Tommy Boileau is a bit nervous. The 28-year-old driver from Colorado Springs is about to participate in the historic 100th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb—a dangerous 12.4-mile (20-km) sprint up one of the highest summits of the Rockies—and a thick fog and rain have descended upon the mountain. His 1967 Chevrolet Camaro is undeniably quick, but there’s one problem: he’s never raced it in the wet.
“The owner and builder of the car say it handles really well in the rain,” Boileau says with a laugh. “I’ll have to take their word for it!”
Boileau’s car is technically the second oldest in the field, and that’s precisely what makes Pikes Peak such a unique phenomenon: though it has become a proving ground for innovative technology over the last 100 years, modified vintage cars and backyard creations can still compete for class wins.
“It’s one of the last events where you can build whatever you want,” says Boileau. “A ridiculous electric car, a crazy ’67 Camaro, or a VW bug: it doesn’t matter. Whatever you have, you can compete and have the time of your life.”Founded in 1916 by the entrepreneur Spencer Penrose—and originally conceived as a tourist attraction for his hotel, the Broadmoor—the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb has emerged as a destination for world-class rally drivers, the ultimate test of both driver and machine. And, in recent years, it’s become a hotbed for electric innovation: combustion engines typically lose at least 30 percent of their power in higher elevations, as oxygen decreases, while electric motors more easily handle the course’s 4,725-foot (1,440-m) ascent.
Hammering that point home, Romain Dumas set the overall record of 7:57.148 in an all-electric Volkswagen I.D. R in 2018—a time Boileau calls “ludicrous”—and the general consensus among drivers is that this record may never be topped.
But some remain committed to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for modified vintage cars in spite of the apparent advantage for electric vehicles. In a weather-shortened 2021 race, Boileau drove his ’67 Camaro to a 12th-place-overall finish, less than 30 seconds off second place.
And in spite of harsh weather once again in 2022, he was excited to push his car to the limits.
“You look at it and see a ’67 Camaro and think, oh, it’s just a vintage car,” he says. “But this thing can go from 0 to 100 faster than you can blink—it’s the most visceral, violent thing I’ve ever driven.”
Aside from the car’s original roof panel (its only completely original part), the vehicle is a highly modified beast: a custom, tube-framed chassis with modern racecar suspension geometry; a twin-turbo LS engine that produces around 1,000 hp (745 kW); and full paddle shifters.
“A proper racecar,” he says.