Hunting for the next hairpin bend: Bernina Gran Turismo 2018

The town of Saint Moritz, a gem in the Engadin region of Switzerland and one of the world’s most famous winter sports resorts, has something of a “crazy vein” on account of a perhaps rather surprising passion shared by some of its inhabitants. Ever since the 1930s, when the oil company Shell funded the asphalting of a straight road in the town, to be used as a speed strip, car racing has been in the town’s blood. However, in the 1950s, following the famous 1955 accident on the Le Mans circuit, Switzerland banned racing on its soil, with the result that those who had previously raced in Saint Moritz had to get used to the idea of making short trips to Italy in order to satisfy their thirst for racing, or forget about it altogether.

Things stayed like that for some decades, until a number of inhabitants finally decided, few years ago, that it was time to act. They put in a seemingly impossible request to have the Bernina Pass, one of the two main roads heading to Saint Moritz, temporarily closed to allow the staging of a historic car racing hill-climb event. The fact that their request was granted can be taken as proof that craziness and dedication can move mountains (or rather close mountain passes)!

The formula

The rules of the event are very simple. First of all, entrants are divided into two groups: speed racing and regularity. While those in the first group strive to cover the 5.6 kilometers from La Rösa to the Bernina Hospiz restaurant in the shortest possible time, the drivers in the second group, following the same route, are meant to cover the distance several times, always recording an identical time. These regularity trial entrants are supposed to set their own “comfortable time” and then stay with that. But, in reality, this envisaged time gets increasingly redundant with each climb!

At the 2018 Bernina Gran Turismo, 21nd-23rd September, a very mixed array of cars gathered at the start. Numbering 58 in total, they ranged from a 1927 Bugatti 35 C to a 1977 Volvo 244 GL 4-door sedan.

The Stratos

In his opening speech, the communication manager of the event, Marco Makaus, recalled how disappointing it had been, in previous years, that they had never had a Lancia Stratos (potentially a killer machine in this sort of event) taking part. So, the presence, this year, of five of these cars was quite exceptional and very exciting. They included the 1977 Monte Carlo Rally winner, as well as the one that once belonged to Bernard Darniche and is today considered the most original racing Stratos in existence. Makaus remarked that this great turnout also gives the event a formal (and perfect) overall average of one Stratos per year. But, there can be no denying that the sight and sound of five of them gathered together was something really special. Furthermore, the fact that one of them went on to win this year’s event underlines the road capability of this amazing racing car.

The winner

When it comes to classic car events aimed at gentlemen drivers, where what matters is taking part, we do not generally place too much emphasis on the winners. On this occasion, however, we feel we must make an exception, as the sight of Mr Daniele Perfetti masterfully handling his Stratos right up to the finish was quite wonderful to see, especially as his success followed several years of unsuccessful attempts made in various Porches. Perfetti was, by far, the most racing oriented driver present, and he handled his car impeccably, managing its revs in exactly the right way. “My 1975 Stratos Gr.4” he says “is not as special as the ex-works cars that are here today. Mine was a humble road car, converted to racing. But this was very well done, and she is a very reliable and devilishly fast car. What is more plus the dry tarmac helped her to put on her best show”. Perfetti’s car sported a very nice racing livery too, which, he admitted, he dreamed up himself.

The rodeo

Although it was entered in the regularity section, Marco Lazzarini’s 1986 Lancia Delta S4 would also have made a very serious contender to win the “speed class”. As he explained, the car is a converted “S4 Stradale”, but the work was done with great attention to detail and many of the parts originate from racing cars. “We did the work and the preparation at our shop, Bruno Iannello Motorsport,” he said “and its current setting is not extreme, meaning that it combines about 650 hp with a weight of around 800 kilos.” But if you consider that it also has a four-wheel drive system, quite modern brakes, and a compressor-and-turbine system increasing the efficiency of the power supply, then it is easy to see why Lazzarini’s hill climbs were like a rodeo, with the S4 rocketing and leaping round corners and him working hard to keep it under control and “on track” while thoroughly enjoying the moment. Unsurprisingly, he did not win the regularity section, but he was very fast indeed.

A Hot Rod in the Alps

Hot Rods are cars more at home on Los Angeles boulevards than in the Swiss Alps. Most likely, this information did not reach American architect David Martin, who entered the Bernina Gran Turismo with his 1931 Ford Roadster Hot Rod, which has just been picked as America’s most beautiful Hot Rod for 2018. David could easily be considered the perfect entrant for this Bernina event: a man who has been in love with cars since forever, he was intrigued to learn from a friend, Swedish designer Carl Gustav Magnusson, about the magic of this event, and decided to ship his Hot Rod over just to be part of it.

Had there been a prize for the most friendly entrant he would certainly have won it. By the end, practically everyone was wearing his black team hat and had enjoyed an opportunity to sit in his car. Behind the wheel, David used his Hot Rod’s cornering capability to its best effect, meaning that he was amazingly fast on the straights, while he had to slow down sharply before cornering, and not only for the tightest hairpins.

Father & Son

Carl Gustav Magnusson is a regular entrant in the Bernina Gran Turismo, having taken part in it since the very first year. For the 2018 event, where he was accompanied by his son, Oliver Marco, he brought along his 1968 Porsche 912 Coupe. “I don’t have many, or enough, chances to spend time with my son,” he said “and this seemed the perfect excuse to do so. The 912, which I purchased simply because it looked wonderful, is the perfect tool, and my son and I shared the driving, so we both had time behind the wheel but also time to enjoy the view.” The marshals will have been delighted about this!

Morgan on Morgan

The Morgan family has been building cars in their own name since 1910. The founder of the Morgan Motor Company, H.F.S Morgan, was followed into the business by his son, and subsequently by his grandson, Charles, who remained at the helm for many years, from 1985 to 2013. In Bernina, the gentleman driving the 1934 Morgan Three Wheeler, a car of particular historical importance on account of its speed records back in period on the Brooklands tracks, was Charles Morgan himself. The car uses a special alcohol-based fuel that has some unexpected “side effects”. “It was like driving in a constant alcoholic airstream,” Charles remarked, “and sometimes I thought all I needed was an olive to go with it!”

All photos courtesy of the author.

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