The first time in a Ugly Duckling.

How does a 13 time Pikes Peak Champion and 3 time Indianapolis 500 winner get his professional start ? This is the story of Bobby Unser’s first race at the  Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1955 and the car they called the “Ugly Duckling”

There are many great books about the Unser Family.  “The Unbelievable  Unsers”, by Joe Scalzo, “The Unser Legacy”, by Gordon Kirby , Bobby’s book, “Winners are Driven” and the “Bobby Unser Story” by Joe Scalzo.  Catch any of those books to learn more about the Unsers.

The family also has a wonderful museum and a great website with tons of information.

Uncle Louis

Louis Unser started racing at Pikes Peak in 1934.  Winning the Championship class six times prior to 1955 and being nicknamed ” The Old Man of the Mountain’.  His younger brother Jerry Unser Sr was the farther of four boys. Twins Jerry Jr. and Louie, boys Bobby and Al.  (check out the family website for more info).  The hill climb has always been a family affair and was no different with the Unser family. Jerry Sr would take his boys to the race in Colorado every year to watch Uncle Louis race.  All the boys from a small age wanted to race on the Peak, can’t blame them.  Jerry Unser owned an automotive repair shop in Albuquerque and each son had their fair share of tinkering and working in the shop. Being young and around cars all the time, racing was just going to come sooner or later.  All the boys would end up running modified cars at the local tracks.


Racing super modified at the age of 15 on Sunday nights in Albuquerque New Mexico was the beginning to Bobby’s racing career. Home town boys piecing cars together and having fun.  It didn’t take long before Bobby won the Southwest Super Modified Championship in 1950 . Military service for a few years would keep him away from racing until 1955 .  At the age of twenty one and no longer working for Uncle Sam, he was ready for his first Pikes Peak Hill Climb race.

Enter the Ugly Duckling

Jerry Unser, Bobby’s dad had been working on a new race car powered by a bored out Jaguar engine. Thinking the new car may be too powerful for Bobby’s first time at the Peak, left a question on what to drive.  His Super Modified car he won the championship with was still around. All they would have to do is build a body for it. The car ran an Oldsmobile Rocket motor which Bobby personally tore down and freshened up.  Pictures from 1955 show the motor ran FOUR inline carbs!  Must have been a custom intake, at the time the Olds was only available with a tri-carb setup. Painted up with the Unser Family colors of Red, White and Blue. Painted across the hood sides, “Jerry Unser Motor Co. Albuquerque N.M.  and the number 56 on the rear quarters. Looking good and ready to go.

Pikes Peak Hill Climb 1955

Local papers would pick up the on the nephews bearing the famous racing Unser name .  For the first time there would be four Unser’s racing.  Uncle Louis “the old man of the mountain” driving the Offy powered Federal Auto Special,  Jerry Jr in the famous Coniff Special,  Louie Jr in the Jag powered Unser Special and Bobby in the “Ugly Duckling”.

Time trails for the hill climb, brought surprising results to everyone other then an Unser.  Shelby Hill in his custom hot rod champ car took first place. With a time of 6:27.1 , 2nd place which many was thought to be a mistake was 6:28.7 ….Bobby Unser ! No mistake, not just luck, Bobby was fast at the Peak and time would be his witness.  Yes, first time out in the lest thought of car, and second fastest in time trails. Jerry 5th, Louis Jr, 6th, Uncle Louis 10th.

Race day was under perfect conditions. Balmy at the summit and only a few high thin clouds. For the first time, the start and finish lines were adjusted down hill to allow more room at the top. (same as today) . 20 racers in the Championship Class. plus 29 motorcycles in two classes ready to go.  Lloyd Faddis had the pleasure of taking the pace car up first to clear the road. (A Dodge Custom Royal  Lancer). time to get the race started!

What  happens, who wins ???  I am going to make you look that up !

Bobby Unser in the “Ugly Duckling” 1955 Pikes Peak Hill Climb race


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