What is it about things that are old and of a bygone era that grab our imagination? There are people who collect stamps and coins of the years past, there are those who are mesmerized by the sight of castles and architectural relics. And then there are motoring venues. We’ve already looked at some of the legends, such as the AVUS, the Südschleife, Sitges-Terramar, and Brooklands, to name just a few.
But then there are lesser-known places. Local tracks for local heroes. Ever since I first set foot on the Südschleife at the Nürburgring a few years back, I’ve developed an innate fondness towards forgotten temples of speed.
Many hilly towns in Germany usually quench their need for speed by hosting hill climb races. I recently relocated to the region of Heilbronn in Germany, where there are many winding roads twisting through the tree-clad landscape. They’re so common that I was half convinced that there had to be a hill climb track nearby.
I poked around a bit and found out that in the late ’60s and ’70s, a handful of hill climb events popped up in this region under the moniker of Heilbronner ADAC-Bergpreis. Being allowed to go all-out on what are otherwise regular public roads is one of the prime thrills of hill climb racing. In countries like Switzerland and Luxembourg, I’m told this is usually a workaround to some of the rules that ban circuit racing.
This was one of the videos I ran across, showing scenes from the fourth Heilbronner ADAC-Bergpreis hill climb that took place in 1968 on a stretch of road starting in Gronau of Ludwigsburg district, heading to Prevorst.
Armed with this information, I set out to have a first hand look at the track. I was joined by one of my good friends who happened to live close by and she even offered to bring her toy along.Hill climbing bodybuilder
And what a toy it was… the BMW 1 Series M Coupe. The little brother in the ‘M’ family and the spiritual successor to the iconic E30 M3, this offer was too good to pass up.
The drive till Gronau is fairly unspectacular and flat but that changes once you exit the town. You can see in the background how the landscape turns hilly.
The original sprint took place from the borders of Gronau town to the limits of Prevorst, so we followed signs to the latter.
I was told that the starting grid of the races was a moderately long straight at an intersection that led to a crest. It wasn’t hard to find, situated just at the outer limits of Gronau. With the engine off it was spookily quiet, but imagine how it would have sounded like with 50 or so cars lined up here.
Even though this bit of road is not very frequently travelled, the thick woods on either side are populated with deer that might occasionally take a trip across the road.
I pretended there was a classic hill climb chock behind my rear wheel, did a mental countdown and off I went!
The twin-turbo straight-six engine roared instantly to life with no real sign of lag. These back roads are limited to 100km/h but since it was slightly greasy today, that was more than enough to have my share of fun.
The roads at the beginning of the route are fairly wide with a couple of sharp crests being the highlight features. You can see all the way to the next bend, sometimes giving me the liberty of sticking to the ideal line.
This changes as soon as you enter the woods where the roads get progressively twistier. Every now and then, overgrown trees with branches stretching over the road whoosh past, just a blur in the corner of my eye.
There are little concrete blocks that line the road on either side outside the white lines. These act as tiny rumble strips if you accidentally stray off the limits of the road. The white lines themselves are quite slippery when wet, so you have to be cautious when braking or accelerating on them.
The tarmac is in such a brilliant condition that it gives you the confidence to carry good speed through the corners. All the while, trees whoosh past left and right.
There isn’t much of a kerb along the track so every time someone clips the apex, a bit of dirt gets deposited on the track. Imagine that in the ’70s when cars with belted bias tires slithered up the hill at speed with much less traction compared to what we have now.
The roads were often covered with a layer of fallen leaves. As you can see here, I picked up my fair share of them on the front lip and grille. The 1M Coupe is wider than the stock E82, sporting a butch new bodykit, but don’t let the bodybuilder figure fool you. Despite the bigger body and the wider track, it weighs 77lb (35kg) less than the standard E82 coupe.
This lighter and wider layout rendered itself as impressive mechanical grip during cornering. The amount of feedback that you get through the seat bottom and the steering wheel are incredible. Each time under cornering, I could feel exactly what the loaded outer wheels were doing.
It felt like the engine was loving the thick cold air. As long as I throttled up smoothly, I could easily power out of corners without making the tail too nervous.
The end of the hillclimb is easy to spot because it’s just where the forest opens up from the tall woods. I was greeted by a burst of sunlight at the top despite this drive taking place on a wet winter afternoon.
The road surface gets very coarse as soon as you reach the traditional end of the hill climb. This becomes apparent very quickly thanks to the wide low profile tires and stiffened suspension.
This car was shod with satin black 19-inch wheels with very low profile tires, so in corners there was no give in the sidewall and the driving experience as a result was very direct.
As the skin of a bodybuilder is stretched across his body, the 1M has very taut lines, especially with the sharp creases and the proportionately large wheels.Perfecting the runs
It’s a relatively short run, just about ten minutes all the way up. Since I had the car till sundown, I still had enough time to get a few more runs in the bag.
I had to check myself constantly to not get too carried away on the drive back. Cars usually build up momentum very easily on spirited downhill drives like these and it’s very easy to overshoot braking points.
With 340hp and 332lb/ft on tap and with road conditions like this, the 1M had no trouble misbehaving and letting the tail step out the instant I got even slightly overzealous. The DSC lamp on the dashboard was having a field day.
For additional stability at speed, this little carbon fibre boot lid spoiler provides some downforce to press the back end down.
Initially I found it a bit difficult to remember what came after the next turn, because every corner combination looked like the one before it. It was only after the third or fourth run up the hill that I started looking for landmarks to identify where I was and what came next.
Knowing the road better also gave me some confidence as I could anticipate patches of fallen leaves that unsettled the car.
Thanks to their chunky side bolsters, the seats hold you in place through the esses, despite being clad with slippery leather as opposed to grippier alcantara,
The headrests are heat pressed with one of the most powerful letters in the alphabet.
During the entire three hours I spent driving up and down this road, I ran across just three other cars. My traffic-free charm worked once again.
Before I knew it, the sun was kissing the horizon and a layer of fog was slowly settling in the woods. It was time to call it a day. The opportunity to try out an old hill climb track like this, especially in a car as willing as the 1M Coupe was a hugely rewarding experience.
The hunt for hill climbs continues. What are your local temples of speed? Let us know in the comments!