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Late-1950s Grandfather Mountain Hill Climb Photos and Film

Grandfather Mountain, a popular tourist attraction is located in northwestern North Carolina close to the border with the state of Tennesse and about six miles east of Linville, North Carolina. The Mountain rises 5966-feet above sea level and the famous “Mile High Swinging Bridge” is located at the summit.

In June of 1954, a group of sports car enthusiasts organized the first annual Grandfather Mountain Hill Climb that started at its base. The run traveled 2.7-miles up the very challenging gravel road lined with rocks, curves, and switchbacks end at the top, the location the well-known Bridge.

  • Corvette rounding the last corner on the run up to the Mountain summit – note the “Swinging Bridge” on the left-hand top portion of the photo.

Later in 1955 the group formed the North Carolina Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA)  and continued to run the event until 1961. The Hill Climb was not held again until about 20 years later in the early-1980s before it finally ended in the late-1980s.

The lead image and the enlargeable version of it (above) and a picture of a blue Jaguar XK-120 roadster (below) were taken post-1958, and are followed by a short film on a video of the action on the Mountain in 1960. Below the film are eight more color and black and white photos taken at the 1958 running of the Hill Climb.

Share with us what you find of interest in the 1960 film clip and the photographs courtesy of the East Carolina University Collections.

Learn more about Grandfather Mountain and the post-war history of automobile use on its road.

  • XK-120 Jaguar roadster after crossing the finish line and about to enter the parking lot at the summit.

  • Short one-minute film clip of the 1960 running of the Grandfather Mountain Hill Climb.

  • And finally to end the coverage are eight color and black and white images taken at the 1958 running of the Hill Climb. Leave a comment about what you find of interest in this set of photos or the name of any of the participants or car owners.

37 responses to “Late-1950s Grandfather Mountain Hill Climb Photos and Film

  1. In Photo #2, as the Jaguar passes, in pale blue, a l likely ’55 Chevy, a ’56 Mercury, a ’56 ford Fairlane, maybe a ’50 Plymouth and a white ’54 Buick.

    In Photo #7, a ’59 Plymouth Belvedere sedan and a ’53 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe sedan, both facing a Renault Dauphine, at the time the VW’s chief rival. Might be a Morris Minor in the photo’s center with a probable ’54 Chevy Two-Ten sedan to the right.
    Seen over the Pontiac, possibly a ’52 Buick Super Riviera, a likely ;56 Buick…it appears to have the short trunk lid and just maybe the forward-leaning A-pillar of a B-body Special or Century. And a ’57 Chevy beside a possible ’55 Chevy wagon.

  2. In Photo #10, in the center beside a ’51 Ford Sedan in flat grey (leaving it in grey primer was very popular at the time) is a ’50-’54 Jeep Wagon (post-‘54s had fewer chrome bars in the grille) just ahead of a ’54 Ford Mainline Tudor (appears to have the longer roof vs a Club Coupe) and a ’54 Chevy One-Fifty sedan (wraparound rear window vs a ’53). Past the MG and the ’50 Ford Club Coupe, a ’54 Olds 88 or Super 88.
    Off to the left a pair of ’53 Chevys and peeking in from the lower left corner, a ’49 Chevy.
    Upper left, next to the fender-less rod (my safest guess, a ’32 Ford) with interesting inward-canted taillights, beginning on the left, a dark ’49 Ford Tudor and a ’49 Mercury sedan, Farther down the lineup, a dark ’50 Pontiac, a ’49 Chrysler, a ’53 Pontiac and a ’49 or ’50 Nash, maybe an Ambassador, if the hood’s long enough.

  3. In the 12th [and last] picture, parked near the hill in the background, center, is either a 1949 or ’50 dark NASH two-door, parked to the right of a two-tone 1953 PONTIAC four-door.

  4. Last photo shows a few unusual cars: ’50-51 Porsche 356 split-windshield coupe, maybe a two-tone Singer convertible in front of it, and a Rover (?) convertible with top up. Interesting that several British cars are right-hand drive.

    • I don’t think the 2 tone convertible in the left lower corner is even a British car as it’s far too large. Check the size of the MG’s around it for comparison. It also appears to have a split windscreen which had disappeared by then I think.

    • The Porsche in the lower left is a 1952 model bent-window. It has aluminum trim around the windshield. It also has non-USA bumpers, which means it was probably brought back from Germany by a GI.

  5. Funny, the Little Renault’s race number is X. Exactly what so many folks thought of that brand back then, ha ! Great photos and film David, please keep it up ! ( hope you are safe and keeping warm up there…brrrrrrrrr)

  6. No comments so far?
    In the first couple of the final eight photos? Is that an early (maybe mid?) ’30s Alpha Romeo parked below the photographer? Maybe that car was driven by the photographer? I do hope someone can give yer and model details.
    Thank you David G, great photos again!

    • Year and model are up for grabs, but it’s a late forties early fifties Morgan. Google can help you verify if you wish.

      • Thanks guys! I have seen a few of those Morgans, maybe it was the angle of the view that threw me? While I prefer cars built before the 1930s, I do enjoy some of this later stuff! Especially a lot of the European and British sports and customs. Many years ago a friend (who had a few ’10s & ’20s Pierce Arrows) had a ’32 (if I recall correctly?) Alpha Romeo roadster (bright red!). With the “laid back” flat radiator, it looked very similar to that Morgan.

  7. What the heck is that little two-toned number in the lower LH corner in picture 10, with the trumpet horns on top of the front fenders?? Looks like a Roger Rabbit car!!!

  8. No Thunderbirds. Guess they were feeling the scorn from “real” sports car afficianado’s even then? But then, they did corner like a Frito Lay delivery van.

  9. Great change of pace pictures. Interesting that spectator cars are mostly domestic family cars with some foreign. Competitors are foreign or Corvette – plus a couple of home-builds. I counted at least 5 different Austin-Healeys. One white 3000 like the one I bought in 1969 in North Carolina with the 82d Airborne.

  10. The 1953 Panhard Darrin, a one of one fiberglass bodied Panhard Dyna Junior (bottom center screen in the video @ 0:16 – 0:20) is incredibly rare. After being displayed at the 1953 Motorrama it was shipped to France for Panhard’s review for possible production. That, of course, never happened as the Dyna Junior remained in production. However it’s obvious that it made it back to the U.S. Does it still exist.

    My personal algorithm, is for the moment, in need of a reboot as I can’t remember the ‘name’ of the American special charging up hill @ 0:55 – 0:20 . Drat. Hope someone will tell us more about this ‘beauty’. David, I’ve changed my “name” to James HGF to reduce by one the comments from a multiplicity of James. Thanks.

      • Thanks for the ‘reboot’. It was the Baldwin Special that I couldn’t name . But… But after reviewing photos of the Baldwin special including in Robert Devlin’s “Pebble Beach: a matter of style” and multiple reviews of the Grandfather Mountain video I realized it was close, very close, but not a match.

        It’s the 1954 Davis Special built by Bob Davis on a ’41 Ford chassis with a Ford V8 and a nose section cobbled from a Chevy truck cab. The Baldwin Mercury has a highly modified ’46 Ford chassis with a 284 cu. in.
        Mercury V8. The taller nose shape of the Davis, wider hood scoop and the smaller number of grille ‘wires’ and their spacing make it a perfect fit. The Davis Special’s history and photos on a Conceptcar(z) page corroborates all.

        Your reboot helped immensely and triggered a Grandfather Mountain Hill Climb and NC SCCA search that provided the necessary puzzle pieces. Thanks again.

        • It’s a keen eye you have mate. The similarity is striking, but the air scoop extending across most of the frontal hood betrays the car as a Davis.

          • Not keen enough. I didn’t notice the Davis parked in front of the ’53 Chevrolet in the 1954 photo (#10) until Sunday morning when I took another look at the two tone roadster.

            It looks like a short wheelbase late ’40s – early ’50s American custom. The tail lamps are similar to those on Robert Monroe’s 1949 Rogue custom featured on Geoff Hackers site “Undiscovered Classics”. The driver’s door fit is off, accented by the bright trim and there’s no outside door handle. Doors are too large and too thick for a manufacture to sell with only a high inside handle and the bumper appears to be American. A positive id…sadly no.

  11. In photo #10 the “Rover” is a RILEY 1.5 litre. The two-tone 2 seater with trumpet horns is a puzzle. It’s not a Singer though.

    • Right on the Riley, and on the 2.5 engine (below). I grew up 48 miles from here, and it was a local car. This picture (#10) is most probably from the summer of 1954 – ergo no Thunderbirds or Corvettes, and the Jags are I think all XK120s, and I am sure the black A-H is a 100-4, now rare as hen’s teeth. There IS a Rover – a white one in the back row next to the black 2-door Ford(?) – I think again a model 75 saloon, if memory serves me. Great pic! Great memories!

  12. The 1954 Ford pictured is a Customline not a Mainline. Mainline’s did not have chrome reveal moldings around the windshield or backlight but rather rubber all around and only chrome at the beltline. The car in the picture has chrome all around the windshield. This Ford might be a Crestline but I’m betting Customline. My dad had a 1954 Customline 2 door. Wish I had the one in the picture.

  13. The Riley is an RMD being a drophead, so it would be the 2.5 litre engine. One hopes so because as my old Dad used to say the 1.5 wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding!
    As to the two tone convertible I think that is an Austin A40 Somerset.
    Finally the car behind the Jag which is behind the Riley – is that an Allard Palm Beach?

    • It could be an AC Ace, pre Cobra days?
      And the two tone convertible certainly has an Austin like hood ornament and winged trunk badge. Ghastly heaps the saloons were, under powered and with a body shell made from steel about twice the thickness of the foil you would use to wrap the turkey. My Dad had a saloon when courting Mum.

  14. This is from the daughter of the man who took the pictures and video.

    I am glad he enjoyed the article. My father took all of the pictures posted here as well as the video.

    People who like these classic cars really get off on learning about that hill climb. It only happened for two years because there was so much hassle involved in organizing a race up the road. Spectators have to get in one place and stay there all day because other cars can’t be driving up and down the road when there’s a racer on the course.

  15. Why did the hillclimb end?The usual suspects?
    Im guessing the first photo is the early 60s cuz there was a brief fad for white sailor hats back then.

  16. To Wayne Sheldon – it is Alfa (not Alpha) Romeo – for ALFA (founded around 1910) – “(Societa) Anonima Lombardi Fabbrica Automobili” and when Nicola Romeo took over the company it gained the name it has had since 1920.

    Alfa should be part of spellcheck.

  17. Did I see the Ken Miles Flying Shingle Special on the vid clip?? It a bit blurred out but ooks like it could be the MG special.

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