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1909 Yale University Automobile Club Shingle Hill Climb

Updated – Hill climbs were one of the most popular automotive competition events held in the first two decades of the 1900s. The Yale University Automobile Club held the organization’s 1909 contest at Shingle Hill, a steep and challenging seven-eights of a mile ascent in West Haven, Connecticut on Wednesday, May 26. The event attracted some of the fastest and most powerful racing and road cars in the US and fifteen thousand spectators. The lead image shows David Bruce-Brown with a 120 h.p. Benz racing car on the way up the hill.


The winner of the event was David Bruce-Brown who drove a 120 h.p. Benz racing car up the hill in a time of 51 1/5 seconds, 15 seconds faster than the quickest time set at the 1908 event. Peter Cox took the same honors for a motorcycle with a 55 second run on an Indian. The fastest stock car was a Simplex driven by Fred Molt of New York City, NY, at a time of one minute and four seconds.

The Spooner and Wells photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection.


  • David Bruce-Brown and his riding mechanic with a 120 h.p. Benz racing car earlier at the 1909 Fort George Hill Climb held on April 26-27th in New York City.


  • Line up of racing and stock cars at the bottom of the hill. The sign on the far-side of the road is an advertisement for Indian Motorcycles which won all of the two-wheeled classes.


  • Results above published in the “New York Times” May 27, 1909 – A. Beebe below before the start of his run with number twenty-five, a  Lozier Briarcliff.


  • Below is an Allen-Kingston identified by  on its way up to the summit

Update – Ariejan Bos has identified the car below as an Allen-Kingston. You can view one of the manufacturer’s hill climbing specials’ that won six class wins at climbing events in the Northeast beginning one month later during June and July of 1909. Read Ariejan’s comment below.



16 responses to “1909 Yale University Automobile Club Shingle Hill Climb

  1. Yes, the number 25 entry is a 1909 Lozier Briarcliff. The radiator and fenders were different in later years. In the photo showing several cars waiting their turn, you can also see the rear-tonneau was removed along with the side lights and head lights too. I would be surprised if the weight of those items would have made much difference. Should left the mechanic off too. Why was he needed for a straight uphill run? No one was passing as each car ran solo.
    Thanks for the photos.

  2. The mystery racer in an Allen-Kingston with Reppingill at the wheel. It would end on 2nd place in the category for stock cars from $ 3001,- to $ 4000,-. In the result list it is listed as an AK. The Allen-Kingston was successful in various hill climbs in this period, but still the make only existed from 1908 to 1910.

  3. The New York Times states Bruce-Brown’s ftd as 51 1/5 seconds. Your 51 1/15 in the text is clearly a simple typo. No need to publish this note, just correct the typo.

  4. The license plate “C205M” on the Allen-Kingston is very rare. It is either a 1908 or 1909 Connecticut Manufacturer’s plate that was registered to the Bristol Engineering Company of Bristol, Connecticut. The State of Connecticut List of Registered Motor Vehicles dated November 14, 1908 and May 1, 1909 show that only five sets of these plates were issued during each year.

    Bristol Engineering Company, run by Alfred Rockwell, was the firm that manufactured the A-K after it moved production to Connecticut. The company also built the Houpt-Rockwell and the Rockwell (Public Service Cab). The bearings manufactured by New Departure Company, another of Rockwell’s companies, were well known, and New Departure would be purchased by General Motors in 1915. Rockwell was also president of Marlin Firearms.

    In the book “Marlin Firearms” the author William S. Brophy states the following in regards to the Rockwell.

    “The New York Auto Show in 1908 launched the first Rockwell auto, called the Rockwell Public Service Cab. It was produced by the New Departure Company, which had taken over production of automobiles from Bristol Engineering. The Rockwell Service Cab became the Yellow Taxicab when Mrs. Rockwell selected that as her choice of color for the auto.”

    If this is true, this is a two years before Walden Shaw starting painting his cabs in Chicago yellow in 1910. Shaw’s company eventually became the Yellow Taxicab Manufacturing Company in 1915.

  5. Could the Benz race car in the above photo be the same car that is now in Jay Leno’s collection?
    In his November Restoration Blog on YouTube, Jay identifies his car as a 1908.

  6. David,
    The hill climb shot reminds of the post from July 14, 2011 of my grandfather in a similar race. Hill climbs must have be very popular in that era.

  7. Love the first and last shots, with the “forward-leaning tires”.

    These were photographed with a camera that probably employed a focal-plane type shutter, most likely a Graflex.

    Graflex and (Speed) Graphic cameras employed focal-plane shutters where the “slit” in the curtains traveled from top to bottom of the film-plane (actually bottom to top of the inverted image on the film or plate), thus the top of the plate being exposed a fraction of the second earlier than the bottom of the plate.

    So, the top of the tire, being exposed ever so slightly later, is closer to the RH side of the image…

    This is an aberration unique to vertically traveling focal-plane shutters.

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