The beginning of the Toronado Legand at Pikes Peak.
Most folks associate the Oldsmobile Toronado and Pikes Peak with the winning, red white and blue race car driven by Frank Peterson in 1970. In fact it started much earlier with Bobby Unser and Oldsmobile in 1965.
At that time General Motors management was still enforcing the “anti- racing” ban. Ted Louckes assistant head of experimental engineering at Oldsmobile side stepped that policy by undertaking a quest to set a new stock car record at Pikes Peak. After all a hill climb wasn’t necessarily a race, just a simple timed event and thankfully GM’s upper management allowed it. What better way to show the advantages of front wheel drive and Oldsmobile performance then racing up to the summit of Pikes Peak. Chevrolet had used Pikes Peak several times in the past to bolster the brands image. In 1936 with their new truck line, then again in 1955 with the new Bel Air and latter with the CERV1 testing. They also had an ace in the hole with a special driver lined up to help testing. In the 1960’s there wasn’t a better test driver on Pikes Peak then Bobby Unser. Rather then running on race day, Old’s set up private testing date using a pre-production model Toronado with a 425 Rocket V-8 and automatic transmission. Official timing was provided by USAC and the Pikes Peak Hill Climb organization . Car and Driver magazine ran a four page article on the Toronado Pikes Peak testing feat in the March 1966 issue. ( Cheap on eBay). Video is also available at :
( Sorry about the music track on that video) Bobby Unser helped Oldsmobile get the most out of the Toronado pushing the car to it’s limits and getting a best time of 14:09.9 just seventeen seconds short of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb stock car class record. Overall it was considered a great success. The upcoming PPHC in 1966 would see two Toronado’s compete on race day.
1966 the first Toronado win .
Money Oldsmobile a local dealership would sponsor two cars for the 1966 PPHC. Nick Sanborn and Louis Unser both hill climb veterans, were the drivers. An early press release from the PPHC stated “The front wheel drive feature of the Oldsmobile Toronado could prove to be a real advantage to Nick Sanborn since he drives up the “Peak” with one of his rear wheels hanging over the side most of the time” Both cars were set up by Frank Sanborn (Nick’s twin brother) and Frank Peterson of Denver
On race day Nick would take the stock car class win with a time of 14:36 and 70 year old Louis Unser had to struggle without power steering after losing a belt early on the course but he still made it to the top in 15:51 good enough for 4th place.
1967 the good and the bad
Three Toronado’s were entered for 67. Nick Sanborn and the “Old Man of the Mountain” Louis Unser were in the Money Olds dealership cars, built by the Sanborn brothers. A third car built and driven by Frank Peterson with sponsorship by Windish Motors of Denver. All three were fast during practice and time trials. Race day brought “DNF’s” with engine failures for both the Money Olds entries. The good news for the Toronado’s ,was Frank Peterson taking second place with a time of 14:35. Frank left the start line with less then a full tank of gas and had fuel starvation issues that caused the car to cut out in the switchbacks. Frank’s Toronado minus the fuel issues would have easily taken 1st place in 1967. Factory gas tanks in those days had poor baffling that allowed the gas to slosh from side to side which left the fuel pickup high and dry during those hard turns.
1st-2nd and 3rd in 1968 !
The Money Oldsmobile team fielded three cars in 68. Nick Sanborn, Frank Peterson and rookie Bob Fling. A forth Toronado was entered by Bruce Jacobi from Speedway Indiana.
Race day was a sweep for the Toronado’s . 1st 2nd and 3rd out of a field of 20 cars. Nick Sanborn took his fifth PPHC win with his time of 14:23. One thing about the stock car results from 1955-1965 was the minimum weight requirements per cubic inch rules were not being enforced. By the time the Toronado hit Pikes Peak technical inspections included weigh ins that kept the factory light weight cars out. The Oldsmobile Toronado came in with 9.36 pounds per cubic inch with the 427 or a required 3990 pounds. The earlier stock class record of 13:52 by Parnelli Jones in 1964 was with a factory light weight Mercury Marauder. (There was no enforced weight per cubic inch rules during the 55-65 years)
1968 was a good year for the Oldsmobile Toronado at Pikes Peak.
Be sure to read part 2 of the “Toronado Legend of Pikes Peak” and find out about the years 1969 and up and the Frank Peterson surviving race car.
Thanks for checking out this Pikes Peak racing blog and feel free to leave comments, questions or suggestions. I don’t bite !