VAIL — Anyone with even a tiny bit of gasoline in their veins — or with an appreciation of four-wheeled art — has to love the Colorado Grand.
The classic-car event for charity returns to Vail this week. The roughly 100 classic cars — mostly sports and racing cars built no later than 1960 — takes off from the Cascade Village Resort & Spa on Tuesday morning. The group, which also includes a good number of support vehicles, mechanics and others, then heads out on a 1,000-mile sojourn around the Western Slope, returning to Vail on Friday.
The show ends with the cars displayed around the Arrabelle at Vail Square in Lionshead. The cars are supposed to remain unwashed, just as they’ve come off the road. But, as Colorado Grand board president Tom Horan said, some of the owners can’t resist putting a bit of shine on their rides before display day.
The idea of putting these cars on the road for several days remains one of the remarkable things about the Colorado Grand. For one thing, many of the vehicles were rare when they were new — production runs for some can be counted on both hands. Virtually all are museum pieces now.
Then there’s the idea of running the cars 1,000 miles across the Western Slope in mid- to late September. Most of the cars are open sports or racing cars. Few have tops. Some don’t have windshields. Given the fact our weather can be, shall we say, variable this time of year, that can bring some adventurous driving.
Horan, who’s participated in 20 of the 25 Colorado Grands, owns an Allard J2X, a rarity from the 1950s that combined an English sports car with a hulking American V-8 motor. To say it’s not great in the snow is the height of understatement. And yet, a few years ago, the Grand participants awoke in Durango one morning to see 8 inches of snow on the ground.
Then there was the time the group hit a sleet storm.
“We put duct tape on our foreheads to protect us,” Horan said.
But the Grand keeps going, putting on a remarkable show for a good cause wherever it lands.
The run’s primary charity is the Colorado Highway Patrol Family Foundation, which aids the families of Colorado State Patrol officers who have been killed or badly injured in the line of duty.
The Grand also benefits the small towns where it stops for lunch. Since there aren’t many places on the Western Slope that can serve a sit-down lunch to roughly 250 people, Horan said local service clubs usually put on a picnic in the town park for the event. In return, those clubs get money from the Grand to finance any number of civic improvement projects, from a bandstand in Salida’s riverfront park to help for the medical clinic in Walden.
The people who put on those lunches are among a relative few who know the Grand’s route before it starts. Horan said the route is relatively closely-kept for reasons including security — some of these are worth millions. A few of the 10 Ferarri 275 NART Spyders have participated in the Grand, and the most recent such car to cross the auction block sold for about $23 million.
John Waugh is about to go on his seventh Grand as the event’s official photographer. For Waugh, who said he “loves” classic cars but could never own one (see the preceding paragraph) the Grand is a chance to hang out with cars and their owners. It’s also a chance to get some incredible photographs. Every day’s run has four designated photo areas, occupied by either Waugh or the three other photographers who work for him on the event. Finding those spots requires some careful pre-running and some sometimes-precarious perches.
For instance, there’s a specific turnout on the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton that will hold exactly one car, hard against a steep drop.
“My wife has to get out the driver’s side at that one,” Waugh said.
Putting the event together is a lot of work for Horan, Waugh and others involved. Putting on the zillion-dollar parade of classics also involves breaking a few hearts.
Horan said he and other board members decided a few years ago that the Grand needed between 10 and 12 new participants every year. That means telling a few applicants “no” in favor of others. This year, to celebrate the event’s 25th anniversary, the car roster has added some vehicles built before 1939, the year World War II began.
But the work is all worth it. Waugh praised both the causes the event benefits and the people involved.
“It rolls enthusiastically,” he said.
Horan also praised the people involved, saying that more than just a historic ride is required for Colorado Grand participation.
“We ask, ‘how great is the car, and how good are the people?’” he said.
Participants need to do more than get along with each other, Horan said. They also need to be ambassadors for the passion of classic cars, which means a willingness to get a car dirty, among other things.
“On one stop, Jerry Seinfeld let a bunch of school kids sit in his Porsche,” Horan said. “That’s pretty special for everybody.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 and firstname.lastname@example.org.