Take a trip through Colorado with some of the world’s most collectible cars. It’s hard to tell what’s more impressive: the scenery or the autos
By Celeste Sepessy
When Bob Sutherland drove 1,000 miles through the Brescian Raceway in Italy’s legendary Mille Miglia race, the cars were exquisite but the pace was exhausting. So in 1989 the Boulder, Colorado, native (who died in 1999 at age 56) founded a tour — not a race — in his own backyard: the Colorado Western Slope.
Every September, nearly 100 participants from around the world gather in Vail to drive The Colorado Grand in sports cars dating back to the 1910s. The 1,000-mile, four-day charity tour winds through barely traveled mountain byways in the Rockies, dipping into tiny, time-preserved towns. The route changes annually, with this year’s event (Sept. 12-17) looping through Telluride, Ouray, Silverton, Durango and Dolores.
“They’ve never seen country like this,” says Frank Barrett, The Grand’s route planner and self-declared Alfa Romeo guy. “It’s a huge thrill for someone from Connecticut or California to drive down the Dolores River.”
The Colorado Grand is the oldest and most exclusive tour of its type in the country, featuring an “ever-changing collection of cars,” says Michael Kunz, manager of Grand sponsor Mercedes-Benz Classic Center. On any given tour, you might see a car worth $20,000, or one worth $40 million, like a one-of-a-kind 1955 Mercedes 300 SLR w196 usually protected in a garage. No matter the price, the vehicles have to be interesting, rare and fun to watch. “You’ll see cars and think, ‘There’s one of those in the world, and that’s it going by,’” Kunz says.
Although every year inevitably brings newcomers, many attendees have driven The Grand many times, like Richard Procter, who’s participated 13 years in a row. Procter’s driven a number of cars in the tour — a 1927 Bentley, a 1928 Bugatti, a 1934 Frazer Nash, a 1936 Delahaye Grand Prix — oftentimes shipped from his home in the United Kingdom. And like many drivers, Procter says going topless is key to the experience. “Open-topped cars give me a greater sense of the vastness of Colorado,” he explains, noting some of his cars don’t even have windshields, necessitating goggles and a leather helmet. “The weather has not always been kind.”
This is the norm for The Grand, though. “We take on a changing-climate route, so you might have a hot day, a day with snow or a rainstorm,” Kunz explains. Sometimes, it’s a combination in the same day thanks to Colorado’s roller coaster of elevation; for example, Grand Junction sits at 4,583 feet in the high desert, while former mining community Silverton tops 9,300 feet.
The result? Million-dollar cars with drivers dressed in trash bags — sometimes “driving a little faster so the rain goes right over your head,” Kunz says with a laugh. But that’s the adventurous spirit of the event.