“The Gray Line”, the mountain gives back.

The 1940 Gray Line tour car line up.

 As early as 1915 there was a market for tourist travel to the summit of Pikes Peak. While many folks chose to take the Cog Rail line to the top, others wanted a more personalized and private trip to the summit by automobile.

White bus, Pierce-Arrow, Cadillac and specialty designed 1955 Chevrolet tour cars were used on Pikes Peak

The Broadmoor Hotel ran the largest stable of tour cars and ran the program through the Gray Line travel company. Earliest cars that were used began with the White Model 15-25 bus and the Pierce-Arrow cars.  Tradition dictated the drivers to stop at the halfway point for pictures at Glen Cove and for an additional charge, photographs could also be taken a summit house.

Starting in the late 1930’s the Broadmoor Hotel ordered specialty built Cadillac tour cars with a removable canvas roof.   These twelve passenger cars became a favorite with the folks wanted to take in all of the sites along the route. Additional orders continued in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the later cars no longer had the removable top but came with sunroofs featured across the top of the cars to allow for the wonderful views , while keeping the somewhat brisk temperatures at bay.

The program of producing these special cars became such a success that the Cadillac named them the “Broadmoor Skyview” .

By 1955 the cars were all painted a bright red and no longer carried the Gray Line tour company logos . They were used by the hotel for VIP guests. These 1955, 1956 and the last edition of the SkyView Cadillac in 1959 have become very collectible and a few have survived.

The Flxible Bus.

In 1954 a contact to build short wheel base tour buses was given to the Flxible Company of Londonville Ohio, for five buses . Four would go to the Pikes Peak Highway Company and an additional bus for the “Colburn Motors Tours” company also from Colorado Springs.

New buses coming to the Pikes Peak Highway in 1954
The “Flxible bus while on a rest stop on the Pikes Peak Highway.
The Broadmoor Skydview Cadillac in 1959 in bright red .
Picture shows a Broadmoor Skyview Cadillac and a Flxible bus at the summit of Pikes Peak late 1950’s

The Gray Line and Broadmoor tour drivers.

This is the part were the mountain gave back. One of the hardest parts of racing on Pikes Peak is learning the road. The so called “156 turns” can make or break a drivers time to the summit. If you wanted to know the route better as a race car driver , taking a turn as a tour car or a tour bus driver was one of the best ways to learn the course. (Some out of state competitors called it an unfair advantage for the local drivers) .  As early as 1949 Speed Age magazine interviewed successful driver Art Hillis about his knowledge of the course and that time already had 5040 trips up Pikes Peak as a tour car driver. That’s right over 5000 trips !

Best way to know the road was by being a tour car driver . Free Press newspaper 1950

 

Many race car drivers, Art Hillis, J.C. Shoemaker, Al Rogers ( over 3000), Louie J. Unser, Nick Sanborn,  Bob Finney and many more over the years could count their trips in the hundreds and thousands on the Pikes Peak Highway. .  Not only was it about learning the many turns , but also learning how the weather conditions effected the different road surfaces.

A handful survive !

The mountain took it’s toll on the equipment used in the tourist business, but the care given to the vehicles used was always first class. Several still survive today. The most prominent of the survivors is fittingly still with the Broadmoor Hotel.  A beautiful 1937 Cadillac with the roll back roof is still in their collection and is available to rent for special occasions.

The 1937 Cadillac tour car in front of the Broadmoor Hotel

 

Two of the Flxible buses survive, one is rumored to be in England and other known bus is located in the USA.  Check out this video below for more details.

 

Someone had to do it.

As long as companies were providing travel tours up to the summit of Pikes Peak,by automobile someone had to drive. Why not an inspiring race car driver !

If you have additional information, photos or stories about these tour programs please contact me. It is an important part of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb racing history.

The Legacy of the Coniff Special and Al Rogers

Prior to World War II,  driver Al Rogers and car owner,Joe Coniff built and raced several cars . Successful at the oval tracks and competitive at Pikes Peak. Not yet having the results that would take them into the category of legends.The car that would put them on that map, was the car built  in early 1947. The white with red scallops  number nine , with the Offenhauser motor that raced only at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb .Once the troops started coming home from the war, racing was back to the forefront of the nation.  Pikes Peak was in that spotlight and the cars were fastest and better built then ever.

The decision to build the car for the hill climb only was going to pay off big.  Circle track racing is about building up speed and keeping it going around the track the same direction for many laps. Pikes Peak is more like a series of drag races with turns at the end going either left or right.  At the hill climb you need big horsepower to deal with the altitude of the climb, you lose power as the air thins out at the upper levels.  Large horsepower at a circle tracks means less traction.  Building one car for both venues of racing is a matter of making sacrifices to suit the track and never fully getting everything you want for that days race. That fact is still true in 2017, many of the PPHC cars are ONE race a year only specialty built cars just for the Peak. Al and Joe where surely thinking ahead of their times.

Al Rogers and mechanic Fred Peterson 1947

With the new “Offy” motor and the car set up to only run a the Peak,  things started happening for the Joe and Al, with the Coniif Spl.  Time trails the first time out in 1947, Al takes first place beating the other “Offy” being ran by George Hammond and Johnny Mauro in a McDowell ford. (Same engine kind Coniff had in 46) What would race day bring?

Bridesmaid again……..what….yes!  Second place to guess who….Louis Unser in the Maserati.  It was close .36 of a second difference. At the last turn just in front of the summit house, Al slid wide and hit a stack of rocks protecting the electric timing device wire, slowing him down enough to make the difference between 1st and 2nd.   Unser 16:34.77 ,Rogers 16:35.13 Overall having a newly built car , first in time trails and second on race day 1947 was a good year. Now for the legendary stuff.

The start of a  legacy .

Winning in 1940 and second place in 1937, 1939, and 1947 plus a win at the Lands End Hill Climb in 1940. Not the stats of a legend ,  but enough not to give up hope that things could change. Change it did !!

1948 1st in time trails, 1st on Race Day

1949 1st in time trails, 1st on Race Day

1950 1st in time trails ,1st on Race Day

1951 2nd in time trails, 1st on race Day

FOUR Pikes Peak Hill Climb Wins in a row !

 

Newspaper, magazines and even on the Radio, Al Rogers and the Coniff Speical was getting press.

Firestone and Al Rogers wins again with the Coniff Special

Al Rogers drove for Joe Coniff one last time in 1952 placing third.  But his  heart was in the new Pan America race in Mexico which he ran in 1950 to 1953. Three additional heroes of the Peak would drive in the few remaining years of the cars passing glory.  Jerry Unser in 1955, 9th place, Louis Unser 1956-DNF  and in 1957 5th place. Ted Foltz 1958-15th and in 1959 5th and final year for the Coniff Special ,with the cars fastest time to the top of  14:09.5 5th place.

It takes a team to make a legacy. Thirteen years, from 1947 to 1959 racing the same car an the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. .That is a long time for any team, let alone the same car.  From the car owner and  drivers, the mechanics and crew, to all the family members and fans.,the “Coniff Special” had what it took to become a Legend of Pikes Peak.  The story doesn’t stop here, there is still one more chapter.

Check out “The Coniff Speical Comes Home”

 

The beginning of the Coniff Special

 

The Coniff Special 

A wonderful picture of a race car and driver that would make history together. Car owner Joe Coniff had been turning out race cars since 1931. His cars were known for their high speed and great craftsmanship.  Until  the building of this car , Joe Coniff cars were built to run on dirt circle tracks thru out the mid-west and to also compete in the annual Pikes Peak Hill Climb race.  From the start of this new build , his 5th race car, the plan was to build a car that would only run  at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race.

$ 15,000 race car

The plan from the beginning was to make this car his best. When completed the car was valued in 1940 dollars at $15,000. ( Inflation adjusted in 2017 dollars = $258,550 )  What motor was the best for the build ? The number one raced motor, at the time in the world famous Indianapolis 500 race was the Offenhauser engine.

The “Offy” as it was nicknamed would go on to win 24 Indianapolis 500 wins from 1934-1960. The “Big-4” design can trace it’s history to the Miller engines of the 30s. A large four cylinder motor, the block  and heads made of aluminum, with twin overhead cams and  four valves per cylinder. Engines easily pushing over 300 horsepower. That is what the newest “Coniff Special” needed.

During the summer of 1946, Joe went to California to purchase a engine for his new car. He came home with the Miller Marine designed  220 cu. in. Offenhauser engine.  Taking a big chuck of cash out of the cars budget. Winning the PPHC at the time only paid  $3,000 for 1st, $2,000 for second ,$1,000 for third and some additional cash for setting a new record .It would take many years to pay for a car that only raced once a year. Clearly car owners were not in it for the money !  (Still true today)

 Enter Al Rogers ,

Alfred C. Rogers, “Al”, was from  Pekin Illinois and moved to Colorado Springs Colorado  in 1904 . He started his relationship with the mountain as a a tour bus driver on Pikes Peak Highway in  1929.  Making more then 3000 trips. (To this day learning the road is the hardest part for competitors to overcome) Mr.Rogers became an expert on the course and started racing the road at the 1936 Hill Climb. Driving for Joe Coniff in a race car that Al helped build .  His time of 17:09.6 was good for second place. Becoming a bridesmaid to Louis Unser in his first PPHC race started a new trend. He would  get 2nd place to Louis Unser in 1938 and  1939.  Those first four years, second place finishes except a “Did Not Finish” in 1937. Frustrating for sure. But second place at the PPHC was still a major accomplishment.  Al would also raced with Joe Coniff cars with success and wins outside of Pikes Peak on dirt tracks in the Mid-West and Rocky Mountain region.  1940 the  bridesmaid curse was broken, with !st place wins at Pikes Peak and the Lands End Hill Climbs, still running the older cars .

What results would the new car, built for only one race a year, bring to Joe Coniff and Al Rogers . Catch ” Coniff Special Comes Home” to find out more