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 :

https://levelonerestoration.com/portfolio-view/pikes-peak-hill-climb-1969-toronado/

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.

http://www.frankpetersonlmc.com/Petersons_-_Muscle_Car.pdf

 

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 !

The Oldsmobile Toronado at Pikes Peak (part 1)

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 :

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2odiba 

( 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

Louis Unser in a Olds Toronado in 1966
Nick Sanborn PPHC Money Olds Toronado.

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.

Mobil Oil ad photo with Nick Sanborn at finish line in 1966

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.

Oldsmobile Toronado 1-2-3 at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

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)

Oldsmobile advertising celebrating the Toronado wins
Columbus shocks ad from the 1968 Pikes Peak Hill Climb with a Olds Toronado

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 !