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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

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A black1928 Hupmobile is shown at the Wilbraham Hill Climb.

Experience Vintage Racing at the Wilbraham Hill Climb

Hill climbs are one of the oldest forms of motorsports, dating back virtually to the invention of automobiles. Most enthusiasts have probably heard of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, which has run since 1916, but there are even older events across the country that you have probably never heard of. The CarLifeNation team recently had the chance to visit the Wilbraham Hill Climb, which was first run back in 1908 and has now become a celebration of vintage automobiles. This year, 21 vehicles, ranging from a 1912 Mercer 35 to a 1963 Morgan +4, entered to see which would be the fastest to run the one-mile course up Monson Road in Wilbraham, Massachusetts.

On top of the sight of these historic cars racing in the 117-year-old event, there was also a large car show filled with vehicles from every era. Whether you wanted to see other vintage machines from the very dawn of the automobile, classics from the muscle car era, dedicated race cars, or modern supercars, there was something for everyone at this event. Add food carts, a concurrent craft fair, and beautiful weather, and the Wilbraham Hill Climb made for an enjoyable, if busy, day trying to see all the sights. If you’re a car enthusiast in the area, it’s an event that shouldn’t be missed.

A black1915 Ford Model T Speedster is shown from the rear.

The Hill Climb

The Monson Road course isn’t the most dramatic hill climb, as it is a fairly straight two-lane road without any switchbacks or tight corners, but it does see over 500 feet of elevation change in less than a mile, which seriously challenged some of the older vehicles at the event. With low horsepower engines, skinny tires, and just a few gears in the transmissions, several cars struggled to gain speed going uphill after getting the green flag. However, some of the more race-prepped cars roared off the line with the sort of performance that you would expect from a far younger machine.

This disparity of performance reflected the fact that the vehicles themselves not only represented half a century of automotive development but also ranged from literal museum pieces (the oldest car at the event came from the Heritage Museum and Gardens collection and was run by a team from the museum) to dedicated race cars. So, while each driver was striving to get the most out of their vehicle, the event’s atmosphere was more of a celebration of vintage motorsports and historic vehicles than a hard-fought competition to be the fastest.

But despite the more laid-back atmosphere, this was still a race. The fastest car to complete the course was a heavily upgraded 1932 Ford – Five Window, which made its run up the hill in just 48.4 seconds, beating the best time from last year by nearly 0.8 seconds. It was followed by “The Old Gray Mare,” a restored race car from 1935 powered by a Ford flathead V8, at 50.55 seconds, with a 1958 Fiat Stanguellini coming in third at 53.19 seconds. Overall, these are not bad times at all for cars that are nearly 100 years old.

A red and wood grain 1914 Ford Model T Depot Hack is shown parked at a car show.

The Car Show

In addition to the historic cars participating in the hill climb itself, Main Street was lined with cars from every era. Brass Era museum pieces were parked side by side with classic muscle cars and modern supercars, giving something for every type of car enthusiast to gush over. As expected for an event celebrating vintage racing, the historic cars were well-represented. The Seal Cove Auto Museum brought a particularly noteworthy 1904 Knox that had been built for the president of the Knox Automobile Company himself. However, fans of more typical classic cars also had plenty to see, including an entire row of Pontiac GTOs from various years.

If you were interested in cars that more recently gained classic status, then there were icons like a Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa, and Mazda RX-7 FD on display. There were also plenty of cars on display that were of more recent vintage. While a few of them probably didn’t deserve to be there, such as a Mazda MX-5 Miata ND that was decorated with far too many red accents, that couldn’t be said about the striking purple McLaren 720S and Ferrari F12berlinetta that attracted many visitors. There were even some modern race cars at the show, including a Mustang and a BMW from the Palmer Motorsports Park fleet.

A yellow 1912 Mercer 35 Raceabout is shown in a row of cars.

Motorsports History Is Everywhere

While some historic motorsports events, including hill climbs from Pikes Peak to Mt Washington, are icons of the car enthusiast world, many more are hiding in plain sight where you would never expect them. The Wilbraham Hill Climb is a standout example of the sort of event that you will probably never hear about unless you live in the area, despite being older than many far better-known events. So look around and see what’s near you. You might be amazed by what you will find. And if you find yourself near Wilbraham in May, it’s worth putting this motorsports event on your calendar. Spending the day watching vintage cars race up the same hill they have been competing on for 117 years and touring the vehicles that came out for the car show was a great time for any car enthusiast.

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