Steve and Ethel Baker, of Warsaw, Ind., have had a secret for years, but are now ready to blow the cover off of it: They have been hiding a unique 1969 Ford Torino Pikes Peak Hill Climb race car. According to Steve, the car has been sitting undercover in its current location for more than a decade, but out of the public eye for even longer.
A Legendary Course
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC), aka “The Race to the Clouds,” is an annual automobile hill climb to the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado. The track measures 12.42 miles and has more than 156 turns on grades averaging 7.2%, climbing 4,720 ft. from the start at Mile 7 on Pikes Peak Highway, to the finish at 14,115 ft. The track once consisted of both gravel and paved sections, but as of August 2011, the road is fully paved; as a result, all current racing events now take place on asphalt from start to finish.
The race is self-sanctioned and has taken place since 1916. It is currently contested by a variety of classes and vehicles. The PPIHC operates as the Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb Educational Museum to organize the annual motorsports event. During the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Ford Torinos were regular participants in the PPIHC, with Bobby Unser setting a record at the 1969 race in the Number 92 1969 Ford Torino.
From Pikes Peak to Auburn
The Bakers’ 1969 Ford Torino Pikes Peak Race Car surfaced through the efforts of Don Monesmith, Volunteer and Youth Program Coordinator at the National Automobile and Truck Museum (NATMUS) in Auburn, Ind.
“I first met Steve Baker in November 2021, when he delivered LP gas to my shop in Indiana,” Monesmith said. “At the time, I was painting the engine block for my 1935 Auburn automobile. It triggered a conversation with Steve about a couple collectible cars he owned. He mentioned a 1969 Ford Torino Pikes Peak race car.”
“After seeing pictures of the car on Steve’s cell phone and hearing the car’s history, I asked if he’d be interested in displaying his Torino in our new racing gallery at the National Auto and Truck Museum that’s scheduled to open in the spring of 2022,” Monesmith continued. “Steve wasn’t familiar with the museum, so I invited him to come to Auburn, Indiana, for a private tour.”
“Steve and I kept in contact over the course of the next couple months, until he and his wife, Ethel, were able to free up time on Thursday, January 13, to come to the museum for a tour. After seeing our collection and hearing about our youth program, he agreed to allow us to pick up the car and display it in our racing gallery.”
Monesmith said things moved quickly after the Bakers’ tour. Just three days later, he and Dave Yarde, executive director of NATMUS, picked up the Torino Pikes Peak race car. Once at NATMUS, the long-hidden Torino was placed on a four-post lift for its forthcoming public debut.
“Steve came to the museum the following week, on Wednesday, January 19, to unveil his Torino Pikes Peak race car, and discuss its unique history to the museum volunteers and members of our youth program,” Monesmith said.
From Race Car to Pace Car
When his father showed up at the family estate in Warsaw, Ind., in 1982 with the bright-red-and-white 1969 Ford Torino race car, Steve Baker was just 11 years old. Garry Baker, Steve’s father, had a passion for racing, and drove the Torino as the pace car at the Warsaw Speedway. Garry was one of three people who ran the day-to-day operations at the speedway. He also served as the track’s official pace car driver.
It was normal for Steve to see his father putting a pace car through the turns and straightaways at the speedway, but seeing him pull into the driveway with a pace car put the youngster into a frenzy. Steve was immediately star struck with the race car, and says he couldn’t get outside fast enough to get a closer look.
Earlier that summer, Clarence Adkins, owner of a local car dealership, had showed up at the Warsaw Speedway with the 1969 Torino. As Steve recalls, his father, Garry, was making his way to the track office to look over the schedule for the evening races when Clarence showed up. Clarence said he’d recently bought the ’69 Torino at a car auction in Anderson, Ind., after it had been acquired earlier in the month by a seller in Ohio, who, in turn, had purchased it from an auction house in Boulder, Colo., that specialized in the acquisition and sale of retired Pikes Peak race cars. According to the Ohio auction house, the car had recently competed in the annual Pikes Peak Hill Climb event. Afterward, the owner turned it over to the auction house where it joined several other race cars for the annual auction.
Clarence told Garry that he planned to offer the ’69 Torino to the Warsaw Speedway to replace the current pace car. Adkins also mentioned the car was for sale, if the speedway didn’t want it.
Clarence tossed Adkins the keys and said if he wanted to look at the Torino, it was parked at the top of the hill. The men made their way up the hill, and Garry’s curiosity started getting the best of him upon laying eyes on the ’69 Torino race car.
With its white-and-red paint scheme, the car was an eye-catcher. It carried the number 67 on both doors and the deck lid. After walking around the car a couple times, he stuck his head into the driver’s side window to get a closer look at the interior. He noticed the stripped-down interior with a custom-built instrument panel, full roll cage and Hurst four-speed shifter. Obviously, someone had spent a great deal of time and resources creating this race car. Then he opened the hood to see a race-prepped 428-cid Super Cobra Jet engine with an oil cooler. Both high-beam headlamps and the associated hardware had been removed; they had been replaced with duct work that was routed to the air cleaner for increased air flow. After taking in the engine bay, he noticed that an area on the passenger side of the firewall, below the wiper basket, had a series of circular holes cut into it to allow additional airflow to the engine and interior. Having been around race cars his entire adult life, Garry recognized this car had been professionally purpose-built by someone who knew what they were doing.
After thoroughly looking over the car, Steve said his father turned to Clarence, put the keys into his pocket and said, “This car is not going on the speedway. You’ve owed me some money for a while now. It’s time to settle your debt. I’d like to take it home. If you’re OK with it, we can put it towards the money you’ve owe me.”
Later that night, the 1969 Ford Torino race car showed up at its new home at the Baker estate in Warsaw.
After acquiring the Torino, Garry added a NASCAR-style panoramic review mirror, then took it to several local oval racetracks for their streetcar spectator races, where car owners could drive onto the track for solo hot laps. His exploits with the car weren’t always on the track, however.
“Soon after my father brought the car home, he and I went for a ride in it for the first time,” Steve said. “It was truly an experience I’ll never forget. He was driving it pretty fast and going through the gears. The engine was roaring, and the open exhaust made it impossible to speak a word. I just sat back, watched and listened, in total amazement. Once we arrived home and parked in the driveway, my father looked at me and asked, ‘Did you like it?’ With a big grin on my face, I nodded, then he told me, ‘You’re going to have to help me take care of the race car. One day, it’s going to be yours.’”
The Cover Comes Off
The ’69 Torino race car is now at the NATMUS Garage in Auburn where it’s being carefully inspected in hopes of learning more about its racing past. Experts are searching for physical evidence throughout its body, interior, engine bay, trunk compartment and undercarriage to learn more. It will soon be part of an upcoming display at NATMUS called the Racing Gallery.
“It’s officially the first Pikes Peak race car to be displayed at the museum, and we’re truly excited to have the opportunity to showcase this historic race car,” said Dave Yarde, NATMUS’ executive director.
Since the 1969 Ford Torino race car has been idle for over a decade, Steve plans to send the Hurst shifter to the manufacturer for a rebuild, and to replace the duct work from the two high-beam headlamp openings to the air cleaner. The radiator and headers were replaced. Plans are underway to have the original custom hand-built headers replicated and installed on the car. The car will be cosmetically left as is, looking much like it did nearly 40 years ago, when Steve first made eye contact with the car as an 11-year-old. The ’69 Torino, with its 428-cid SCJ V-8 engine and drivetrain, will be professionally serviced with the intent to make it fully operational and road-worthy.
Now 50, Steve would like to find out more about the 13 years between the time the car was purchased new to 1982, when his father took a rather unconventional approach to owning it. If you can help fill in the gap, email [email protected]
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