Blue Hilton was constructed in 1972, and provided invaluable advice during the rig’s restoration. While the aluminum skin of the box section appeared well-preserved, much of the internal steel structure had corroded after decades parked in an Illinois field.
Restoration of the box area.
Of the truck’s significance to the team, Cindric said in a press 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.” Additionally, the Blue Hilton predicted the rise of today’s multi-functional team transporters, which serve as a base of operations for mechanics, engineers, drivers, technicians and public relations staff, at least when they’re not hauling cars, spares and equipment from race to race.
The team achieved its goal of completing the Blue Hilton’s restoration in time for Penske’s birthday on February 20, 2017, though it isn’t clear if “The Captain” has seen the restored rig in person yet. For the time being, it will remain on display at Team Penske’s headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina, visible from the shop’s fan walk.