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NEW HAMPSHIRE’S Mt. Washington is among the most prominent peaks in the U.S. And, as reported in R&T, it’s renowned as a hillclimb venue and notorious for erratic weather as well.

R&T wrote in its November 1956 issue, “Sunday, race day, came up sunny and cool. It stayed that way until all had completed the official runs, though the early starters wound up in the clouds. However, the weather retained its contrariness. Awards were made at the base in driving rain.”

“From base to summit,” R&T wrote, “the carriage road [constructed in 1861] rises 4600 ft. First auto to reach the top was a Stanley Steamer in 1899, driven by its inventor F. O. Stanley. He whizzed up in one hour and 46 minutes.”

In 1956, the best time for the eight-mile climb was considerably quicker: 10 minutes 21.8 seconds—this new record owing its quickness to the potency of a 4.5-liter Grand Prix Ferrari driven by “a lean six-foot reformed chicken farmer from Dallas.” R&T and we also knew him as Carroll Shelby.

As noted here at SimanaitisSays, I had already encountered Shelby and John Edgar’s Grand Prix Ferrari earlier that year at Giants Despair Hillclimb, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Image from R&T, October 1956.

This Ferrari had previously raced in Europe under the 1950–1953 Formula One regulations for 1.5-liter supercharged/4.5-liter naturally aspirated power

“Waiting tensely for the starting signal, Shelby revs the engine of the Grand Prix Ferrari.” Would that magazines had audio! This and the following images from R&T, November 1956.

Shelby’s 10:21.8 time beat the existing 10:44.8 record, set by Sherwood Johnson in a modified Jaguar in 1954.

Shelby on his way to Mt. Washington’s 6288-ft. summit.

Rowland Keith and his Cooper Mk IX set second-best-time-of-day, 10:42.2, also breaking Johnson’s 1954 record. R&T doesn’t report whether Keith’s Mk IX was a T36 (550-cc F3-specs) or T37 (with 1000-cc displacement).

“Impressive achievement by Rowland Keith and his Cooper: 2nd best-time-of-day, also breaking previous record.”

Either way, given Mt. Washington’s average 16-percent grade, Keith’s was an impressive drive. Third place was a fellow named Richard Thompson in a Corvette.

R&T reported, “To the many thousands of spectators who lined the length of the steep tortuous carriage road, it was undoubtedly the most thrilling event to date. There was a 1938 record of 12:17.6 made by Lemuel L. Ladd of Brookline, Mass., in a Ford V-8 Special. No less than 19 drivers in the 1956 competition bettered that mark.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

4 comments on “RACE TO THE CLOUDS, R&T’S 1956 REPORT

  1. Gordon Craig
    January 4, 2019

    I see a Morgan finishing 5th in the top five, none too shabby, probably a +4 Flatrad, — although the edge in nimble handling, doubt a 4/4 Ser. 1 would have the horses to conquer the sustained incline, cheers, gordon

    • simanaitissays
      January 4, 2019

      Gaston Andrey was a highly regarded Morganist and R&T notes he evidently knew his way up Mt. Washington.

  2. David Rees
    January 11, 2019

    The Shelby Ferrari was a 375 Indianapolis – chassis # 0388

  3. HiRich
    November 20, 2022

    Rowland Keith’s Cooper is indeed a mere 500cc Norton engine. Just visible canted back behind the driver.

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