The morning parking lot was sunny and warm, with only a light flurry of activity. The VW Beetle enjoyed a condenser change, and was now running like a VW should. Hmmm…were we chasing “fuel issues” all weekend that were actually ignition related? The smell of starter fluid was wafting across the parking lot, a fairly obvious clue that the Datsun was attempting it’s morning start ritual. But otherwise, it was a relatively easy morning. Stories and laughter were shared in the sunshine before the driver’s meeting began.
With this the final day of the event, I reminded guests of the timing and need to “keep moving” so we could all enjoy the finish awards together. It was somewhat difficult to hide my excitement for today’s route, and the anticipation was shared with everyone who had driven it before. Leaving the parking lot, we turned North onto Highway 550…the famous “Million Dollar Highway”.
If you’ve ever read a magazine article which lists “the best places to drive” in either the USA, North America, or even the world, Highway 550 has been one of the featured destinations. Traveling north from Durango the route follows the Animas river, under the Hermosa Cliffs. Soon, Engineer Mountain becomes visible…the clue for those in the know that things are going to become very interesting. The next 40 minutes is spent gripping the wheel, rowing through the gears, and testing the nerves of your co-driver. We passed over Coal Bank Pass, and then onto the Molas Pass…enjoying views of Molas Lake, the Animas River Gorge, and multitudes of snowy mountain peaks. A temporary traffic stop (in place for avalanche debris clearing), gathered our group for a stunning view of the town of Silverton in the valley below. It was here, while overlooking Silverton six years ago, that I decided Classic Car Adventures needed an event in Colorado.
As I was thinking about the last two days, and the sunny drive we were all enjoying, and just how awesome this whole thing was, Mark Gomez called my name, and pointed at his car. His 1967 Mustang Coupe, fresh from a suspension, steering and brake upgrade, was mine to pilot down into Silverton and beyond. After a quick gas stop it was “Team America” heading North to Ouray. Two of the three Mustangs, the ’67 Camaro and the Olds 442 would travel together. Leaving Silverton the highway heads up the Mineral Creek Valley, before running up the Red Mountain Pass, and through the Uncompahgre Gorge. If you’re co-driver wasn’t nervous before, they sure would be now!
The stretch through the gorge is challenging and potentially hazardous. There are tight switch backs, steep cliffs which meet the road edge on either side, and zero guardrails. This section is known as the Million Dollar Highway, as it’s rumoured it cost a million dollars a mile to build. I suppose, when you think about it, they were on a budget…no money left over for guardrails or safety!
Soon, however, you begin a steep decent though switchbacks that literally ribbon across each other. If you time it right, you can see 3 levels of your classic car friends in some of the corner sections. The road straightens out of for a moment, turns a tight curve around a cliffside, and the Town of Ouray suddenly becomes visible in the Valley below. Our entire group managed to meet up for a coffee and ice-cream stop in the town, enjoying the many buildings from the late 1800’s, before heading North towards the finish. Having enjoyed the Mustang immensely, I opted to jump in the co-driver’s seat of David’s Porsche 911 for the next leg of our journey.
Our route took us through Montrose, Delta and Orchard city before handing us a final taste of the twisties for 2017. We ascended the Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flat-topped mountain, via a series of switchbacks. Once on top, the highway is a beautiful ribbon of gentle curves working it’s way around the many lakes in the area. Just as we were eight miles from the finish, we saw a Warning Triangle on the side of the road, the CCA way of saying “mechanical issue ahead”. As passing car pulled over to see if we could provide assistance. Surprisingly, Jim (the owner of the VW Beetle) was deep in the act of “paying it forward”. He was underneath Duncan’s Mustang changing out the fuel filter. The rest of us passed the time by either passing requested tools to the good doctor, or throwing snowballs at each other. With the Mustang fuel filter fix completed, a final request was heard from under the Mustang “uh, could you guys lift it up so I can get out?”
It’s a true hero who squeezes himself under a car so tightly, it takes four people to lift the rear end to get him out!
Just as I was about to get back into the 442 for the final seven miles to the finish, I heard Saloman calling my name. Now, if you’ve followed us for the last three days worth of stories, you probably know what’s coming! I have to be honest, I’ve wanted to drive his car since the first time I saw it back in 2015. While my test drive to the finish might have only been seven miles, it was enough to confirm I must own a 911 one day.
As we pulled into the Mesa Lakes Lodge, a lakeside log cabin restaurant, the parking lot was packed full of classic cars. Not only had our whole group made it to the finish, we had done so in the same 30min window. We dined on Elk Burgers, enjoyed the presentation of awards, and gazed upon a sunny lake with classic cars parked lakeside.
This year our Hard Luck Award winner was Tim Lloyd. Friday Morning was a rough start, and it wasn’t the weather. As we packed up at our hotel room it was discovered that something had high Tim’s trailer overnight. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the end of his woes. Last year, Kevin Lewis was our Hard Luck winner, having stripped the teeth off of 3rd gear in his Austin Healey Sprite. As per tradition, Kevin returned in 2017 with a Hard Luck Trophy, made from the damaged transmission bits in his car. Perhaps the award has a theme in Colorado, Tim’s TR6 developed transmission problems on day one with the overdrive clutches failing badly near the end of the day. Tim heads home with a fantastic new trophy, but not before heading all the way back to Gunnison to pickup his Triumph…
The MacGyver award is given to the entrant(s) who have the best fix for a problem on the event. MacGyver was known for always being prepared. Equipped with only a swiss army knife and his endless knowledge, he could take the materials he found around him and create amazing fixes for bizarre problems. This year, our MacGyver award winner took a slightly different approach. He packed every item on the “mandatory spares list”, and used every single one of them. When the materials at hand ran out, he used his secret “swiss-army-knife”. If you’re going to enter a car that has issues on the event, you can’t make a better choice than a Volkswagen Beetle. CCA’s Dave Hord can probably fix it for you, or at least get you running each morning! So, for his ingenious use of “feed the organizer beer and your car will start running”, Jim Hazlehurst was awarded the MacGyver award in 2017.
Our Spirit of the Summit Award, presented by Hagerty Insurance, is reserved for the entrant or entrants who best exemplify the Spirt of Classic Car Adventurism that Dave and Warwick set out to establish nine years ago. Truthfully, I wish we had packed an award for everyone this year. Looking out at the snowy roads on Friday Morning, each and every one of our entrants who drove off with a smile on their face deserves the recognition.
Our recipients this year are two car-enthusiast buddies who regularly buy project cars together, and have a bond formed over all things petrol related. You can often find them by the eau-de-petrol, as they seem to be working on the fuel system of their current event car at every Silver Summit! But, beyond unreliable cars and a shared passion for driving, these two are constantly helping everyone out. Whether it’s a much needed tool, a spare part, space in their cooler, or a cold beer, Ross and Jacob are the first on the scene, and the first to offer…whether they know you or not. They can take a frustrating day of unreliable motoring, and turn it into an adventure story you wish you were apart of.
Sadly, this concludes the Hagerty Silver Summit for 2017. We said goodbye to our classic car motoring friends, but made plans to see each other again soon. Whether it’s cars-and-coffee, a skiing vacation, or simply the Hagerty Silver Summit next year, we can’t wait to be back enjoying more time with all of you.
A preview of images is once again provided by Andrew Snucins and Dan Evans.
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