Travel: Mastering the Nürburgring Nordschleife Before It Was Cool

Mastering the Nürburgring Nordschleife Before It Was Cool

By Petrolicious Productions
March 18, 2015

Photography and Story provided by Kostas Sidiras/RSRNurburg

There is more than enough material online about the history of the fearsome Nürburgring Nordschleife, but the one thing that’s made the circuit so special compared to many other historic tracks—besides, of course, its 14 mile length—is that anyone can drive on it.

The track’s famous Touristenfahrten–“tourist laps” have allowed people for decades to take their own car onto the Nordschleife’s harrowing layout.

There are many stories and legends about these public days, like the story of a young German girl, local to the track, named Sabine Schmitz. Schmitz would later became an exceptional racing driver and TV personality, but she got her start by stealing her mother’s road car to do her first Touristenfahrten laps at the tender age of 17…without a driving license.

Before being ‘discovered’ by Gran Turismo players hoping to master the real-life Green Hell after experiencing it on their Playstations, and before Top Gear’s antics on the circuit would reintroduce it to millions of viewers, a small group of enthusiasts would regularly attack the track in their Alfa Romeo 75s.

These were the days that you could drive a lap of the ’Ring for only a few Deutsche Mark. For instance, one lap on the Nordschleife in 1985 would be 6 DM, while today the same lap is 27€.

Instead of the advanced-but-gimmicky credit card-like ring°card (since dropped for 2015), visitors had an almost hidden Second World War-era-leftover entrance at T13 and one man with a leather bag who literally punched every single ticket. You may not believe it now, but for most of the ’80s and ’90s, the track was only used by locals and a few “hardcore” enthusiasts who would travel from all over Europe with their own cars.

Dutch racing driver Ron Simons is in that last category. Simons is an unabashed fan of the 75, the angular sedan with a reputation for being fun to drive but temperamental. With a few modifications, however, Simons discovered that the little rear-drive sedans were ideal for the Nordschleife, and would organize friends and enthusiasts into convoys of 75s.

Most mechanics of the day would joke that you need 20 Alfa Romeo 75s to have 10 working ones! That said, there are thousands of people that did their first laps on the Nürburgring in a 75, and learned the Nordschleife with Simons. Stories of convoys of 75s driving as fast as it was mechanically possible—occasionally leaking oil or losing parts through a lap—were notorious.

With less traffic than today, it was the ideal way to teach friends and small groups how to drive the track safely—and often, much more quickly than other drivers were expecting. Soon, the unofficial convoys became known as the 75Experience, and now RSRNurburg, with cars ranging far beyond the humble Alfa Romeo 75.

Note: Kostas Sidiras works in the media department at RSRNurburg, and wanted to share these period photos and this story from an era when the ’Ring wasn’t as popular as it is today. If you have your own stories of the Nürburgring, please get in touch

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Wouter Catherin
Wouter Catherin(@fb_1094977630)
5 years ago

I am one of those “dudes” that has learned to drive fast on the Nurburgring thanks to Ron. Back in the days, now 17 years ago my Subaru Impreza Turbo was one of THE iconic cars of the moment to master the Ring. I did hundreds of laps, in sun rain fog and even wet snow.
Now after 17 years I still drive that Subaru, thanks to Ron who has learned me the dangers and prevented me from crashing the barriers too hard….
One of the greatest guy’s I ever met there !

Per Eldh
Per Eldh(@per)
5 years ago

He has a lot of 75’s and GTV’s still in his backyard at RSR. Everytime I go there I ask him if any is for sale but he wont sell.
I’ll just have to find one somewhere else. 🙂

Juan Carreño
Juan Carreño(@juancarreno993)
6 years ago

Is the bottom left picture at the old Südschleife?

Per Eldh
Per Eldh(@per)
5 years ago
Reply to  Juan Carreño

No the südschleife is partly overgrown and partly open civil road. Go find it tho, it’s pretty exiting.

Brandon Nesset
Brandon Nesset(@nesset127)
6 years ago

I think I died and went to Alfa heaven…

Wouter Catherin
Wouter Catherin(@fb_1094977630)
6 years ago

I met Ron 15 years ago, when the Nordschleife was indeed something only a few enthousiasts knew existence of. On a Sunday there was barely a car to see. He learnt me how to drive the Ring FAST and SAFE with my own car, a Subaru Impreza Turbo. Still thankful for this, never crashed or did something stupid. His skills are great !

Stephan P
Stephan P(@alfettaracer)
6 years ago

As a long time 75/Milano driver I always wanted to do the 75 Experience but I’ve heard that those cars are retired now. I did get to drive the track in an Alfa 147. On another note if you ever get to attend (or drive!) in the historics at Nurburgring it’s well worth it. One of the best aspects is the open pit area where million dollar cars are often left unattended for your viewing pleasure. I also saw a vintage Testarosa 250 casually parked unattended at a local restaurant one evening, something I’ve never seen at Monteray

Sander de Jongh
Sander de Jongh(@brolli21)
6 years ago
Reply to  Stephan P

The 75 RSR cars are indeed retired,i recently installed a set of coilovers on my 75 turbo that came of an ex-75 experience car.

Christer Lundem
Christer Lundem(@christer)
6 years ago

Great article, but title is somewhat misleading. Nordschleife has always been cool. Maybe even it was cooler before – when it was more petrolhead nirvana and less crowded. But times are changing. Very cool to see an old image of me though, good times!

Michael Banovsky
Michael Banovsky(@banovsky)
6 years ago

You’re right—it’s always been cool, though if I was driving the circuit back in the “old days” I’d probably worry about the areas where you could go tumbling off into the forest and not be found for a few hours…

6 years ago

Forza Alfa!