A Formula Vee designed for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race.

Ken Block and his off-road Formula Vee race car in 1972

When most people think of Formula Vee race cars their thought goes to paved road race courses on the west coast.  The idea of placing an aircooled Volkswagen engine in a light weight tube chassis car was started by privateers before the manufacturer got behind the program.  Formula Vee or “FV” racing was an inexpensive way to get into motorsports racing.  This style of race car had a very large following that continues still today throughout the country and overseas as well. The cars are easy to work on, easy to haul and don’t take up that much room in a home garage. The class rules help keep cost down and the races have large fields with close competition.   Find out more about Formula Vee racing at :   http://www.formulavee.us/

Ken Blockhan

In the 1960’s Ken Blockhan owned a service station in Cascade Colorado at the foot of the Pikes Peak Automobile Highway. After hundreds of service calls in his wrecker along the road up to the summit, he learned the course by heart.  The racing bug seems to effect just about everyone who lives in the Colorado mountains long enough. It didn’t take Ken long to catch it. He built his first car with a 40 horsepower VW motor and he began running races at the local gravel pit having some success. The first race car proved out his idea, that a light weight chassis with a rear mounted VW engine could be very competitive against the heavier and higher horsepowered cars.  Using a friends Formula Vee race car, he made molds of the body panels to use on his new race car and developed a stronger chassis design in order handle the additional stress of hill climbing racing. Additional horsepower was going to be needed the 2nd time around.  Ken built up a 1700cc Volkswagen engine using a 64mm stroker crank and dual carburetors,  more then doubling the horsepower of his old race car. When finished, the new race car only weighed a little over 800 pounds. In later years, he updated the engine to a 2180 RayJay turbo VW motor running close to 150 hp  and still only weighing about 800 pounds.

Ken’s Husky Service advertisement for the 1973 PPHC race featuring his Formula Vee race car.

Not only was the car built to run the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, it was also raced at Los Alamos NM, Deadwood SD, the Indian Springs Road race and several other hill climbs in Colorado. (Ken did get around!)

Ken Blockhan at Pikes Peak running a VW 2180 with a Rayjay turbo.

Racing requirements of the time mandated the four point roll cage over the drivers compartment, making for a sometimes odd looking race car.  Safety comes first, and the cage not only kept the driver safe when they would exit the course unexpectedly, it also was designed to keep the wildlife out of the drivers laps.  Deer, elk, big horn sheep and bears all call the mountains their home in Colorado.

Ken did his own engine upgrades over the years including the addition of a Rayjay turbo and fuel changes from gas to alcohol. 1700cc and 2180cc motors were both tried, of course bigger is always better, when at 14,115 feet in altitude.

 

 

 

Several local sponsors helped make the car a fan favorite. Bob Young’s Cabaret in Cascade CO and Hueberger VW in Colorado Springs.

Ken Blockhan at the Limestone Quarry Hill Climb 2nd place finishDuring many of Ken’s racing exploits he would strap an 8mm camera onto the cage to help him understand his driving lines. Go Pro’s camera’s are the rage today but Ken was doing this in the early 1970’s. Not only did it supply him with feedback of his driving form, it provided a great historical record of that era of racing. During a few races when he ended up off course or broken down he would unstrap the camera and take footage for friends and families that were racing .

This was the only Formula Vee race car that ever ran the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and it still survives today. Yes, you heard that right, Ken still has his race car. The car he nicknamed “The Roadrunner” over 45 years ago still gets taken out occasionally for car shows and events.

Ken Blockhan in his Formula Vee, VW powered race car. Notice the snow still on the mountain at the 1972 hill climb race.

My thanks go out Ken and the entire Blockhan family for preserving and promoting the racing history of the PPHC !

The Stillman Camaro at the Pikes Peak race

The “Stillamn Camaro” at the El Pomar Museum in Colorado Springs

The Stock Car Class

The first go around for the stock car class started at Pikes Peak in 1927 and ran until 1934. The second time around for the class wasn’t until 1956. The reformed class was popular with the fans and the manufactures.  Factory hot rods and lightweight cars took advantage of the loose enforcement of class rules (1956-65).  Noted examples, was a 1957 Chevrolet Black Widow Coupe, a factory hot rod, several Supercharged Fords, and couple of Bill Stroppe built lightweight Mercury’s . By 1966 the rules were tightened up enforcing the minimum weight requirement of 3990 pounds, keeping the factory “specials’ at bay.  Things were back in order and the cars you saw winning on Pikes Peak, you could really go out and buy at your local dealership.

Chevrolet Camaro’s and the PPHC

1st generation Camaro’s 1967-69 did not appear at Pikes Peak Hill Climb.   Reviewing the rules of the time , more then likely they would have been placed into Sports Car Class if any would have entered during that time period. The 2nd generation Camaro’s showed up in their first year of production. John Rhodes of Denver Colorado was the first to race Camaro at Pikes Peak. The week of the race, while practicing away from the Peak, John had the misfortune of rolling his brand new race car. Not letting his accident keep him down, Johnny still got his car back on the road and took fifth place in 1970 at Pikes Peak Hill Climb with a time of 15.01.  Bob Silvers would be the first to win the Stock Car Class in a Camaro in 1972. Ted Foltz would take the second Camaro win in 1975, running a 427, with a time of 13:39. Ralph Bruning would take wins in his Camaro in 1976,77,78 .

The Stillman Camaro.

The car started as a 1973 Chevy Camaro bank repro that was involved in a minor accident. That was just fine for the Stillman family, they wanted to build a race car. Basically everything on the car was sold off , except for the shell. A new 350 cubic inch motor was built by John McClintic of Albuquerque , using a brand new LT1 block, Racer-Brown cam, Isky rockers and Mogul bearings.  A highly modified Holley carb , Hooker headers with a NASCAR type extension pipes and Hays Stinger ignition, round out the motor.

The suspension up front has unique blend of parts, running Ford truck spindles, Chevrolet one ton truck upper ball joints and Chrysler Imperial lowers. Hubs were made to mount Lincoln disc brakes.  A CAE quick-change read end out back and large drum brakes.

The interior is sparse as expected. Of note is the roll cage design, there is the additional support bars around the door area.  NASCAR would in later years mandate that style of protection in all of it’s cars. The Stillman team built in that protection,  years before the rules required it, in order to keep their drivers safe at Pikes Peak.

The Stillman Camaro on display.

 

The body is basically just the outer skin of a Camaro with the doors welded shut. Nice to see the look of a vinyl top being used, which was a big fad in muscle cars coming from the factories in the 1970s. Steve Stillman, the man behind the car build, his first car was a Sunflower Yellow Chevelle with black stripes, thus all of the Stillman Camaro’s would wear the same sunflower color.

Nice family touch on each quarter panel. The hearts have the owners siblings inames on them.

Very few survive !

Only a hand full of PPHC stock car class cars survive. Bobby Unser’s Ford Torino from 1969, Frank Petersons Oldsmobile Toronado and the Stillman Camaro are the most prominent that remain. All three of those cars raced in the days when the bodies had to come from the factory, real steel cars with true factory frames designs. Finding any race cars from that era in great shape is a challenge and finding Pikes Peak raced ones are even harder.

Results

Charlie Sprague was the first to race the Stillman Camaro at the PPHC in 1973.  He qualified 10th during time trials. On race day Charlie was one of the 14 stocks cars that failed to finish. The largest “Did Not Finish” stock car class field in the mountains history. (Road conditions ?)

Dale Mewhorter had the reins in 1974. Qualified 16th but made up for it on race day with a 6th place finish and a time of 14:13.  Dale took the car to it’s best placing in 1975. Fourth place with a time of 14:09.

Go see the car !

The Stillman family would go on to build two other Pikes Peak Hill Climb Camaro’s. By 1976 this car was already outdated, with new build designs and rule changes it was easier to start on a new car then updating the 1973 car. That decision ended up being a good thing for history fans. Being the first of three PPHC cars that the Stillman’s built, and it was still in great shape, the car became a showpiece at their business . The car spent many years on display in Albuquerque and additional time at the original Hill Climb museum in Mantiou Springs, Colorado. Out of the elements and on display most of it’s life ,the first “Stillman Camaro” has aged gracefully.

In 2017 the car may of found it’s final home in the El Pomar Hill Climb Museum in Colorado Springs.  Go see it !

https://www.elpomar.org/About-Us/penrose-heritage-museum/

 

 

 

 

 

The Pikes Peak Snow Run

When did it start ?

The Pikes Peak Snow run was an annual event to race a group of motorcycles from Glen Cove up to the summit of Pikes Peak on New Years Day. Some say it all started as a bar bet, in Manitou Springs in the 1920’s .  How many other great ideas have started from a few adult beverages, many is my guess. For the Pikes Peak Snow Run the question was, could you take a motorcycle all the way to the top, in the dead of winter and  who can do it the fastest?  (Crazy  wasn’t it ! )

In the early years it was done on New Year’s Eve and later changed to New Year’s day. The start of the race would be at Glen Cove seven miles from the summit of Pikes Peak. The local motorcycle clubs would run the show and try keep track of the riders. There can be several weather patterns on Pikes Peak at any given time.  Snow at Glen Cove, fog at Devils Playground and sunny at the summit and all those above switched around and mixed up to include, wind, rain, sleet, hail and perhaps a little sunshine.

Harry’s Roamers M.C. 

The Harry’s Roamers Motorcycle Club of Denver was the driving force behind the run in the early years before WW2. The earliest written article that I have been able to find  about the race comes from” The Motorcyclist” magazine in 1938.

From’ The Motorcyclist” magazine 1938

Some years all the bikes would make it to the top,  some years  only one or two and some years the mountain would win. In the beginning the number of bikes was low from a few to perhaps as many as twenty or thirty.

From “The Motorcyclist” magazine 1940

After WW2  it seems different motorcycle clubs carried the weight of the race. The Pikes Peak Comets and the Dusters M.C. are mentioned the most.

Those who make it and those who don’t.

Most of the motorcycles were stock and the regular transportation of the riders. The event was more about the fun then the actual racing.  Local newspaper accounts are hard to come by. The Snow Run competed with the College Football Bowl game results for column space the following day. Even results from the motorcycle magazines from the day are limited. By the 1950’s this was a big event with up to a 100 riders plus,. Still considered for the most part a local event with racers nearby showing up to test themselves against mother nature and the mountain.

Pikes Peak Snow Run trophy 1955 Best Sportsmanship Ray Koch

Classes were broken up my engine size with professionals and  amateurs classes

Every bike imaginable competed, Harley-Davidson, Indian, Triumph, BSA, etc..  The history of the motorcycle unfolded right there on Pikes Peak for the 50 years the Snow Run was allowed.

Mass starts in the 70s

As the road got better and many families were on the second generation of riders at the Snow Run, the class sizes increased dramatically .

Robert Talbot #44 in the lower center in 1971

Robert Talbot raced this iconic race in the 1970’s and has a replica of his  !971 Yamaha Snow Run bike at his museum in Camel California.

http://www.mototalbott.com/

The race would go from calm to chaos in the first few hundred feet.

Above three pictures are from the 1975 Pikes Peak Snow Run start line at Glen Cove

Coming to it’s end

By the 1980’s the race was getting to be a handful to control. Plenty of people wanting to ride but not many to help setup and control the race. The huge elephant in the room was working with the City of Colorado Springs who owned the road and Forest Department.  The end was near.

Event poster for the 1981 Snow Run

The poster says it all !!

Not for the Rose parade on TV types-for the riders with enough grit to prepare for the cold and wanting a treasured experience.

The last record I have of the race comes from the Gazette Telegraph newspaper in 1982.  Richard Dostal of Layfette Colorado, B.Theil,  King of Denver, Blake of Colorado Springs and Brewer of Lakewood were all winners. Yes, even when results were given it was tough to figure it out. (You try getting times at 14,000 feet and 30 below temps with winds of 30mph plus)

The race had run it’s course, starting out as a drunken bet and running for 50 years, the Pikes Peak Snow Run had changed the lives of the thousands of racers that had the gall to take a motorcycle in the dead of winter to the top of a  mountain.

If you have additional pictures or stories from the Pikes Peak Snow Run, please contact me. Over time I hope to update this post with a more complete story.

Gurney Eagles racing at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb

Most people think of the Gurney-Eagle race cars as something you see at the Indianapolis 500 race or other types of paved speedways. There have always been a few owners and drivers at the PPHC who like to think out of the box. In the 1930s it was the “Hunt-Jenkins” Studebaker that graced both the Indy 500 and Pikes Peak. Louis Unser the “Old Man of the Mountain” drove a the Maserati 8CTF and Johnny Mauro drove an Alfa Romeo and a Ferrari that took on both the Peak and the brick yard.  So why not, in the early 1970s,  wouldn’t you take a Gurney Eagle off the pavement and onto the 12.4 miles course to the Summit. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Two Gurney Eagles

The last production MK5 Gurney Eagle in 1969 was chassis number 514 and  was sold brand new to Jim Busby in April 1979, who crashed it shorty thereafter. The second owner Floyd Sable had it completely rebuilt and only owned it for a short time before selling it to Larry Orhdorf of Colorado Springs.

Poster advertisement for the Gurney Eagle at the PPHC. (notice it was before roll cage updated)

During it’s time at Pikes Peak from 1974 to 1979, it normally ran  a Traco Chevrolet V-8, running Weber carburetors and rated at 500 horsepower.  The suspension height was adjusted  with increased tire size and chassis adjustments to give it about three inches of  ground clearance. Roll cage requirements changed in 1972 making it mandatory for a four point cage around the drivers area. All six years the car carried the number 45.  Best time for the car was in 1978 running a 12:38.30 .

Gurney-Eagle waiting for tech inspection 1976

The current owner has taken great care of the car since the late 1980s.

There was a second Gurney-Eagle  too.

Bud Hoffpauir in a 1968 Gurney Eagle at the Teller County Hill Climb

The second Gurney was a 1968 model and it also ran a Chevy V-8, both cars were owned by Larry Orhdorf.   Just running the Pike Peak Hill Climb the one year 1976, very few pictures are available.

Below is a newspaper article about a practice incident in 1976 with the second car, driven by Bud Hoffpauir.

The car raced  at PPHC running number 47 and was a “did not finish”.

Thanks for saving these cars.

Both cars survive and someday I hope to have a close up look at them. Just glad the owner has taken great care of both of them.

Check back later and hopefully I will have updates.