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Gröbming, 10th - 12th of July

For more than 20 years now, exactly from 1993 on the Ennstal-Classic is held in the beautiful scenery of the Steiermark with the start and finish in Gröbming. Under the slogan “Driving in the last Paradise” the Ennstal-Classic became the most important event of its kind in Austria and one of the major in Europe during the busy summer months in the classic car calendar. With so many events going on it is difficult to visit every one and every year so after a year off we returned to Gröbming for this year’s edition on the second weekend of July.

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We were surprised to see a few changes over the last two years; the most important is the new event parallel to the regularity rally, the so called Race Car Trophy. Within the last two decades the Ennstal-Classic attracted some of the most important names in motorsports past and present to Gröbming and the Chopard City GP on Saturday was one of the highlights were several manufacturers including Alfa Romeo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz showed their treasures from the museum driven by Sir Stirling Moss, Jochen Mass and Walter Röhrl on regular basis or featured drivers like Nigel Mansell, Sebastian Vettel or Gerhard Berger. Apart from the factory cars several private entries paraded in Gröbming and to give those cars without a road registration or those unwilling to drive the entire rally on public roads some extra miles the Race Car Trophy is held on the nearby Airport in Niederöblarn and the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg on closed off tracks at the same time as the regularity trial. On one side this attracted a few cars normally not seen like the McLaren and Lola CanAm racers or the Formula single seaters but on the other side this also took away a few cars from the rally like the Porsche 550 Spyders or 904 GTS that were driving the long distance in the past. As those following the rally rarely saw the Race Car Trophy this reduced the field of interesting cars on the road as it is still more enjoyable to see them on the Sölkpass or the Nockalm than on an airfield.

Since a few years now the place of the scrutineering on Wednesday was moved from the traditional spot in the local car shop over the street to some tents on the parking lot of a supermarket and this year finally the buildings of the car centre disappeared leaving no other opportunities than the mobile solution. Beside the tent for the technical inspection and the issue of the paperwork and starting numbers a few tents of the commercial partners could be seen but to our surprise neither Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Alfa Romeo was present either with modern cars or entries both for the race car trophy and the regularity rally leaving Porsche the sole car related sponsor of the event. Certainly Porsche with its link to Austria is a good choice but compared to the Silver Arrows of Mercedes and Audi in previous editions of the Chopard GP, the original 328 MM racers from BMW or the Disco Volante of Alfa Romeo in the rally the wide range of Porsche 911 and 356 lined up left some mixed emotions. On one side those interested in the air cooled cars from Zuffenhausen could enjoy the entire range from early pre-A bent window examples of the 356 to the late T6 as well as several variations of the pushrod and the Fuhrmann engine on the early cars or 911 in Coupe/Targa variations in E, T, S or even RS configuration but for those less educated it was very much a line-up of a red, green and silver Porsche. This is certainly the downside on the Porsche model range spanning just two main street cars lines over the first important decades, the more interesting race cars are more common on the race meetings. Not few had the impression that the amount of Porsche was a little bit too high when listening to the comments of the spectators at the various stops along the road, the fact that some of the presenters there were unable to explain the difference between the models did not help either. As the air-cooled engines are very reliable making the 356 and 911 a very good rally car adds to this development as could be seen on other events as well, the demand for these cars could be observed by the steadily increasing value over the last years.

But Porsche was not the only car in higher numbers; several Austin Healey and Jaguar E-Type were lined up on Thursday morning in Gröbming for the first drive up the Stoderzinken, the local hill at Gröbming reducing a little bit the variety compared to previous editions. Especially the pre-war cars were reduced in their number and surprisingly few BMW 328 were seen this year, also the traditional trio of Veritas (based on the BMW pre-war technique) was missed that day. On the other side the pre-war line-up unfortunately included a Bugatti Pur Sang (Argentinian Replica) and a so-called Bentley special in the style of the famous Old Number One double Le Mans winning Speed Six, a development not everyone approves as it takes away starting numbers from genuine cars.

But this year edition included the dream of every public relation officer as the Ennstal-Classic could welcome one of the original Ferrari 250 GTO. Scottish baron Irvine Laidlaw brought the ex Lucien Bianchi and Scuderia Filipinetti racer (3527GT) all the way from the UK and with the latest price development this car might have had almost the same value as the other 196 cars line-up next to it in Gröbming. Unfortunately the immense value of the car was also the only true information that was pointed out wherever the car appeared, although there are a lot of stories to be told about the development of the GTO (when Giotto Bizzarrini was dismissed after the famous “palace revolution”), the success in the hands of famous drivers like Stirling Moss, John Surtees or Ines Ireland, how Enzo Ferrari convinced the officials that this is just a development of the SWB or simply the fact that this is the last real front engined Ferrari GT racer that could be both driven on the road and track, the car in Gröbming was always reduced to “the 50 Million dollar car”. And although most of the spectators looked reverential because of this value few did know why this car is as expensive. At the end of the event even the presenter on the stage had to ask Laidlaw how he heard about the Ennstal-Classis but on the other side the Scottish Sir might have been the only person who enjoyed the weather in Austria as he stated with a smile that “the rain of the three days almost made him feel at home”.

Over the last few years also the timetable of the rally was changed, whereas in earlier years the traditional climb up the hill on Thursday was followed by a smaller prologue the Thursday was prolonged in later years to reduce the Marathon on Friday to a reasonable size, from over 600 km to about 460 km this year. Thursday led from the Stoderzinken through Obertauern to the Nockalm national park with a later time trial on the Red Bull Ring to arrive back in Gröbming after passing the Sölkpass in dusk. Friday led North-East over the Hengstpass to the lunch break in Steyr to drive back over Lunz am See and the Gesäuse National Park to the final in arrival in Schladming.

After 21 special stages and seven more light barriers in Gröbming at the final day the winning team of Reinhard Huemer and Johann Watzinger on their Ferrari Dino 246 GT was just about a second closer to the intended time average than the following team of Helmut Schramke and Peter Umfahrer on their Jaguar XK150 DHC who won the Ennstal-Classic three times in the past.
So what is the conclusion of three days in Austria? The Ennstal-Classic is still an attractive event for those interested in Classic Cars, especially if the travel is within reasonable limits. Compared to the previous editions there are a few changes and a slightly reduced overall quality in the entry list as it is with most of the rallies these days due to the amount of competing events in the summer months. The sad weather did not really help this year as most of the time the surrounding mountains were covered in clouds and several rain showers did spoil the fun in the open cars. For some reason the sun did just come out minutes after the winners ceremony showing that a good event is also a question of luck, just as Lord March had that a few weeks ago against all weather forecasts Helmut Zwickl and his team did not have that this year. Let’s hope that this was just an interim low and that the Ennstal-Classic will find back to old strength in the next years.

Report & images … Peter Singhof