To the clouds, cheaply

What do you do when you find a beat-up 1997 E36 M3 on Craigslist for $600? Turn it into a Pikes Peak racer, of course, and tackle for the mountain!

August 28, 2014
To the clouds, cheaply 1
Photo by John Zhang
To the clouds, cheaply 2
Photo by John Zhang

Starting at 9,390 feet above sea level and climbing to 14,115 feet* at the finish, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is also known, appropriately enough, as “The Race to the Clouds.” At those altitudes, racers may encounter extreme temperature changes, sleet, hail, wind, thunderstorms, fog or even snow. And what the racers have to endure, so must their vehicles, whether cars or bikes. It’s what makes the second-oldest race in the U.S. one of the most challenging, as well.

In the summer of 2012, Houston’s Wil Kitchens entered his first Pikes Peak hillclimb on two wheels. He’d been racing motorcycles for several years when he decided to give Pikes Peak a try on his Aprilia.

“I ended up with my Aprilia SXV450 almost by accident, and while it was about as reliable as a condom made out of tissue paper, when it did manage to run it sure was a hoot to ride.”

Kitchens finished 27th of 28 riders in the 450cc class that year, but he wasn’t discouraged. He went back to watch the action the following summer,and while hanging out in Colorado Springs hatched a plan to attack Pikes Peak on four wheels.

“While in the bar at the host hotel for the 2013 hill climb, I found a beat-up, worn-out 1997 E36 M3 on Craigslist back in Houston,” Kitchens says. “I immediately made arrangements for my friend who owns a wrecker to go pick it up.”

Paying just $600 for the stripped, salvage-title M3 sedan, Kitchens had the car hauled to his IDB Racing performance shop in Houston. He was working on a tight budget, but he wanted the car to incorporate aggressive styling nonetheless, something that would make it stand out from the field while also being functional enough to turn in a competitive performance.

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