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 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”