You may not know the name Kenny Hill, or that of the company he started – Metalore – but you’d easily be forgiven for it. That’s mostly how Hill wanted it.
For more than 40 years, Hill and Metalore developed machined parts for racecars running the gamut from Formula 1 to IndyCar to sports cars and more out of their anonymous manufacturing facility in El Segundo, California, a few miles south of Los Angeles International Airport. Hill, a native of Los Angeles, used the company’s location to its advantage.
During the heady days of Formula 1 extravagance, before parc ferme regulations and budget caps, Formula 1 teams more than once placed a call to Hill on a Friday afternoon following free practice two with a request to revise and manufacture a part. With an eight or nine-hour time advantage, Hill and his team would get to work implementing a redesign and manufacturing the requisite parts. Armed with nothing more than a hand-carry case of parts, passport and plane ticket, a Metalore employee would hop on a transatlantic flight later than evening to the airport nearest that weekend’s grand prix to be met in the terminal by a team representative solely to hand over the new parts then board the next flight back to Los Angeles.
Such was the faith placed in parts manufactured by Metalore. Hill, an inveterate problem solver was a self-trained engineer. Always with a pen in hand, he’d spontaneously doodle a possible solution to a request as it came to him, whether at the office of the family dinner table. It’s the problem-solving component as much as the manufacturing precision that made Metalore a trusted resource. Their design prowess often extended to improving the part, but more often than not, it was about how to make the part to the rigorous standards set by the client.
“I first knew Kenny through my work at All American Racers. Kenny and his company, Metalore, was our ‘go-to’ source for high quality machined parts,” said John Ward, who was chief designer of the AAR Toyota MKIII GTP car among many others. “As I got to work with Kenny, he became a good friend and a valuable source for solving design challenges we encountered. Kenny had great enthusiasm for stretching his company and breaking new ground to design and build products on the front line of innovation.”
Metalore officially opened for business in 1960 and soon became heavily involved in manufacturing highly classified components for U.S. Navy nuclear submarines, which soon after lead to contracts with NASA for parts to be used in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs. The ability to handle top-secret projects would again come in handy.
As the space race wound down in 1975, Hill received a call from Jim Chapman who was with Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing to assist with parts for their new IndyCar. The following year John Barnard joined Parnelli, from which Hill would form a strong bond with the maverick young designer.
Barnard’s ground-breaking design for the Chaparral 2k ground-effect car would turn IndyCar racing on its head. Metalore had a sizable involvement in making parts for the car that would go on to win the 1980 Indy 500 in the hands of Johnny Rutherford. That same year, Hill took full control of Metalore, and from that point onward, motorsport would become a mainstay of the business.
The relationship with Barnard opened the door to Formula 1 beginning with the McLaren MP4 all the way through Barnard’s tenure with Ferrari. By then, Metalore’s reputation within the inner circles of racing and been firmly established, not only for their design and manufacturing prowess, but also for the ability to operate in the strictest secrecy. By 2007, half of the Formula 1 field was using parts manufactured by Metalore, including drive shafts, wheel hubs and other components.
In addition, Metalore was also busy with driveline components and more for IndyCar. During the CART era, Metalore manufactured the electronic pop-off valves that could be seen prominently protruding from the engine cowls of Lolas, Reynards and Swifts.
Over the years, Metalore led the way with a number of proprietary inventions and firsts such as:
- 1984 – The first company to color drive line components and other parts brown. Metalore became the company that made the brown parts. Now the standard color for everyone in the drive line component industry
- 1989 – Working with Dan Gurney’s All American Racers designer John Ward during the GTP era, Metalore fixed a wheel hub, driveline weight problem and in doing so became the first to use Silicon-Nitride Ceramic Balls in wheel hubs and driveline components to help reduce weight
- 1994 – Metalore introduced the titanium spline drive wheel socket and spline drive nut, which is now common on all race cars
It wasn’t only about current-era cars. Metalore also took on some “backdated” projects, too.
“During 2015, we received a Porsche 917 12-cylinder engine for complete overhaul and needed parts,” recalls Alwin Springer, former president of Porsche Motorsport North America. “Eric Bloss immediately suggested Metalore. Kenny not only created superb cylinder head studs for us, but he also explained how he arrived at his tightening sequence. Priceless! Kenny and Phil helped us at PMNA many times during the years to overcome tricky situations. There was no other who knew the machining world and all the surroundings – metals – machines etc. like him. Certainly, he was one of a kind.”
Despite his relentless pursuit of innovation and perfection, Hill always made time for the people who surrounded him. No matter how busy the days were, Hill always had dinner with his family, which often meant dinner with the kids first before taking wife Helen out to a special dinner for two.
Beyond racecars and parts, Hill was a national and world champion skeet shooter as well as an avid collector of art including paintings, photography and sculpture.
Kenny Hill passed away in May 2022, three weeks short of his 81st birthday. He is survived by his wife Helen; son Dennis, with daughter-in-law Arleen; daughter Kathy, with son-in law-Ben and grandsons Andrew and Quinn.
Metalore continues to operate under the stewardship of Helen Hill.