Would You Drive Your Classic Up Pike’s Peak?


The 2013 National Studebaker Meet meet happens to be in Colorado Springs, CO this year. Usually held in Indiana, it’s closer proximity prompted me to look over the schedule. I was surprised when I saw “Drive Your Studebaker to the top of Pikes Peak” listed.

Pike’s Peak is famous for the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb race each year. The “Race to the Clouds” speeds up Pike’s 12.42 miles of narrow, twisting road – climbing 4,720 feet as it winds past 156 turns. I would love to drive this route – but the thought of driving my drum brake-equipped Studebaker here makes me shudder…

My first mountain drive was up to Big Bear, a summer or two after getting Stude. It wasn’t going up the mountain that was the problem (although I did have carburetor issues with the altitude)…it was coming DOWN! Careful not to ride my brakes, heating them up was unavoidable. I went as slow as possible and eventually had a line of traffic behind me. When a turn-out finally appeared, Stude rolled very slowly to a stop.

After this journey I vowed never to drive in the mountains again with Stude. But life always brings surprises, and I unknowingly piloted Stude to another mountainside.


When my husband and I were driving to our honeymoon destination – the last stretch of road dropped dramatically down a mountainside. Not exactly an ideal time to worry about barreling down a steep cliff! Luckily we made it without mishap – but it wasn’t the funnest part of the journey.

These experiences made me all the more surprised when I saw the Pike’s Peak drive on the schedule of the SDC Meet. I suppose a number of owners have upgraded to disc brakes, because I wouldn’t dare drive the peak – while my Stude wouldn’t have a problem getting UP the mountain, I fear she’d need to be air-lifted out of there!

Does anyone else have experience driving their classic to the mountains?

10 Responses

  1. jpkalishek

    Well, the speed limit there is rather low so you wouldn’t be holding up traffic. But I would rather be doing it in a car with better brakes than those originally fitted (imagine your old brakes out episode taking place there! “Some chick in a Bikini went screaming past, flip flops smoking as she was pushing on the front fender of a Studie!”)

    • greasegirl

      If I lost my brakes, it could have been something like this: http://youtu.be/YMqZZ3mv1kE. <–Crash from last years Hill Climb…amazingly driver and co-driver were OK.

      A got an email from an SDC'er saying he'd driven his '58 Packard Hawk (very close cousin to my car) up and down PP without problem – he noted that his car had finned drum brakes which make a noticeable difference. This may be a good swap for me, as they'd bolt right on…that is until one day in the future where I can do some suspension/ front end upgrades!

      • jpkalishek

        I’d heard of that crash, but hadn’t seen it.
        Monster fell off I think the first year he tried the hill not as dramatically, but rolled a bit further down the hill until a boulder stopped him. The only english he spoke that year was “Love Big Rock” as it was a few more thousand feet to the bottom and not likely he’d have stopped. Back then was when it was all gravel as well.

        Finned drums would be better, as would more open rims, and the new friction materials are better but I’d want a two circuit, disk front at least if I was going to do it in an automatic tranny unless it had a really low first gear and a big cooler.
        then again, I’m old and not quite as crazy as in my youth and I’d have tried it then, no thought, in my buddies old Road Runner with manual steering, and non-power drum brakes.

  2. Bo Struye

    Cool story Kristin. I’ve been up that road many times (when it was gravel) and it is a great trip. At least if you know you’ll be able to make it back down alive.

    PS: That “through the windshield” photo came out great!

  3. Scott Hovet

    Hi, Kristin! I’ve driven my ’53 through the mountains of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona — probably at least a dozen times total. Studely does have a Turner front brake conversion (basically Ford Ranger), and although the discs are helpful, I don’t have a booster so it’s still pretty much manual. I remember when you and I traded cars for awhile in Vegas, and I recall Stude being a little harder to stop than Studely. (Did I ever tell you about the time when I found a brand new master cylinder for Studely at the NAPA in Colorado Springs?) Anyway, driving slowly is about the only thing you can do to preserve any sort of braking integrity whilst descending Pike’s Peak. Even in a modern vehicle you have to be careful not to overheat the brakes. People are always in too much of a dang hurry. I know it’s awkward to have cars lined behind you, but I wouldn’t sweat it. Great pictures, by the way! We really need to catch up!

    • greasegirl

      Studely Scott, good to hear from ya! I forgot we swapped Studes for a short drive…you’re one of the few who have piloted her. Even with the upgrades I’ve done to the lines and master cylinder…it still feels like my foot is the thing stopping my Stude…which reminds me, I’m overdue on an adjustment, I should probably do that today.
      After some of the comments (and emails) I’ve gotten in response to this post – I’m considering a conversion in front.
      I look forward to one day catching up with you!

      • Scott Hovet

        I still feel very privileged that you allowed me to drive your Stude, especially in Vegas. That was such a fun weekend, but I digress. Needless to say you will be pleased with the difference front discs make. I still have the big ol’ NOS booster that came with Studely as well (not installed, but in a box), but I can’t decide if I really want or need to hook it up. I’m sure it would be nice, but my question is, how the heck am I going to fit that monstrosity inside my engine compartment? I suppose I could figure out a way to plumb it from my trunk, but I can already stop pretty fast — fast enough for now anyway. Let me know how it turns out for you, Kristin. And yes, we must catch up one of these days…

    • greasegirl

      Yes, that’s the email. I loved getting your email…I’m just a few days behind in replying 🙂 Your daughter is the cutest!

  4. phoenix hot rod shops

    Wow, that’ quite a crash. I do enjoy driving on gravel but you’ve got to be careful when doing it, it’s not asphalt.


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