Driven to Win: Hill Climb Racing
Bobby Unser Crossing the Finish Line, Winner of the 1956 Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb Race / THF140569
King of the Mountain
What does it take to “race to the clouds”? Power, handling, endurance—and a spirit to conquer the summits of nature. Hill climbs were one of the very earliest forms of automobile competition. They test a car’s power and handling capabilities, and the car-control skills, focus, and endurance of the driver.
Today, there are many local amateur hill climbs, but the most famous one is the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado, which has been running since 1916. Its tortuous 12.42-mile course has 156 turns and rises from an elevation of 9,390 feet at the start to 14,115 feet at the finish. For good reason, it’s known as the race to the clouds. Bobby Unser is probably the best-known racer to conquer Pikes Peak. He won the overall event a record ten times—in 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1968, and 1986—which earned him the title “King of the Mountain.”
1958 Moore/Unser Pikes Peak Hill Climb Car
1958 Moore/Unser Pikes Peak Hill Climb Racing Car. On Loan from Bobby and Lisa Unser. / THF91311
Bobby Unser won seven of his ten Pikes Peak overall victories in this car, including five straight (1959–63), along with 1966 and 1968. In this section of our new racing exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America, presented by General Motors, you can "meet" Unser while he tells you what it took to win all those Pikes Peak races. Learn how he continually improved the car, making it lighter by modifying the frame and suspension and switching to an aluminum radiator, transmission case, and fuel tank.
Beyond the Moore/Unser car, you can see these artifacts related to hill climb racing in Driven to Win.
- "Climb to the Clouds" Trophy Won by Harry S. Harkness, 1904
- Cleveland Automobile Club Hill Climb Trophy, 1907
- Algonquin Hill Climb Trophy Won by Frank Kulick Driving a Ford, 1912
- Tire Samples Made with Crushed Walnut Shells for Bobby Unser, 1958
- Racing Harness, 1955-1960
- Duffel Bag, 1963, Used by Bobby Unser
Frank Sanborn Driving Chevrolet Stock Car at Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb, Colorado Springs, Colorado, July 4, 1962 / THF246832
Learn more about hill climb racing with these additional resources from The Henry Ford.
- Watch Bobby Unser talk about his racing history, including Pikes Peak, in our 2009 video interview with the legend.
- See curator-selected photos from our collections highlighting Bobby Unser’s long racing career.
- Browse hundreds of artifacts and photographs related to the Pikes Peak Race to the Clouds in our Digital Collections.
- Discover how we used ingenuity to move the Moore/Unser car (among others) into its new display area in Driven to Win.
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