Oldsmobile Toronado at Pikes Peak (part 2)

To recap part one of the story. Oldsmobile had a hit with the Toronado at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race, starting with the pre-production model testings in 1965 to the stock car class wins in 1966 and the 1-2-3 finish in 1968.

Gazette Telegraph newspaper ad from June 1969
Even the comics were advertising the Oldsmobile Toronado advantages at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1968

1969 PPHC

Nick Sanborn had the two stock car class wins with the Olds Toronado but switched to the Mercury Cyclone in 1969. When asked about the change, Nick simply replied, ‘Bigger engine”.  Four drivers would take the challenge with the Toronado’s in 1969. Frank Sanborn, Bruce Jacobi, John Rhodes and Butch Lacey.  Bobby Unser had a factory backed monster Ford Torino built by Holman-Moody-Stroppe with engine work by Smokey Yunick. From day one of practice it was going to be a race for who would get 2nd place to Mr.Unser.  As anticipated the 429 Torino would take Bobby Unser to first place in the time trials and first on race day.  The Toronado drivers had it rough on race day finishing, 6th Rhodes, 7th Peterson, 8th Jacobi and Lacey with a blown engine, “Did Not Finish”.

Was the Torondo finished at Pikes Peak , did they pass the torch over to the Fords for good?  Frank Peterson didn’t think soand he would be back with a vengeance in 1970.

Red-White and Blue !

Frank Peterson already had 3 years racing the Toronado at the Peak and a veteran of the hill climb since 1959. He already had a hand in the two previous Oldsmobile wins as a builder on Nick Sanborn’s winning Toronado’s and the other Money Olds teammates that finished 1-2-3 in 1968. The fantastic patriotic red, white and blue paint job on his 1969 Toronado would take him to his first stock car class win in 1970. Believe it or not at the time some people did not like Frank using the flag as a paint theme on his car in 1970. He definitely started a trend, and by 1976 the majority of the race cars on the Peak carried a patriotic theme. (In my opinion it is one of the best paint schemes to ever race the mountain.) Dick Harris and rookie Jerry King would also drive Toronado’s in 1970.

1970 PPHC

Nick Sanborn still in his Mercury, would take the first spot in time trails in 1970 with Frank Peterson and his Olds in second. Race day would finally see Frank Peterson get his stock car class win and the Oldsmobile Toronado was back in the top spot. The bad news, the two other Toronado’s driven by Dick Harris and Jerry King did not finish on race day.

Frank Peterson ads after winning the 1970 Pikes Peak Hill Climb in his Oldsmobile Toronado

Even the model car companies got on the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Toronado band wagon. These models bring big bucks at online auction sites.

The 1970 PPHC winning Toronado race car lives !

Frank retired the Toronado in 1971 and the car remained in storage for decades. Mechanically the car was still in good shape but the paint job needed help. Level One Restorations of Arvada Colorado would get it looking like new once again. Check out their work on the Toronado at :


Muscle Car Enthusiast magazine did a full feature on the car after the restoration. The article can be seen at Frank’s own site,  “Lakewood Manufacturing”. While you are there check out his other Pikes Peak Hill Climb cars.



I was fortunate to spend some time with the car this summer at the Hagerty Insurance open house.

The 1970 PPHC Stock Car Class trophy on display with the car
The seat and pedals were moved towards the center of the car for better weight distribution.


Larger then stock radiator and custom made Hooker Headers
Nice touch in engine compartment next to the coolant overflow was a military ammo can full of lead weight and engraved with crew members initials

Thank you Frank and Kaye Peterson and Hagerty Insurance for a great time.

Last gasps for the Toronado at Pikes Peak.

Jerry King the Rookie of the Year in 1970 would go on to run his Oldsmobile Toronado until 1972 . Bob Fling would make history by running the fastest time of any of the Toronado drivers with a 14:17.16 in 1972 which by that time, was only good enough for 7th place. Two others Rudy Proctor, 11th place finish and Jerry King “DNF” ran Toronado’s in 1972.   That was the last of the breed to compete in the Race To the Clouds.

Overall in seven years from 1966 to 1972 the Oldsmobile Toronado would take THREE overall wins in the Stock Car Class, TWO second place finishes ONE 3rd and ONE forth place finish. (Not too bad). Ten different drivers in seven years and the fastest time of 14: 17.  The car may of had a short time frame racing on Pikes Peak, but it  definitely made an impact. To this day when folks are asked about the top ten all time cars of the PPHC, Frank’s Toronado seems to come up on everyone’s list.

If you have additional information or photographs of the Toronado’s racing at the Pikes Peak hill Climb , please comment or email me. Thanks !

Raced ,Stolen, Recovered and Hidden “The Butch Early Ford Special”


Fred “Butch” Early from Colorado Springs has secret race car hiding place.

Can you see a race car in there? Nope that is the idea .

Can you see it ? The nose panel is easy to see, and just the touch of the rollbar, but underneath that carefully arranged collection of cardboard, tarps and parts is his PPHC rear engine Ford powered race car.

This is the “Ford SPpl” that is in the picture above

Can it be done and on a budget ?

Let’s go back in time some, to the early 1960’s. As you already know the rear engine race cars had been a hit at the Indianapolis 500 and would soon be taking over the entire fields at paved tracks around the country. Could it also work at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and be affordable ?  Fred,  or better known as “Butch” Early said it could work and he would prove it. The build started in Colorado Springs but in the middle of it, his job required him to move out of town. At his new home there was only a basement garage to work out of. The garage had with a very small door. No problem for Butch, he just disassembled what he had started moved it in piece by piece and continued on. Once the car was built he just reversed the process tearing the car down in small enough parts to fit through the door and reassemble it outside and load it up for his  first trip to Pikes Peak.

Ford guy true and true, but…..

To this day Butch is still a Ford guy and his car isn’t called the “Ford Special” for nothing, but there are a few parts from the enemies camp. Up front in the nose is laid back aluminum radiator out of  a Corvette , (Much lighter then any Ford at the time) and the rear end is out of a 1955 Chevy.  I should say the rear end housing, the car ate the Chevy axles for breakfast, he was snapping them left and right. That is until he figured out how to mate Ford axles to the Chevy housing. Making matters more challenging was he wanted to run Ford inboard brakes.

rear end in 2016
Dual shocks in 2016

The rear brakes are Bendex 49-50 Ford, front suspension runs homemade a-arms with 54-56 Ford Spindles, Transmission is a T-85 Warner from the 49-51 Lincoln’s which had a bigger snycro then the Ford’s. Engine was a Hi-Po 289 running a single 750 carb. (302 in car now).  The car had 10 gallon aircraft ten gallon fuel tank and one of the first sets of Weld racing rims with Gates Commander Tires (still on the car). So mostly Ford parts and home built with a weight of around 1300 pounds. Turned out to be not only fast but a very nice looking race car too.

Butch and crew all had jackets that matched the car and the pinstriping on the car was done by a local Colorado Springs fireman. The car even received the trophy for “Best Appearing Race Car” at the Autorama Show inside the old downtown City Auditorium. (He still has the 3 foot trophy). If you have any pictures from when car shows were inside at the auditorium please contact me, it is hard to find early Colorado Springs car show history.

The car was built to race , PPHC 1967-1970

The first year out was in 1967 before the secret of running ford axles was figured out. Butch snapped the Chevy axles just coming off the trailer. Year one was not a good one. Did not qualify for 67 is how it shows in the record books. During this time frame there would be 30 to 40 championship cars showing up to try to make the 25 car field on race day. Just making it to race day was considered a win in many ways. In 1968 Butch qualified 22nd and on race day his time of 15:56.10 was good enough for 15th place, ( His best finish).  In 1969 he moved up his qualifying to 15th fastest ( best qualifying),  but crashed on race day. 1970 would be Butch’s last year at Pikes Peak and would also be his fastest time on race day , 15:07.16.

Times change, car goes to storage.

Jobs, wives, kids and family all take a toll on race cars and drivers. Butch like many others had changes to make and the car was put into long term storage. At least that is what he thought. After several years he went to check on his old “Ford Special” in storage. Someone had STOLEN, his car and the storage place didn’t even notify him, sad times indeed. Jump ahead ten years later, while at a local dinner Butch overhears about a car for sale locally that could be cut up and made into a nice dune buggy. Odd it really sounded like his old car. He followed up on the tip and contacted the seller, IT WAS HIS CAR ! Even after explaining all the small build details and the pictures of him racing it back  day, the seller still wouldn’t let him have the car back for free . Butch wasn’t going to give up and rather then going through the the hassles and time involved to take matter to court, he figured the fastest and easiest thing to was to just buy his car back.

The car survives today !

Other then the time it was stolen the car has been with him for 40 plus years and will be for many more. When I  first saw the pile of parts in the undisclosed storage location, I couldn’t believe a race car was in there. It really was there and the covering of stuff has helped it stay there for many years. Once bitten is enough for Butch. You cant steal it , if you don’t know even know it’s there .

Car sits mostly complete, with motor, trans, bod, and even sitting on the same Gates Tires still holding air from 1970 ,


                                          Soon to come out of storage.

The “Early Ford Special” is due to come out of hiding and get cleaned up but will be kept in a as raced condition and not all dolled up like the cars you see in some museums.

First year, early nose, headers etc.
Later nose, header and roll bar , car is same today

Hard to decide which story line is better, the man with the idea to build an affordable rear engine race car and does it, or how it was built in a basement garage and dissembled to take it out and put back together to race it. then there is the story on stolen from storage, bought back and hidden in plain site to consider. You tell me or maybe its all of it, either way thank you Fred” Butch” Early for passing on your wonderful Pikes Peak Hill Climb stories.

The first rear engine Championship Class car at the PPHC.

The Lotus Blossom 

The rear engine revolution was already in effect at the Indianapolis 500 race by 1963. Not to be left behind, Burt Blanot built a rear engine car known as the “Lotus Blossom” to run at the 1964 Pikes Peak Hill Climb race.

Gazette Telegraph 6-21-1964

Testing a car for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race has always been an issue. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s running on  a dirt oval track was thought to be the best way to work out the bugs in a new car. The Lotus Blossom was terrible in the corners at the oval tracks,  but could pass the whole flock on the straight aways.  Circle track racing was just too hard on the car and testing remained limited for 1964

Thanks go out to the BCRA for this picture !

The car ran a fuel injected 327 Chevrolet V-8,  saddle bag gas tanks, Jaguar rearend,  Airheart brakes and a nose mounted radiator. In the beginning the car would constantly break the rear axles.  Thanks to Bobby Unser’s advice on how to properly heat treat the axles  the problem was quickly resolved.

Lotus Blossom at the 1964 Pikes Peak Hill Climb race

The Team 

Burt Blanot and son Bertie ran a automotive parts and engine machining shop in Colorado Springs Co. ” Burt’s Auto and Engine Supply” . (Just closed in 2017)  They were also owners of many successful, stock , sprint  and midget  race cars. Orville Nance  a full time crane operator for “Wicker Transfer”, was one of his race car drivers and also a eight time veteran of Pikes Peak .

1964 PPHC debut .

There was twenty race cars entered in the Championship Class at Pikes Peak in 1964 . Handling problems during practice plagued the Lotus Blossom team the car qualified middle of the pack in  ninth . Bobby Unser was fastest by far,  during practice with brother Al Unser not far behind in the now famous Conze “Downtube” car .  The rear engine car was getting lots of attention. On race day things didn’t go as planned,  an engine failure after Orville hit a bank below 16 mile,  kept the car from making it to the summit.  It was a rough year but the door was opened for the rear engine race cars at Pikes Peak Hill Climb  and the Burt Blanot- Orville Nance team was the first.

Gets better over time.

The Lotus Blossom ran Pikes Peak for the next six years. Orville Nance raced it from 1964 until 1968.  Bob Herring took over as driver in 1969 and rolled it during practice his first year, but the team got it going again and was fourth in class on race day. The car’s last year was in 1970 with Bob again behind the wheel, recording the cars fastest time of 13;04.2 and it’s best finish of 3rd in class.

Orville Nance at the 1966 Pikes Peak Hill Climb (new nose vent for better cooling)
Orville Nance driving the Lotus Blossom during the 1967 PPHC. (notice new injector stacks)
Lotus Blossom at Pikes Peak in the team’s signature ” Blanot: Blue”

The car survives and needs your help !

What remained with much needed.
After sandblasting

A non-profit organization is attempting to put this car back together as a static display. With it being the first rear engine car at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb it is worth saving.  As with any old race car, several parts are missing and additional help and information is needed. If you have pictures of this car or knowledge of the original build please contact me and I will pass the information on.  (Parts donations accepted as well,  a Chevy 327 block is needed )

*What kind of radiator was used ? *  2 speed transmission type ? *Gauge set up and type ?

Thanks for reading my posts and I am working on getting better functionality to the site soon. Hope you enjoyed learning about the first rear engine car to race Pikes Peak Hill Climb, the “Lotus Blossom”