January 26, 2023


Still car-crazy after all these years

Garth Hill and the Hard Times Altered

Garth Hill in the Hard Times at Milan

Garth Hill’s Hard Times at Milan

Garth Hill’s Hard Times at Milan

Garth Hill’s Hard Times isn’t a fuel car, but I don’t care. To my mind, this image symbolizes what old-time drag racing was all about.

According to some reports, this T-Bucket belonged to Lee Bontrager and Sam Hill. However, the lettering on the side reads “Garth Hill’s Hard Times.” I choose to believe what it says on the car.

I like everything about this scene, which occurred countless times at drag strips across the country.

Garth Hill’s Hard Times: A timeless Drag Racing scene

The low angle draws me into the old-school T-Bucket. At first glance, I appreciate the straight axle supported by coil overs, the moon tank in the grill shell, and the massive rat motor with sky-high injector tubes.

My eye travels past the engine to the figure in the cockpit, who I assume is Hill. He is enclosed by a classic roll bar while his beard and western hat indicate a jaunty, confident demeanor.

You can almost hear Hill wack the throttle while the crew chief listens carefully to the thunder from those open headers.

We’re in the pits at Milan Dragway in 1975, although it easily could be a scene from the 1950s. Okay, I know they didn’t have rat motors in the fifties, but you know what I mean.

The open-cockpit hot rod had become scarce by that time. Once a mainstay, competition roadsters slowly faded away, replaced by pony cars and late-model sedans.

Thankfully, Hill and a handful of others were around to keep the competition altered candle burning.

Steel or Fiberglass?

I have no information regarding the body. It could be original tin or a fiberglass reproduction. My guess is the chassis is a custom rectangular tube creation.

By 1976, Hill was driving a flip-top ’48 Fiat. The injectors were gone, displaced by carburetion. The engine remained a big block Chevrolet. The Fiat had Bontrager & Hill inscribed on its flanks. Draglist lists the Fiat’s owners as Lee Bontrager & Sam Hill. Garth Hill was still the driver, but I’m unsure of the relationship between Garth and Sam.

Garth Hill eventually drove a plethora of comp cars well into the mid-nineties. He piloted the Garth, Stearns & Williams competition dragster in the late ’70s, then returned to the altered ranks with an Austin Bantam bodied machine. A much newer Model-T supplanted the Bantam in the nineties. Now running under the Hill & Williams name, the next generation T-Bucket was far more modern than the whip he drove in ’75.

Something Lost, Something Gained

The modern Hill & Williams entry was undoubtedly more competitive than the old Hard Times. It had a streamlined body with an enclosed driver’s cockpit. It was a sharp-looking machine. But I have to say I would much rather watch a field of cars like Hard Times.

Cars like that recall a colorful time that will never return.





Tom Bonner