Cars head up Monson Road during a previous WIlbraham Hill Climb.
Reminder Publishing submitted photo

WILBRAHAM — It was 1908, a big year for the automobile. Henry Ford produced the Model T; six vehicles attempted a trip from New York City to Paris over the Bering Strait and the first Wilbraham Hill Climb saw 72 cars climb the incredibly steep Monson Road. In the case of the Hill Climb, cars are still testing their mettle. This year, on Saturday, May 11, vehicles will again gun their engines to see who will claim victory over gravity and top the hill.

Western Massachusetts has a long and rich history in the automotive industry. Fifteen years before the Automobile Club of Springfield organized the first Wilbraham Hill Climb, brothers Charles and Frank Duryea invented the world’s first gasoline-powered automobile. Springfield was also home to several automotive companies in the first half of the 20th century, including Rolls-Royce, Skene and Knox Automobiles.

The vehicles needed a place to be tested and manufacturers and early enthusiasts alike turned to Monson Road to see what their vehicles could do. Monson Road has a grade of 23%, which means the road has an incline of 23 feet over the course of 100 linear feet. To understand the steepness of Monson Road, consider that it is almost as steep as San Fransisco’s famed Lombard Street, which has a 27% grade and was designed with snaking switchbacks in 1922 because it was felt cars could not handle the slope. At the Hill Climb, cars must ascend 700 vertical feet over the course of one mile.

This year, 23 “relatively unmodified” cars dating from before 1958 have been entered into the race, said Jeff DeMarey, the Hill Climb’s primary organizer. He explained they cap the number of cars that can participate because it takes several minutes to launch a car, and each car takes a few runs up the hill. The race will take place between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

At 2 p.m., the car with the best time will be crowned the winner. For the grand finale, DeMarey said that newer, higher horse-power vehicles will make the climb to see how much better they can do against the early models.
The day has become more than a race, however. With antiques, food, crafts and more, the Hill Climb has become an all-day festival for car enthusiasts.

“The event is bigger than last year,” said Bruce Marshall, owner and general manager of Classic Hits 97.7 FM and 1250 AM WARE. The station is sponsoring the Hill Climb and Marshall will be deejaying at the event. “We’ve got Main Street all blocked off down to Wilbraham & Monson Academy,” he said.

DeMarey explained that the car show, with more than 350 vehicles, will be set up along Main Street at the academy. The car show will feature antique cars from museums and auto clubs around New England, including Maine’s Seal Cove Auto Museum, Heritage Museums & Garden of Sandwich, Boston’s Larz Anderson Auto Museum and Klingberg Vintage Motor Cars of New Haven. DeMarey said WMA had been “great” in letting the Hill Climb use its campus. He said that aside from having enough space, there was another benefit to staging the car show there. “Every race car will be coming by the car show” on its way back from its run up Monson Road, he said.

Meanwhile, about 70 craft and plant vendors will be set up in front of Wilbraham United Church. Up to eight food trucks will be stationed at Gazebo Park, allowing people to grab a bite to eat while they check out all that the event has to offer. There will also be special guests: Host of Chasing Classic Cars and Owner of F40 Motorsports Wayne Carini, former Racecar Driver and Broadcaster Erin Crocker Evernham and NASCAR Analyst Ray Evernham.

The Wilbraham Hill Climb is sponsored by the Luso Federal Credit Union, Genesis of Northampton, Stonewall Insurance Group and Valenti Auto Group. The event benefits the Springfield to Boston Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that educates students about antique transportation. The foundation allows both staff and volunteers to store, maintain, repair and drive our world-class collection of automobiles.

Spectator parking for the event is at Minnechaug Regional High School. The race’s starting line is at 26 Monson Rd. and the finish line is at 252 Monson Rd. For more information about the Wilbraham Hill Climb and the Springfield to Boston Foundation, visit springfieldtoboston.com.

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