The Bernina GT Brings Classic Hillclimb Racing To The Peaks Of The Swiss Alps
Photography by Rosario Liberti
The life of an automotive photographer means my days are not wanting for pretty things to look at. For instance, last month I chased a few dozen Lamborghinis across Italy and played with light on Porsches in Germany for the first Luftgekühlt event held in the home country, but those and other assignments in recent memory were handily beaten by the time I spent in the mountains of St. Moritz for the Bernina Gran Turismo shrouded in fog for the beginning of fall.
The Swiss Alps aren’t just any old range of tall rocks, so calling them just “mountains” seems somewhat unfair; the slightly extraterrestrial-spiritual feeling one gets when perched quite literally on top of the world gives a reminder of the awesome scale of the earth that’s harder to grasp in the routines of city life, and this reinvigorated appreciation for the natural world makes a trip to St. Moritz worth it for these feelings alone, but if you happen to visit the alpine town during the weekend of the Bernina GT you’ll see that the man-made elements on the mountain can be equally impressive. Sheer rock faces and world-class powder are cool and all, but the sound of analog race cars and bikes tearing up the serpentine streets that cut through the Alps is pretty once-in-a-lifetime in its own right.
As you may know, Switzerland has a long-standing ban on motorsports, which is why you won’t find any circuits in the country dedicated to racing. What they do allow, though, is the occasional hill climb and sprint event wherein public roads are temporarily shut down for more vigorous use than normal. The Bernina Gran Turismo is one of these events, and though it’s only been running officially for a few years now (this was the fifth), it is quickly becoming the type of gathering that people ship cars on planes for. The high-dollar stuff is plentiful, but it doesn’t make the Bernina GT any less democratic; for one, these cars are all being driven rather hard, so it’s not like a bunch of museum pieces joined in and turned a race into a parade in the process; and secondly, for every GT40 or Lancia 037 there were a handful of humbler machines from within Switzerland, ranging from rally-prepped Volvos to early hot-hatches and lower-formula open-wheel kits.
We’ll be following up on the experience with a future story about a particular Martini car, but for now I’ll leave you with this gallery of the event itself. You know how it goes; there’s too much to take in for someone who must abide by the laws of the universe and remain in one place at a time, but here’s a selection of my favorite cars and scenes from what is arguably the archetype of the ideal classic car hillclimb today.