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Dreaming for once: What would be the perfect Ennstal car?

von Alexander Zwickl

A ritual in the preparation for the Ennstal-Classic is the obligatory “route check” on the weekend before the rally. Together with my father Helmut, we checked every year whether the route as it was marked in the road book still existed. It was not uncommon for roadworks or collapsed bridges to turn everything upside down again.

17.07.2015, Mitterberg, Gröbming, Steiermark, Österreich (Austria): 23. Ennstal-Classic, Marathon. Im Bild Patrick Dempsey und Bernhard Maier, USA/DE, Porsche 550 Spyder Bj. 1954. (c) Ennstal-Classic / Martin Huber

Over the years, we have covered thousands of kilometres side by side and indulged in the comforts of modern cars, such as air conditioning. But in the midst of this comfort, the same longing always awoke in us. To experience the Enns Valley for ourselves in a historic car, to feel the atmosphere along the route and in the stage towns and to compete with like-minded people for hundredths of a second.

The same question came up every time: “Which car would we drive in the Ennstal-Classic this year?” It was more than just a question about the right vehicle, it was the dream of reviving adventures of times gone by. We mentally played car quartet throughout the journey.

My first suggestion: a 300 SL Gullwing. The sheer beauty of this car, these unrivalled lines, a work of art for eternity, a car of the century. My father looked sceptical. He knew the 300 SL well, he had driven it twice in the Mille Miglia, once even in the priceless prototype, together with Michael Glöckner. “Too hot, a thermal dynamic develops in the cockpit like in the boiler room of a steam locomotive. It’s unbearable on hot summer days.”

His experience gave him a deeper insight: “One day, someone in Mercedes risk management will also consider the prototype too valuable and banish it from the road to the museum, like Stirling Moss’ 722 SRL. Years ago, John Surtees, Formula 1 and motorbike world champion, drove the SRL around the entire Ennstal circuit – unimaginable today.”

I kept dreaming: 550 Spyder – the Porsche that became immortalised together with James Dean. Hollywood actor Patrick Dempsey once drove it in the Ennstal Classic. He recently enthused about it in an interview in “Die Presse”: “…I vividly remember this route in Austria: it was as if time had been turned back. Every moment in the cockpit of this car was a journey, not just through the landscape, but through time itself. It was as if I was crossing the boundaries of my own being. Pure transcendence. It was unforgettable.” My father nodded in agreement.

Or a racing Ferrari from the 50s, 12 cylinders and 4 litres of displacement. Like the 315S with which Taruffi won the last Mille, as precious as a Klimt painting. “A real beast, with which you would have enough power to master the tight hairpin bends on the Sölk Pass without losing speed. Or a Jaguar D-Type – the disc brakes could save your life when driving downhill from the Stoderzinken”.

A fundamental question: topless? “Tempting, but difficult: after hours you’re numb from the engine and wind, and in a downpour you feel like you’re in a moving bathtub.”

So not a pre-war Bentley after all? These are the true heroes of the Enns Valley. Monuments to racing history, characterised by elegance and unbridled power. “Yes, but you need upper arms like a freestyle wrestler. It requires physical strength and stamina. It’s incredible how our “Bentley boys” master the entire Ennstal route and then drive back to England on the road.”

911s? Timeless and desirable. “Definitely the ideal car for a regularity rally. But perhaps already too modern.”

So something exotic after all, like a Veritas RS? “Fascinating vehicle! They were practically hand-carved in a barrack workshop in Meßkirch. They were built from old BMW frames and 328 engine parts in dire need, but with tremendous enthusiasm and ingenious improvisation. Very rare indeed, but once three of them started at the Ennstal.”

We reeled off the hundreds of kilometres of the route and never stopped dreaming.

When I ask my father today which car he would race at the Ennstal 2024: “550 Spyder… like Patrick back then.”

Registrations until 31 March 2024, the number of participants is limited.