Don’t miss the Newport Antique Auto Hill Climb, October 1st – 3rd, 2021…

At first glance, there’s nothing special about Newport’s steep hill.

Yes, it runs about a half-mile long and smack through the middle of town. Yes, its 140-foot, 14-degree slope does provide a dramatic view. And yes, the town of Newport has more charm than Mayberry.

This sort-of-interesting hill attracts thousands of people every year, because it’s where Indiana engineering and ingenuity has proved itself for the last 112 years.

Put more simply, it’s famous because cars don’t like that hill.

Cars haven’t liked that hill for over a century, stretching back to the infancy of the American motorcar market. Once upon a time, Detroit had nothing on Indiana in automobile innovation. While Henry Ford busied churned out his copy-and-paste Model N, R, S, and the popular T, a flood of ambitious engineers flocked to Indiana, founding dozens of car companies. In the early decades of the 20th century, 40 different Indiana cities had their own automakers. 

These upstart firms had gigantic dreams, but tiny offices and drafty garages. They didn’t have Ford’s finances, machinery, or assembly line workforce; most built their cars by hand, one vehicle at a time.

The FIRST Newport Hill Climb, 1909

Most firms came and went in a few years, often cannibalized by competitors. Makers like DeWitt, Bendix, Tincher, and Haynes-Apperson vanished. A few endured and produced some of the most beautiful automobiles in American history: Studebaker, Packard, and Duesenberg came from another era, but are still celebrated

A century ago, driving roads chewed through motorcars. They had no luxurious highways of asphalt or concrete to zoom around on. Even the flattest dirt and gravel roads of Indiana pushed these cars to limit. And a hill like Newport’s..? Makers knew any car that could make it up that hill in good time was a car worth buying.

A description of the Newport hill. The Indianapolis News. 6/7/09

In 1909, members of the Danville Automobile Club read of a similar hill climb contest in Europe, so they searched Indiana for a similar, suitable hill. Not too hilly though. It couldn’t be impossible terrain. There was no fun (mostly) in watching car after car overheat and roll shamefully back. It had to be a possible challenge. The club found that hill in Newport, Indiana, in central Indiana near the Illinois border.

One reporter described the hill as “straight as an arrow and as smooth as a floor.” Its moderately steep slope and half-mile length both intimidated and attracted drivers. Newport residents had already been using it as a makeshift proving ground years before the Hill Climb.

A crowd of 10,000, fell in a deluge on the tiny town of Newport for the very first climb. 65 different makes showed up. Drivers gunned their engines at the start, with many reaching a death-defying 50 miles an hour before scrambling up the 14-degree incline.

Composite image of the 1915 Indy 500, reprinted from the New York Times

From 1909 to 1915, the Newport Hill Climb ruled as Indiana’s premier automotive event. People from across the country arrived to test their vehicles, and automakers saw it as a right-of-passage for new models. Placing in the climb provided priceless advertising.

Then, in 1915, the faster and fancier Indy 500 eclipsed the climb. These speedsters seemed a better reflection of America’s auto future. Smooth state roads like US 41 and US 30 criss-crossed Indiana. Car engines became more powerful. Tires and shocks improved. Driving became as much a pastime as transportation. Drivers no longer worried about steep hills or rough roads. Speed, distance, and appearance became the essence of American motoring.

The legend of the Hill Climb remained alive and well in Indiana, though. After a few false starts over the decades, the Newport Lions Club successfully resurrected the contest in 1968. Indiana’s response was instantaneous and overwhelming. And it still is.

Held every year in October, the Hill Climb serves as the local Lions Club’s largest fundraiser. It’s not about competition as much as three days of fun and tradition.

Rather than trying to imitate the flash and speed of the Indianapolis races, Newport instead went for a truer reflection of Indiana’s automotive heritage: tradition. Not just any vehicle can enter the Hill Climb. As the current rules state…

“Specifications for Newport Hill Climb record holder: a.) must be 1942 or older car or truck; b.) must be an internal combustion engine; c.) must be American-made, stock production vehicle; d.) must have NO modifications and NO penalty points. Discontinued Makes are defined as those brands whose companies ceased production prior to 1970. While the company can go up to 1970, the car itself can only go up to 1955.”

~Newport Hill Climb Rules, 2021

Today, visitors can enjoy more activities than ever before. Auto enthusiasts will love the rumble and roar of antique, classic, and vintage motors. Most owners are delighted to answer any questions you might have. There’s a three-day flea market for bargain shoppers. Live music, food, auctions, parades, a pretty baby contest (!!), more food, fireworks, dancing, the Hill Climb itself, and even more food.

Great food, music, gorgeous cars, and crisp fall weather…Folks, that’s about as Indiana as you can get.

Want to Know More?

Check out THIS COLLECTION of Indiana automobile trade catalogs, made available by the Indiana State Library. In some cases, these are all that remains of Indiana’s most ambitious underdogs.

Learn more about this year’s Newport Antique Auto Hill Climb, (October 1st-3rd, 2021). Since the COVID pandemic cancelled last year’s event, you can bet this year is going to be extraordinary. Check out their well-designed website HERE for event or contact information.

Discover the most up to date information at the Newport Antique Auto Hill Climb’s Facebook page HERE.