The Conze Special and it’s many firsts at Pikes Peak

What makes a car historic ?

What makes for a historic race car? Tens of thousands of race cars have been built, maybe more. Some cars carry a higher historical reference point then others. What distinguishes a race car to be considered a part of history, more then any other car? Some cars carry a special driver to victory. Some cars have special builders or owners. A few race cars have leading  technology before others.

One car that raced the Pikes Peak Hill Climb can lay claim to being considered historic for many of those reasons.

The Conze Machine Shop

To find out the story of Andy, Elaine and Vince Conze read the story here,

The car had a brilliant build team and soon would get it’s special driver.

Al Unser and his first PPHC race car AND his first PPHC win

1960 was the very first year for Al Unser to follow his Uncle and brothers footsteps to race at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The newspapers were buzzing about an additional Unser on the Peak. Time trials would even stir the pot some more. In his first year out Al was the fastest at the time trails even beating his older brother Bobby.  Weather on race day was ok in the beginning but after the first few drivers it turned sour. Luckily, Al Unser go away while the sun was still out. Unfortunately being a rookie he wasn’t quite ready for the course, spinning out twice and clipping the fender of the radio broadcast car on the way to the top. The car and Al were still fast and after the weather moved in, his time of 13:37.6 was good enough for 2nd place in the Championship Division. Great rookie year.

Al would meet back up with the Conze Special again in 1964 and take his first overall win at Pikes Peak with a time of 12:24.5. (Beating his brother Bobby had to feel good too)

Being the very first car that Al  Unser raced at Pikes Peak and the car he got his first PPHC win, classifies this car as something special. (Al Unser would go on to be a FOUR time Indy 500 winner.)

But there is more !

The car you ask.

So we know the car had a famous builder and had a famous driver ( actually several famous drivers). But what about the car ?

The first “Conze Special” was considered a rail type car. meaning running a traditional main frame with items attached and running an aluminum body. Vince built this car to be super light, ranging in weight between 900-1200 lbs while it was at Pikes Peak. The strongest lightest motor of its time was the legendary 220 Offenhauser motor. Some stats show this car racing at 2 pounds of weight for every horsepower. That is fast !

Roll bar updates to the Conze Spl at Pikes Peak. Top 1960, middle 1963, bottom 1964

Another area of history with the car, was the development of the roll bar, slash roll cage. Pikes Peak only required a single loop roll cage just like Indianapolis 500 starting in 1959. The original intent was to protect the fuel tanks in the rear of the car, the owners were complaining about the tanks replacement cost. The driver can at least duck out of the way was the prevailing wisdom.  In 1962 with veteran driver Slim Roberts at the wheel the Conze Special went off the road badly. The location was at the first of the switchbacks before Devils Playground.  The car went off and stopped 300 feet down the mountain and 13 rolls later.  (Still considered one of the worst accidents at Pikes Peaks)

Gazette Telegraph 7-5-62
Pikes Peak 1962, Slim Roberts driving

As you can guess Slim Roberts was a “did not finish in 1962.  After the PPHC in 62, Vince Conze repaired the car and had the body work banged out and took it racing in California at Ascot Speedway, Sacramento and in Phoenix Arizona. The following year it would be back at Pikes Peak.

1963 First Championship car to have 4 point roll bar at PPHC

Yes, the car came back in 1963 with a new driver, Jimmy Davis and a four point roll bar over the drivers area. Not sure if this was a first championship car in oval track racing, but it was a FIRST at Pikes Peak. (The four point roll bar at PPHC would not be a requirement until 1973) The safety of the driver was important to Vince and he spent the money and extra weight to make it so. The team wasn’t down with safety yet, there was more to come.

1964 First Championship race car to run “Down Tubes”

Al Unser at the 1964 PPHC “Conze Spl.”

Remember how Vince liked to run a lightweight race car. When jimmy Davis drove the car with the four bar roll cage in 1964, he complained about the body flexing. That older car had been through alot and it was time to build a new car with additional chassis strength. Enter the “Down Tube” race car. You can see above how the extra tubing goes from the front all the way over the top and down the back, tying the all tube chassis together, while allowing for the lighter weight.  Not only was this at first for Pikes Peak but it was a first in Championship race cars. (It would took many years for this upgraded style of roll cage to become mainstream) 1964 was Al Unsers’ first victory at the Peak

The car still survives and available to the public.

Thanks to the Conze and Unser families, Ted Foltz, Gere Manning and several others the car was fully restored . It can be seen at the El Pomar Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado

All things considered, I believe this can be classified a very historic Pikes Peak Hill Climb race car.      Do you ?

Please contact me with any questions or if you have additional information to add about the Conze Special.


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