Considered one of the toughest motorsports challenges, it was even more difficult back then.
The Race to the Clouds, or the Pikes Peak Hill Climb has become a thing of legend in motorsports. Every year race teams and plenty of others gather in Colorado to take on what’s considered one of the most challenging courses out there. Funny enough, it’s held on a public toll road, but with 156 turns and a 4,720-foot climb in elevation, the race is not to be taken lightly. As you can see in the video below from 1957, it’s always been a tough event.
Overheating has always been a big concern. Pushing a car hard up such a steep incline will test the limits of the cooling system. It’s a problem even today, but you can imagine how serious of problem this was back then.
As cars climb higher toward the finish line, the air starts thinning out. That reduces power as the intake can no longer draw in as much oxygen as before. With nothing to stop them, the winds can suddenly pick up and actually push cars, making things downright treacherous.
That thinning air also means the aerodynamics change, which is why you see so many modern Pikes Peak cars with absolutely ridiculous-looking wings, splitters, etc. Back in 1957 the cars weren’t outfitted that way, and so handling suffered accordingly.
Back then the road was gravel, instead of the nice pavement everyone enjoys today. That adding an element of wheel slip, as if the thinning air wasn’t already enough to worry about.
One of the most interesting things about this old video isn’t what it shows but what it doesn’t. There are no motorcycles in the competition. Only a handful of open-wheel racers and stock cars make the climb, showing just how much the event has grown in the past 62 years.
Founded in 1916, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb has been challenging racers and car designers for some time. While hill climbs will push the handling limits of cars, this one is particularly trying for a number of reasons.
Photo credit: YouTube