1977 Pikes Peak Hill Climb: Broughams to the Clouds


Ak Miller in a 1976 Mustang II. Olympus OM-1, 200 mm lens and Kodachrome.

[first posted 7/15/2012   All photos by the author on Kodachrome 25]

I don’t generally find “stock cars” very interesting. My daily driver is an appliance, but as with most cars I have owned, I have found a way to modify it to make it my own: I de-badged the tail end of my Impreza. Subaru found it necessary to write a book in chrome plated plastic on the liftgate, but now it’s all  gone. My Impreza is anonymous.

In the late ‘70s I was in Brougham denial. Still am. I couldn’t stand Detroit’s Rubenesque offerings of the time, with their little plastic badges designed to evoke association with royalty, acres of fake tree, and hot-stamped chrome detailing, which was placed strategically in areas meant to wear away to encourage the owner to buy another barge with fresh hot-stamping in a couple of years. Still, modifying these beasts got my attention.

The photo above illustrates my point perfectly. How do you make a piglet like the Mustang II interesting? Put it in the hands of Ak Miller and let him work his magic on it and then drive it like he stole it. Miller was one of the patron saints of hot rodding (http://www.hotrod.com/thehistoryof/hrdp_0606_ak_miller_history_best_hot_rodder/viewall.html), and won his class in the Hill Climb nine times. This Mustang was powered by a turbocharged, 250 cu. in. Ford six running on propane. It’s my favorite photo of the event.

Dick Foltz’s ’77 Granada running a Boss 429.

Dick Foltz’s Granada really got me salivating. Show car-level of preparation and running one of the most bad-assed Ford engines ever created, the Boss 429. Foltz qualified 16th and finished 13th.

Foltz sliding through Devil’s Playground.

I don’t know why Foltz didn’t finish any higher (OK, it’s because he didn’t run fast enough), but he looked pretty good doing it. Notice the guy in the blue shirt to the left of Foltz’s car-yes, your right arm will deflect any rock thrown up by this car and all others. You will not die due to a crushed cranium, although you should.

Gay Smith in a ’76 Ford LTD running a 353 Cleveland.

Now this is what I’m talking about! Heavy metal with opera windows. Smith qualified 8th and finished 5th in class.

Gay Smith rockin’ it.

Smith’s was the highest-finishing Ford with the smallest motor.

Leonard Vahsholtz in a ’76 Torino 427.

Vahsholtz qualified 17th and finished 16th in a Torino. He went on to win his class in 1983 in a Ford Fairmont. You lovers of things large and in charge will enjoy the LTD Colony Park wagon in the background. The stronger the UV, the worse fared fake tree.

View from Devil’s Playground.

Cars have been charging up Pikes Peak since 1916. The Hill Climb and Bonneville are the two North American amateur events that draw international interest and participation. Devil’s Playground is located just beyond milepost 16, at an elevation of about 12,500 feet (3810 m).

Bob Silvers in a ’77 Cutlass running a 355.

Not to leave the GM contingent out of this story, Bob Silvers qualified 2nd and finished 3rd in his ’77 Olds Cutlass. The opera windows helped it go faster. Yes, I was standing on the drop-off on the outside of this curve. I had to turn my back to the cars as they went by to protect my camera. By the end of the day I was filthy.

Jim Davidson in a ’74 Dodge Charger 410.

One of the things I liked best about Pikes Peak was that it was totally anarchic. No course marshals, no one to tell you that you couldn’t take photos from this location or that. You were allowed to be as stupid as you wished, and I took advantage of the freedom. Environmentalists fought to have the road paved (to protect snail darters or dirt devils). It was finally completed this year, so no more pea gravel and dirt. Yes, the speeds are up, but who cares? It’s like Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record for a single season with 164 games.

Ralph Bruning in a ’76 Camaro 354.

In case you were wondering, the fastest stocker up the Hill in ’77 was Ralph Bruning, in his ’76 Camaro.

Gary Potter in a VW 2234.

The spectators in the Potter shot illustrate the wealth of vantage points available on the Hill. Potter qualified 8th but finished 4th in the open wheel class.

Darrell Kobilan in an upright Buick 340.

The open wheel class was populated by old school uprights such a Kobilan’s Buick (probably a Kurtis chassis) and rear-engined VW and Porsche specials. Buick small-block V8s were about 100 lbs. (45 kg) lighter than similar Chevy SBs, but were still more expensive to build than the ubiquitous Chevy SB. I like the spectator in the background. What was he thinking? If I plaster myself up against these rocks, I’ll be safe?

Gary Kanawyer in a VW 140.

Kanawyer started 7th but finished 19th in class. But orange cars cornering on three wheels are always big in my book.

Blur city.

I don’t know whether this is a Firebird or a Camaro, but in the days of manually-focused lenses, not all shots turned out picture perfect. But I love his rooster tail. And that’s all she wrote.