Prior to World War II, driver Al Rogers and car owner,Joe Coniff built and raced several cars . Successful at the oval tracks and competitive at Pikes Peak. Not yet having the results that would take them into the category of legends.The car that would put them on that map, was the car built in early 1947. The white with red scallops number nine , with the Offenhauser motor that raced only at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb .Once the troops started coming home from the war, racing was back to the forefront of the nation. Pikes Peak was in that spotlight and the cars were fastest and better built then ever.
The decision to build the car for the hill climb only was going to pay off big. Circle track racing is about building up speed and keeping it going around the track the same direction for many laps. Pikes Peak is more like a series of drag races with turns at the end going either left or right. At the hill climb you need big horsepower to deal with the altitude of the climb, you lose power as the air thins out at the upper levels. Large horsepower at a circle tracks means less traction. Building one car for both venues of racing is a matter of making sacrifices to suit the track and never fully getting everything you want for that days race. That fact is still true in 2017, many of the PPHC cars are ONE race a year only specialty built cars just for the Peak. Al and Joe where surely thinking ahead of their times.
With the new “Offy” motor and the car set up to only run a the Peak, things started happening for the Joe and Al, with the Coniif Spl. Time trails the first time out in 1947, Al takes first place beating the other “Offy” being ran by George Hammond and Johnny Mauro in a McDowell ford. (Same engine kind Coniff had in 46) What would race day bring?
Bridesmaid again……..what….yes! Second place to guess who….Louis Unser in the Maserati. It was close .36 of a second difference. At the last turn just in front of the summit house, Al slid wide and hit a stack of rocks protecting the electric timing device wire, slowing him down enough to make the difference between 1st and 2nd. Unser 16:34.77 ,Rogers 16:35.13 Overall having a newly built car , first in time trails and second on race day 1947 was a good year. Now for the legendary stuff.
The start of a legacy .
Winning in 1940 and second place in 1937, 1939, and 1947 plus a win at the Lands End Hill Climb in 1940. Not the stats of a legend , but enough not to give up hope that things could change. Change it did !!
1948 1st in time trails, 1st on Race Day
1949 1st in time trails, 1st on Race Day
1950 1st in time trails ,1st on Race Day
1951 2nd in time trails, 1st on race Day
FOUR Pikes Peak Hill Climb Wins in a row !
Newspaper, magazines and even on the Radio, Al Rogers and the Coniff Speical was getting press.
Al Rogers drove for Joe Coniff one last time in 1952 placing third. But his heart was in the new Pan America race in Mexico which he ran in 1950 to 1953. Three additional heroes of the Peak would drive in the few remaining years of the cars passing glory. Jerry Unser in 1955, 9th place, Louis Unser 1956-DNF and in 1957 5th place. Ted Foltz 1958-15th and in 1959 5th and final year for the Coniff Special ,with the cars fastest time to the top of 14:09.5 5th place.
It takes a team to make a legacy. Thirteen years, from 1947 to 1959 racing the same car an the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. .That is a long time for any team, let alone the same car. From the car owner and drivers, the mechanics and crew, to all the family members and fans.,the “Coniff Special” had what it took to become a Legend of Pikes Peak. The story doesn’t stop here, there is still one more chapter.
Check out “The Coniff Speical Comes Home”