[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 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.
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.
Now this is what I’m talking about! Heavy metal with opera windows. Smith qualified 8th and finished 5th in class.
Smith’s was the highest-finishing Ford with the smallest motor.
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.
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).
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.
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.
In case you were wondering, the fastest stocker up the Hill in ’77 was Ralph Bruning, in his ’76 Camaro.
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.
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?
Kanawyer started 7th but finished 19th in class. But orange cars cornering on three wheels are always big in my book.
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.
The only way it could have been more Broughamy is if Lincoln and Cadillac had competed. 😛 Granada with a 429 is quite epic!
Upcoming Bonneville posts will have both Lincolns and Cadillacs, so hold your breath.
Great shots! Back then people were still expected to look out for themselves. By today’s standards that event looks like a liability lawyers wet dream.
Love that Kodachrome.
Visited some friends in Colorado Springs in 2002. Took the cog railway to the top of Pikes Peak. It was July IIRC and hot so I wore shorts. Snowing at the top and guess what. By pure dumb luck it was the day they ran the race. I think it was around July Fourth but have never been big on details. Anyway, I learned a lot that day. Don’t wear shorts on mountain tops was one and the second big thing was that they finish fast too. They sprayed rocks and dirt all over the place when they finished.
I really enjoyed the bikes. Mostly Rotax powered but some other brands. Surprising. The plethora of styles, brands, and power is enough to make a gearhead go nuts.
Enjoyed your article. Hope you have lots of pictures left.
I actually have some Pikes Peak photos left that I left out of the article. And I might have more back home in Salt Lake. I’ll check when I’m back there in early August. In any event, got lots more of Lime Rock, Watkins Glen, the Danbury State Fair and Bonneville coming up.
Awesome! Looking forward to those!!!!
As I looked over these shots, it occurred to me that some people knew how to have the adventures, ie, find the money and just go somewhere for fun times, like Pikes Peak.
Took me a couple of shots to realize these, were, indeed, shot back in the day, not recently with vintage cars. 🙂
I think that green Ford wagon kind of gave it away for sure.
Anyway, great stuff!
That first pic is actually a Gran Torino body mated to an LTD II front clip, real freakshow.
I think you’re right — I was trying to figure out what the story was with that car (the one driven by Gay Smith).
Kiwi Rod Millen made a name for himself on that hill in a Mazda, but I guess sideways in a brougham looks better.
Awesome shots! Thanks for sharing. Amazing how the Kodachrome makes them look like they were taken yesterday.
Pikes Peak is a weirdly-shaped mountain indeed…as tall as Mt. Rainier (well, a city block or two shorter) but possible to drive to the top. A true national treasure, and a fine place for racing cars as far as I’m concerned.
“This Mustang was powered by a turbocharged, 250 cu. in. Ford six running on propane.” If I understand you correctly, on that day in 1977, Ak Miller achieved something previously considered to be impossible: He made a 1976 Pintang interesting. You even have photographic evidence of the event. Oh, my mind is being boggled…
Full opposite lock, sideways, totally badass! Got to love it.
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?
Oh wow, didn’t know that… really depressing. I never actively followed the Pike’s Peak race, but I’ve always wanted to go. Watching cars race up a paved mountain isn’t nearly as interesting.
These pictures are completely amazing. Great cars, great setting, great photography. Wish I could’ve been there…
Probably Armco-ed as well. Does anyone know?
My fave pic is Gay Smith’s LTD fishtailing close the precipice.
Low traction surfaces like gravel/dirt are always more exciting to drive fast on even without lots of hp paving pikes peak has ruined an institution. Down here in our southern Island we have Cardrona hill climb which will always remain gravel not as high as Pikes but Monsta Tajima still rules it.
Wow, really great stuff Kevin! Thanks for this.
great photos! thanks for sharing.
HOW can it be so satisfying to see people race non-sports cars? I dunno, but this is awesome. Weirdly reminds me of stunts pulled on snow in my ’86 Horizon, and my old Tyco slot car track, the “Super Pick Up.” Thanks, Kevin. 🙂
I really enjoyed this, and your photography is beautiful. Looking forward to the next ones. Racing Mustang IIs, Grandads and LTDIIs – almost like a parallel universe.
Seeing that top photo is the exact reason why me and my family took the cog railway to the top in 1989!
…”Take it easy – Take the Train!”
Even at age 38, that was just too much for me to want to attempt.
Great pics, Kevin!
I live in Denver and have driven the hill many times. I didn’t know they’d paved the road, though. 🙁
Thirty years ago my family was vacationing in Colorado and of course visited Pike’s Peak. On the way up we overtook a guy in (I think an old Mercedes sedan) driving up the hill in reverse. Dad yelled out the window asking the guy if he had a transmission problem. “No,” the guy says, “I work up top and get bored driving it every day so I thought I’d try something different.”
I keep saying I’m going to go to the hill climb but haven’t done it yet.
And Zackman, if you don’t wanna drive Pike’s Peak, you SURE don’t wanna drive up Mt. Evans! The first time I drove it was at night. In dense fog. Driving it subsequently in daylight, I felt lucky to have survived it the first time.
I regret never driving up Pike’s Peak. But I have been up Mt. Evans, and that is a fine drive indeed. But somehow, the first time up (as a kid with my family in 1965) kind of spoiled the magic and challenge of hiking up the big mountains. Cheating…
I missed my chance to ride to the peak when I did my Colorado road trip in 93. I’d put the bike in the shop for a major service, and they weren’t capable of thinking outside the book and getting the valve covers to seal. (Common problem on old airhead BMWs.) I had to truck the bike home and fix it myself. Lost a day, and that meant I only got as far as South Fork before I had to trun back toward home. The original goals for the trip had been to cross the continental divide, and ride Pike’s peak.
I think my fear of mountain roads began in 1972 in my 1964 Chevy when my room mate and I found ourselves on CA 130, driving up Mt. Hamilton to the Lick Observatory at 10 pm on a foggy night! We drove all the way up, not knowing it would take 45 minutes and no place to risk turning around – at least to me.
Somehow we wound up in Santa Cruz around midnight…
My fears were confirmed when I drove it again in 2006 – during the day in a 2006 Impala rental! With only one good eye, it was a challenge for me, to be sure.
Clearly, we should undertake treacherous, life-threatening drives only at night.
And I have yet to hike a 14’er, Paul. Really should do that.
Enh. There’s two full lanes. That road is trivially easy. There are far more treacherous roads in the area.
Great pictures! I’ve been dabbling recently into SLRs; I have an old Praktica FX3 that I picked up on eBay. It goes along nicely with my even older Argus A2F.
I’ve got all sorts of Olympus OM-1 equipment. It ain’t worth dick but I can’t bring myself to get rid of it.
What’s interesting is the Mustang II is a notchback, formal roof version. Most MII racer cars in the 70’s were hatchbacks, from IMSA to IHRA. Yes, they were raced, modified, etc.
Even more funny is the Torino with LTD II front clip, maybe trying to make it ‘look newer’?
Also, the 77 Olds is the 442 version with sloped grille and larger Colonnade windows, not the ‘opera’ Supreme ones.
I drove up there in Aug 06 in a Mustang convert. The top was down when I went up and on the way back down. It was exciting, my wife still says how scared she was. Going past the tree line was wild!
That Torino would have made the ride much more interesting, but the wife would disagree.
Great photos Kevin, thanks for sharing the experience!
There are a small number of guys still running the 250ci turbo LPG combo out here, running 10sec or better on low cost builds
If you think this “track” puts onlookers at risk, imagine how surprised I was when I went to see the ….Targa Florio (?).
In 1973…I think, my Navy squadron went to Sicily for 5 months and while there one of the last races on the “old” course was run. When we got there, after driving nearly half way around the island, we were surprised to discover that part of the course consisted of a “track” while the remaining part was local streets and highways. More unusual? Fans parked their cars on some of those streets and highways. I don’t know if that was on purpose or out of ignorance of the actual course. I suspect the former as the course also lacked the wide run-offs and crash barriers that even a go-kart track in the U.S. would have at that time.
I’ve generally never been a fan of American cars of the 1970s. They tended to trade performance for style and aesthetics, and not always in good tastes. The only performance cars of the 70s tended to be the ones that raced at NASCAR, or police cars. They were generally made for aggressive driving, and thus needed stronger suspensions, bigger brakes, etc.
Great shots, glad you kept them around after all these years. A shame neither the road (unpaved) or the opportunity to take these cool photos no longer exists.
Wow. Those photos are truly wild…never thought I would have seen a race-prepped Granada or LTD II (even if that was actually a Torino). Amazing artifacts of another time…
Interesting pics. So now this feature and a couple of recent episodes on Grease Monkey Garage have got me interested in travelling up Pikes Peak someday. The view looks terrific!
That Mustang II in action is really something. It’s even a notchback. Kudos to Keith for including that as the lead pic (I’m assuming). I know he was not a huge fan of the car.
I must assume the Granada did not finish any higher was due to chassis setup. Could not have been for lack of engine power unless 4 of the plug wires fell off… Or maybe, simply, the driver had no stones… And as a still recovering Granada owner, the very thought of having one with a Boss 429 makes certain body parts tingle, much like the Boss 302 ’70 Maverick I saw in a magazine once, years ago.
I’ve driven that route lots of times in my visits to Canon City, I’d hustle my Explorer up that road about as fast as the wheezing and out of breath pushrod 4.0 would push it at altitude. At 14,000 feet, that 160hp six was probably making about 50, and would barely spin the tires in the gravel.
Paving it took a lot of the fun out of the drive up and down.
Am I seein’ things or is that LTD II really a ’74-’76 Torino with an LTD II front clip?