Eight Favorite Pikes Peak Racers from the Penrose Heritage Museum
A group of Pikes Peak heroes and their warhorses.
You might not know it, but the International Pikes Peak Hill Climb (PPIHC) is one of the most historically rich motorsports events in American history. Since the inaugural race in 1916, the hill climb has been held an incredible 97 times, only pausing for both World Wars. As you might expect, there's quite a bit of memorabilia and historical race cars floating around, so while I was in Colorado Spring for this year's race, it only made sense for us to stop by the Penrose Heritage Museum, where a large portion of former competition cars, documents, trophies, and race paraphernalia is on display. Check out our eight favorite cars we found below.
1918 Pierce-Arrow Broadmoor Special
It all starts with Spencer Penrose, an industrialist and entrepreneur who, among other things, founded The Broadmoor hotel and built the Pikes Peak Highway to the summit. He also established the PPIHC as we know it today, inviting competitors from around the nation to see who could crest the unpaved highway in the lowest time.
In 1922, Penrose dropped his personal Pierce-Arrow touring car to his mechanics for conversion into a stripped-out, bare-bones Pikes Peak racer. The result was this bright yellow roadster that finished every hill climb it entered. However, the affectionately named "Yellow Devil" was more exhibitory than true competitor, as it never bested a fourth-place finish in its eight race attempts.
1922 Ford Model T Special
This diminutive white Ford Model T was the catalysts for one of the biggest upsets in PPIHC history. As the story goes, Noel Bullock built this from a conglomerate of parts and drove 250 miles to Colorado Springs for the 1922 running of the race. A dirt oval racer by trade, Bullock manhandled the Model T up the highway at an average speed of 38 miles per hour, beating out the much larger, more powerful crowd of Packards, Mercers, and Chevrolets.
1993 Suzuku Cultus
No discussion of Pikes Peak history is complete without a mention of Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima and his fleet of wacky Suzuki time attack cars. This 1993 Cultus is one of a handful of twin-engined cars campaigned by Tajima. Yes, that's correct-twin engine. The itty-bitty Cultus packed a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the front and the back, each putting down a then-tremendous 400 hp for a combined 789 hp and 840 lb-ft of torque. Not bad for a car weighing just 1,764 pounds. It worked well enough to bring Tajima to a Division Record of 10:44.220 in 1993.
David Donner III's Open-Wheeled Racer
The Donner Family is steeped in the dirt of Pikes Peak. David Donner III's grandfather Robert Donner helped to reestablish the race following the second World War, and his father was a longtime PPIHC racer and advocate as well. After trying his hand at the mountain in 1980, David Donner III's first overall win and record came in 1989 at the wheel of this red open-wheeled single-seater. Unfortunately, he was killed a few months later when a deer ran out in front of his car at another hill climb. As such, this is a replica of David Donner III's winning car in honor of his memory.
The Unser Family's Conze Car
The legendary Unser family is another member of the Pikes Peak royalty. This white open-wheeled buggy played host to Louis and Al Unser, shuttling the latter to an overall victory in 1964. However, even without the weight of the Unser name, this car is revolutionary in its own right. For one, it incorporated a roll cage when the governing body behind the PPIHC didn't yet require one. The 1200-pound aluminum rail car packed an Offenhauser four-cylinder of Indycar fame and one of the greatest racing engines of all time.
Sam Schmidt's Arrow 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Despite appearances, this Z06 is one of the most advanced vehicles to ever take on the PPIHC. Prepared in 2014 by Arrow Electronocs, the 'Vette was built specially for quadriplegic race car driver, business man, and Indy team owner Sam Schmidt for a historic run up Pikes Peak. Schmidt cannot use any of his limbs, so the car utilizes a highly advanced infrared camera tracking system to allow for steer by head motions. To accelerate, Schmidt uses a tube system for his mouth that operates on the "sip-and-puff" input commands. To make sure everything went smoothly, nine-time class winner and four-time overall winner Robby Unser played co-pilot in the passenger seat, fitted with his very own set of pedals and steering wheel.
2002 Compact Power ER2
Driver Tim Eckert's ER2 set a new record in 2002 for the fastest electric vehicle up the mountain. 15 minutes, 18 seconds might not seem like the hottest run nowadays, but this was during a time when EV entries were inconsistent and not exactly competitive. In a sense, the record-shattering I.D. R owes some of its success to pioneers like the ER2.
Jeremy Foley's 2003 Mitsubishi Evo VIII
You might recognize this one. Back in 2012, PPIHC gained some notoriety when competitor Jeremy Foley skidded off the side of the mountain and rolled down a rocky slope. According to museum staff, Foley and co-driver Yuri Kouznetsov initially failed tech inspection for an inadequate cage. After the car was quickly fixed, they were approved for their infamous run. Don't worry - they both walked away relatively unscathed, and the twisted wreckage of their Evo serves as a poignant reminder of how unforgiving Pikes Peak can be.