Pikes Peak says the first battery-electric car to contest the race to the clouds was a Sears-branded mashup mutt of a car in 1981. The XDH-1 had been lashed up using a 1977 Fiat 128 hatchback chassis, all to promote Sears’ DieHard 12-volt batteries. It took driver Joe Ball 32:07.42 to reach the top, 20 minutes adrift of winner Gary Lee Kanawyer in a rear-engined Newman Dreager race car built on 1976 Porsche internals. Thirty-three years later, an EV reached the podium with Greg Tracy’s Mitsubishi MiEV Evolution III. The next year, 2015, Rhys Millen won behind the wheel of the custom Drive eO PP03. In 2018, Romain Duman set the hillclimb record and broke the eight-minute barrier in the Volkswagen ID.R Pikes Peak.
A 2022 Rivian R1T pickup and a 2023 BMW XM Red Label (pictured) will continue the EV parade up the mountain this year, both having been announced as entries in the Exhibition Class. They aren’t expected to set any benchmarks among the 74 vehicles on the entry list, but they’ll be competing against rides as varied as a 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid, 2023 Radical SR Diesel, 1949 Ford F1, and the 2023 Radford Type 62-2.
The Rivian is not a factory-backed effort. Gardner Nichols is a Senior Performance Test Engineer at the EV maker, he’s entering on his own. His only other pickup competition will be a 1967 Chevrolet C-10. He’s familiar with dashes up the mountain, though, his Instagram page showing he was part of the BBI Autosport team that ran a Porsche 911 GT2 RS Clubsport in 2020.
The Munich brand is a factory effort, a necessity since this particular XM trim won’t go on sale until after the June race. Chief BMW Performance Driving School instructor Matt Mullins will pilot the hottest version of the luxury SUV, the plug-in hybrid V8 Red Label with more than 735 horsepower and 735 pound-feet of torque, making sense of the rumored “735” number plate. This is apparently a placeholder entry, though, an automaker spokesperson telling Car and Driver the company hasn’t made a final decision about showing up.
For any who don’t know, the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is a 12.42-mile test through 156 turns and an elevation gain of 4,725 feet. That gain doesn’t sound like much, but because this takes places in Colorado, base elevation is already in nosebleed territory, putting the top of Pikes Peak at 14,115 feet.