Many of you may remember the Model T Hill Climb held every year from “around” 1957-1977 on Signal Hill. I say “around” because the dates are disputed, though an article from the March 11, 1957 Press-Telegram about the hill climb stated it was the 3rd such event, pushing the start of the annual climb to 1954, the same year the Long Beach Model T Club was formed. Subsequent news accounts of the climb pinpoint the date at 1956 or 1957. Also in dispute is the date of the last climb. Some say it was in 1978, but the final article I can find in news sources is 1977. In any case, Model T enthusiasts may be disappointed to learn that it wasn’t a Ford Model T that first made it up the steep grade on Hill Street between Obispo and Temple on Signal Hill. It was a Maxwell stock car in September 1920.
|Mary Pickford owned a Maxwell|
“The Maxwell is the car in which “Wild Bill” Turner made the world-record climb up Mt. Hamilton to the famous Mt. Lick Observatory. The Maxwell is the car that Billy Carlson drove 9 miles up Mt. Wilson, California, over snow and ice, around sharp dangerous curves, climbing 6,000 feet in 29 minutes and 1 second, breaking the previous record of 42 minutes.”
The ad went on to state that “every man that owns a Maxwell is able to laugh at hills.”
|From the Los Angeles Herald 9/25/1920|
|Model T's ready to climb Signal Hill|
Ronald MacWillie, president of the Long Beach Model T Club in 1955, told reporter Dave Emery that there was a reason Henry Ford sold 15 million of the T’s from 1908 until 1927. “They were marvelous cars,” MacWillie said. “They start quick and they’ve got better visibility than modern cars. With the top down, it’s just like sitting in the middle of the street in a bathtub. Model T’s are like little toys, you open the hood and there is nothing there. Anyone could fix anything that went wrong. It’s like a little sewing machine motor – 22 horse power. (Press Telegram 6/30/1955). MacWillie, who drove a 1914 Model T touring car and a 1914 Model T pie wagon, held Model T Club meetings in the big garage he built to house his classic machines.
The Signal Hill climb was the only known one of its kind in the United States for Model T Fords, officers of the Long Beach Club told reporter George Robeson in 1961. They also revealed a few things you had to remember about the design of a Model T before you could drive it uphill. For instance, if the gas tank wasn't full or nearly full, you would run out of gas halfway up the hill. Model T's had no fuel pump - the gas was gravity-fed to the carburetor, and when the car started up hill the tank was lower than the carburetor. One way to get around this issue was to drive your Model T backwards up the hill, something many participants in the Signal Hill climb did every year!
Signal Hill was also known for its Soap Box Derby races, though they used Palm Drive instead of Hill Street. All was to come to an end in 1977. It seemed skateboarders had gotten in the way.
|Skateboarding Hill Street|
In 1975 skateboarding was hugely popular and the producer of ABC's television program, The Guinness Book of World Records wanted to shoot a skateboarding event for the show. The annual Model T climb of Signal Hill and the steep incline was remembered. It seemed the natural place to hold a skateboarding event. For the next few years the Hill Street incline became the site of some of the most dangerous skateboarding on record. Wild parties, daring stunts and many accidents led the City of Signal Hill to cancel future events on Hill Street, including the Model T hill climb. Though there was talk in 1981 and 1988 of resurrecting the Model T hill event, nothing happened. It seemed the Long Beach Grand Prix, with its fast cars and action had upstaged the slower paced Model T’s.