One of the great things about the growth of historic racing over the past decade is the wide variety of events in which an owner can now participate. In addition to the enormous (and growing!) selection of historic race events, there are now more and more fantastic non-racing events open to historic racecars as well. Of particular interest are the many internationally renowned driving events, such as the Mille Miglia, Tour Auto and California Mille, which not only allow owners to run their racecars on beautiful public roads, but let them take their husbands or wives along as well!
Last August I was invited by Peter Spieth, director of Mercedes Benz’s Classic Center, to join him on the 2004 running of the Colorado Grand, a five-day, 1,000-mile trek through the Rocky Mountains. The Grand was founded by historic racer and Colorado native Bob Sutherland 16 years ago as a low-key driving tour for friends that would also raise money for various Colorado charities, including the Highway Patrol Widows & Orphans Fund.
Having never done one of these “tours” before, I was eager to see what so many other historic racers have been raving about. As if I needed any more reason to take him up on his offer, Spieth also let me know that I’d be splitting my time between three cars from the factory’s collection. The first was a beautifully restored 190 SLR racecar, which looked like a miniature version of Mercedes’ famous 300SLR racecar Stirling Moss drove to victory in the 1954 Mille Miglia. The second car was a 500 SLC rally car, which was one of two cars built for Björn Waldegärd and Hannu Mikkola to race in the 1980 FIA Rally championship. This car is a serious racecar and a real beast, with a booming V-8 engine, locked rear end, full cage and a quirky three-speed automatic transmission that slams through the gears with neck-wrenching force. Could there be any greater wish fulfillment than getting to legally drive a full-spec, fire-breathing FIA rally car on deserted, twisty mountain roads? The last car of the trio was a lovely original 300 SL “Gullwing.”
The 2004 running of the Colorado Grand started in Vail on Monday, September 13, and featured four days of driving, broken down into two legs per day with a lunch stop in between. Covering—on average—250 miles per day, the tour goes from Vail to Walden and then Estes Park on Day 1 and then on to Dillon and Steamboat Springs on Day Two. From Steamboat Springs, Day Three sees the tour stop in Meeker before heading on to Grand Junction, and the final driving leg on Day Four goes from Grand Junction to Hotchkiss, finishing up back in Vail.
The driving and the scenery are as beautiful and varied as you’ll find anywhere in the United States. One day we were 12,183 feet up at the top of the Rocky Mountain National Park, where it was a frigid 22 degrees, and then the next day we found ourselves driving across a scorching hot desert mesa where the temperature was in the 90s.
Though the scenery was pretty spectacular, it couldn’t compete with the incredible collection of historic machinery that took part in this year’s tour—several prewar Alfa 8Cs, a Maserati 6C-34, Jaguar D-types and C-types, a Maserati 450S, Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato, Shelby Cobra, the prototype ex–Le Mans Mercedes Benz 300SL racecar and a wide variety of Ferraris including a 340 MM, 212 Barchetta and no fewer than five 250 SWBs. With the possible exception of the Mille Miglia, this was one of the finest collections of sports and racing cars to be found on any road tour.
One of the many great things about these types of tours is that the hotels and all the meals are included in the entry fee, with the organizers making all the necessary arrangements. It is truly “arrive and drive”; all you have to do is drive where they tell you to drive and eat when they put the plate down in front of you! The accommodations were all top-notch and included modern luxury resorts like the Vail Marriott and the Steam Boat Springs Sheraton. Also included were quaint, historic hotels like the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, built by Freelan and Francis Stanley, who invented (amongst other things) the Stanley Steamer and a photographic dry-plate process sold to George Eastman of Kodak fame.
In the end, I found the Colorado Grand to be one of the most enjoyable historic events that I’ve ever participated in. Now the problem is figuring out a way to be invited back!