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Driving the Stelvio

The Most Magnificent Mountain Pass

A rummage through some early Marathon boxes uncovered an article extolling the scenic virtues of the Stelvio during the 50's... that's well before messrs Clarkson, Hammond & May found this spectacular pass and even 30 years before the Classic Marathon first drove this way. With thanks to the original author we reproduce the article here with slight edits.

 The Stelvio

  It is 20 years since the Classic Marathon first climbed the staircase to the clouds up Italy's highest mountain pass - The Stelvio. Reading the Marcus Chamber's account in "Seven Year Twitch" of rallies in the 50’s, when the road was all dirt apart from large concrete paving-slabs on the hairpins, rekindles memories of our own from the pioneering-days of Historic Rallying.

This June, we will be driving up this memory-lane once more on The 20th Classic Marathon en-route to the Dolomites and Cortina - we've been a long time away.

Roger Clark, Timo Makinen, Stirling Moss (one of only two Brits to win a Gold Cup for a hat-trick of successes on the Alpine that drove this way in the 1950s), Bobby Unser - the Indianapolis and Pikes Peak hillclimb champion - who almost hit the rock wall on that tricky Stelvio hairpin that caught out a TR and a Denzel in '58, David Seigle-Morris, John Sprinzel and other greats from the Golden Era were with us in those early days, contributing to the authentic atmosphere.

The Stelvio is the most magnificent mountain pass that can be driven just for its own sake.
Hugh Merrick
The Great Motor Highways of the Alps

Jim Gavin sent us a dusty old book, The Great Motor Highways of the Alps, an early-1950s tome that attempts to guide the tourist over the by-ways of Europe, and offers a disparaging warning to anyone who wants to hurry up the Stelvio, "You miss great views from the village of Trafoi onwards”, it warns, pointing out that this was the highest road in Europe until 1936, when the Iseran came along to cap it by just 46 feet. "The Stelvio is the most magnificent mountain pass that can be driven just for its own sake" adds the guide, a sentiment we can all applaud, adding: “An altogether supreme half-hour of motoring - and the author would certainly not like it to be less”, well, it's a good job he never tried to rally it!

He points out that before the War, the record from Trafoi to the top stood with an Alfa-Romeo driver, who clocked just 13 minutes 58 seconds, an average of 40 mph. Wow! Bobby Unser's lightweight E-Type could only manage 13 minutes 20 seconds, and he had no gravel to contend with. "If the Alfa driver derived any benefit from such wonderful Alpine scenery it must have been when off duty," says author Hugh Merrick. Tut, tut.

Will the drivers on the 20th Classic Marathon please do as the period guide-book suggests - be sure to look over the edge as you swoop up those 48 hairpins...