caption: Chris and Rita Leydon's 1934 MG NA--lovingly preserved and restored right down to the leather hood straps--motors along some of the Rockie's asphalt riches. [note: the car actually belongs to Dean Butler.]
caption: [re goggled lady] Rita Leydon, her face coverd with hundreds of miles of road grime.
May / June 1994
Road Warriors : Classic roadsters and 1,000 miles of smooth asphalt make the Colorado Grand a rally in four-wheel heaven.
Story and photography by Tal Newhart.
Seeing us roar over Cameron Pass hot on his tail, the other driver whacked open his 12 cylinders. It was too late. As we headed down the incline, my buddy Chuck Mangan and I smoked by Joe Hish, piloting his 1958 Ferrari Testa Rossa. Then, just as I was grinning into the rearview mirror, I noticed Hish hammer the red Ferrari's brakes.
The turn appeared from nowhere. The ever-calm Chuck--cowboy / horse trainer and, now my navigator extraordinaire--quickly braced himself against the door. As we leaned into the spiraling turn, I could hear the rubber peeling off our Chrysler LaBaron's skinny front wheels. We were going fast--too fast. As the car's light rear began loosing touch with the pavement, I was pretty sure this was finally it--Chuck and I were on our way to meet God . . .
This was the last day of the Colorado Grand, an annual road rally for classic cars fashioned after Italy's famous Mille Miglia. The Grand wasn't intended to be a competition--just a leisurely 1,000-mile, four-day drive through the heart of Colorado ski country. Nor was it supposed to be open to people like me, driving everyday Detroit iron. The Grand was created to provide museum-quality sports cars built and raced before 1961 a chance to cover some real ground in a manner befitting their level of engineering, i.e., driving on real roads, real fast.
To even enter the Grand, a car and driver need $3,000 for the entry fee--and a pedigree. Lined up at the start last September 21 were 83 of the most valuable cars to hit America's roads for a 1,000-mile rally, cars such as: Jan Voboril's 1916 Lancia Kappa; the 1933 Bentley that Barron Collier had brought from Collier Automotive Museum in Naples, Fla.; and Bob Rubin's 1956 Maserati A6GCS. Their owners range from those who've nursed Dad's hand-me-down car for more than 30 years to multimillionaires who collect classics by the dozen.
I started out as a spectator, missed my ride on one of the support trucks and decided to follow the rally in a rented red convertible. But by the time I caught up with the Granders on the first day, as they headed from the start at Beaver Creek south toward Purgatory / Durango ski resort, I'd caught the fever. As I continued to pursue these magnificent sports cars, my mind returned to the days when I delivered Ferraris for a living. I gradually remembered what I'd learned years ago at racing school. My foot went down on the pedal harder and harder . . .
Only a few feet from the highway's steep shoulder I managed to straighten out the screeching car. But the '58 Ferrari behind us was well-positioned. By the time I got my foot back on the LeBaron's floor, the Ferrari had screamed by us so fast I thought we were parked. An instant later, a sleek little '59 Porsche GT Carrera flew by, followed by a tiny, but roaring, methanol-powered Type-51 Bugatti. I looked over at Chuck, whose eyes were as large as pie tins and I kept my foot near the floor. Down the road, the Porsche and the Bugatti flashed by the Ferrari and disappeared. I mashed the Chrysler's throttle. Aided by fuel injection, gravity and insanity, we started closing in on the red Testa Rossa again.
The Grand's route is designed to cover some of Colorado's more scenic highways and, at times, we drove fro 50 miles without passing a town. Still, there's no getting around the rules of the road--not with a 10-motorcycle police escort and Captain Larry Tolar of the Colorado State Patrol keeping his eye on the action.
Tolar, along with Denver motorhead Bob Sutherland, dreamed up the Grand as a charity event in 1988. Tolar still runs the rally and rules the road, keeping the Granders in line and doling out punishments for traffic violations. One day, Tolar boiler with anger at a driver who illegally crossed a double-yellow line. He thought about booting him from the event but opted for an even more wicked punishment: He forced the offending Grander to turn over the wheel to his female companion for the remainder of the route.
For the majority of the participants, The Scenics, Tolar is no adversary; they'd rather take in the scenery along the way than become part of it. But for a handful, The Go Fast Boys, the Grand means simply starting here and getting there as quickly as the laws of physics will allow. There are no staggered starts, no checkered flags, no prizes (except for the final Concours de Non-Elegance for the dirtiest car at the end of the week).
Though the driving is still very intense, the Grand has never had a serious accident--unless you count roadkill. During the '93 event, a support vehicle was taken out by an elk. The year before that, Grand chairman Bob Sutherland obliterated a huge sheep with his elegant little 1919 Miller topless.
We could hear the nasty wail of the Ferrari from up the canyon. Chuck and I were passing a bottle of Evian back and forth when the little red car's rear suddenly came into view, about a quarter mile ahead. I tossed the bottle into the backseat and pounded the throttle. I was going for it.
On the second-to-last day of the event, Joe Hish invited me to drive with him in his Testa Rossa--the very car we'd been having a running duel with. I tossed Chuck the keys to the LeBaron and settled into the Ferrari's hard passenger seat.
We ripped out of Crested Butte, heading first south the Gunnison, then north toward Breckenridge. Autumn comes early in the Rockies and the trees were a blaze of orange, yellow and red.
It was while driving with Joe that it finally began to dawn on me what the experience was all about. Sure it was cold, with the freezing mountain wind whipping my cheeks blue and unseen vents blowing icy air up my legs. It was noisy, the Ferrari's 12-cylinder race engine screaming out a raspy, banshee-like wail. And the speed of these old sports cars was mesmerizing--a sensation amplified by the fact that my butt felt like it was dragging on the asphalt.
In short, the whole experience was so intense, so unlike normal life that it was like spending a few hours in a dream. Add to this the good people we met along the way, both the Granders and the locals, and it's easy to see why the Grand is heaven on wheels.
We were pushing the LeBaron hard now. Really hard. The engine was beginning to make weird "wanna rest" noises. We were drawing up on Joe's screeching Ferrari. We could see it slipping in and out of sight at each turn as it flew down the canyon in front of us. We hadn't seen another car in 10 minutes. Chuck, who knew the route, leaned over and counted down the bends until the road was about to straighten. With one bend left, we eased back, then really hammered the gas. The car lunged forward. We closed on the Ferrari just as Joe entered the last bend before the straightaway. We carried our speed into the turn as Joe backed off thinking there were more turns ahead. Chuck and I laughed.
The instant the two cars exited the turn we sucked around the Ferrari like it had pulled over for a tire change. Whacking open the throttle we passed Joe, waved and shot down the straightaway toward the finish at Beaver Creek.