“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 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 !