Colorado Grand® 2014.
Not just for passengers.
Mercedes-Benz is a significant part of the Grand as sponsor and participant with no fewer than 12 classic Mercedes taking part this year. The Mercedes-Benz Classic Center USA brought two notable cars to this years Grand – the 1962 300 SL Rally Roadster and for the first time this year, the stately and venerable 1935 500 K Open Tourer!
Imagine my astounded surprise to find out when I arrived at the event headquarters in Vail that my name was listed on the side of the 500 K as a co-driver! Initially I regarded this simply as nice gesture – little did I know at that time it was to be proven accurate!
The first day of the event proved to be the most challenging. I was serving as navigator with Mike Kunz skilfully driving the 500 K and within about 80 kilometres of leaving Vail we ran into cold and rainy-turning-to-snowy conditions. We were very glad to have all-weather gear on in an open touring car.
The 500 K requires knowledge and skill to be driven well in best of conditions and Mike’s considerable “Regenmeister” abilities were called into service – particularly so as constant adjustment of the timing advance lever was required to extract maximum power from the supercharged engine in the more than 8,000 feet altitude passes.
A break in Leadville.
I found myself reading the map book, calling out the next turn instructions while adjusting the timing lever while Mike attended to steering and non-synchromesh shifting duties and peering through a fogged and rain soaked windscreen.
A mid-afternoon coffee and hot chocolate stop in the historic silver mining town of Leadville was most welcomed, along with a chance to photograph some of the other, beautiful – albeit rain-spotted – participating 300 SL.
Behind the wheel of the 500 K.
Thankfully the second day dawned with bright sunshine and the beautiful Colorado countryside could be better enjoyed while Mike attended to the 500 K piloting and controls as he deftly drove the 500 K through the ski-resort town of Breckenridge and along the incredibly scenic Arkansas River. After an afternoon stop in the historic railroad town of Salida, I was astounded when Mike asked me to drive.
Taking over the controls of such a valuable and historic automobile is daunting to say the least, but with Mike’s patient guidance and instruction I was able to drive the 500 K without stalling, and getting through most non-synchromesh gear shifts semi-smoothly.
A successful maneuver.
A last-second left hand turn instruction even found me putting the 500 K into a bit of a power-slide. Nate following behind in the support van remarked of this and I assured him it was much more luck than skill. After taking the 500 K up through 12,000 ft. Independence Pass, Mike took over the controls.
Riding alongside him adroitly taking the 500 K down to Aspen with considerable alacrity and aplomb was incredibly impressive!
Once at the controls of these classic cars, one has markedly more respect for the likes of Caracciola, Lang, Rosenberger, Seaman and Kunz!
The roar of the roadster.
Days 3 and 4 of the tour I drove alongside Constantin von Kageneck’s facile piloting of the 1962 300 SL Rally Roadster! This Roadster is dedicated to performance – with bumpers removed, roll bars installed and engine tuned–replete with unrestricted short side exhausts! Enthusiastic shifts by Constantin resulted in a wonderful, sharp bark from the exhausts with the report many times echoing off the Colorado canyon walls. When this happened, Constantin and I would just turn to each other with an appreciative smile and laugh!
A picturesque stop.
The sprightly performance of the 300 SL allowed us to follow then pass and get a considerable lead on the rest of the hundred car participants. This allowed me to both take “passing shots” of the 500 K in action as well as setup for other cars as they approached the camera on the Colorado highways.
Two particularly picturesque stops were at the Dexter Meadows part of the C-Lazy-U ranch and the Carpenter Ranch where shots of the stately, yet road-dust covered 300 SL and 500 K were taken.
An unforgettable time.
The Grand culminates at the end of the week with a banquet and charity fund-raising auction as well as the “Concours d’Non-Elegance” at Vail Village with participating cars parked in their road-grime glory. I’ve had the pleasure of attending many car events, but the Colorado Grand is the most enjoyable one I’ve ever attended.
My appreciative smile recalling this event in writing this is still with me. Many thanks to Mercedes-Benz for making such possible and I can’t wait to attend again next year!