These Three Cars Made My 750-Mile Road Trip To Germany More Than Worth It
Photography by Máté Boér
A huge event like the three-day-long Classic Days, held at the Schloss Dyck in Germany, has a gravitational field, a force extended around itself that collects the finest automobiles and gathers the people who adore them. It’s a meeting point for many exceptional automobiles, from which it’s impossible to name the star of the show. That doesn’t mean we can’t try though, and looking back on the days I spent at Schloss Dyck from a few weeks distance, I’ve chosen three favorites and will recount their stories here.
First let’s step back a bit further; one of the most significant pieces of news (in the automotive world at least) in 2014, was the rebirth of the Fiat S76, otherwise known as “The Beast of Turin.” Since the appearance of the video showing the monstrous, fire-spitting 28.4-liter (28.4!) engine’s first start in quite a long time, I dreamed of seeing and hearing the Beast in person. That would have required a trip to England previously, as that was where Duncan Pittaway and his team had rebuilt the 106-year-old land speed record car from the remnants of the two Fiats built in 1911; the chassis from one and the engine from the other. The huge task—restoring an extremely original S76—including research and finding the missing bits, took more than two decades.
Many original S76-specific parts were found scattered around the world, but the body panels, the radiator, and the gearbox had to be reconstructed to their original specification. The Beast’s four-cylinder, 290-horsepower 16-valve overhead cam unit is the largest purpose-built car engine ever constructed. Thanks to the long 250mm stroke, the performance peak is reached at just 1,900rpm, and in fourth gear the Fiat will do 128mph at 1,000rpm. The gigantic engine was mounted to a four-speed gearbox and fitted into a light, flimsy ladder frame. Their purpose was clear: to be the fastest, to eclipse the Blitzen Benz and to become the fastest four-wheeler on the planet. After an unsuccessful attempt at Goodwood, one of the two cars broke the world flying mile record in 1911 in Saltburn reaching a speed of 116mph. In 1912, the car was sold to a Russian Prince, and in 1913 the same car exceeded the flying kilometer record in Ostend, Belgium at 132.27mph. Back in its heyday the S76 (also known as the Fiat 300 HP Record) was twice as fast as the fastest airplane!
After WWI, the other car was scrapped by Fiat (except for its engine), while the record-breaker somehow reached Australia. Nearly one century later, and without having to make the trek from Hungary to England, I was standing in front of the Beast, waiting for it to fire up once more, my smile wide with excitement and anticipation. The presenter asked the audience to step back, because it was, as he said “Going to be very loud.” Mr. Pittaway and his crew began the starting ritual, which for outsiders is two men running around the huge car, adjusting small copper taps and pumps, while the other tries to turn the crank. It’s a dangerous affair, the crank could easily break a leg or an arm if it would recoil. “It scares me. It scares me starting and scares me driving it,” Mr. Pittaway once said. This magnificent machine deserves respect, and nature seemed to agree, as the air and the ground shook once the Beast finally started. The flames were spitting right out of the cylinder head, something of a signature look for this car. The two passengers sitting in the tail, both looking very small (and very happy) behind the engine, were about to attempt a taming the Beast. I was just happy to be there to witness it.
On the other side of things, it was welcoming to finally see a Volvo stand at a classic car meeting. I haven’t seen the Swedish brand officially appearing (at least at the events I’ve been to recently) and exhibiting cars from its rich but less-celebrated history was nice to see. On Schloss Dyck’s grass, next to the obligatory P1800 and Amazon there stood a good looking, Ferrari-like, blue, open racer; this the Ockelbo Sports Racer, produced by the Swedish racing driver Erik “Ockelbo” Lundgren in 1953. The car’s body is a fiberglass copy of a Ferrari 500 Mondial (so maybe it is a bit more than just Ferrari-like), once borrowed from one of his friends. Erik, a farmer and car dealer, earned his nickname “The Wizard from Ockelbo” by driving a V8-powered, 8-carburetor Ford 38 above 200 km/h on the Swedish racetracks. In 1956 he raced a Ferrari 750 MM on the first FIA-listed Swedish GP (an event where he should have met Wolfgang von Trips, whom the Classic Days commemorates), and won his category.
In his racing career Erik learned of the virtues of light weight, and using his knowledge he rebuilt an Alfa Romeo Giulietta with a fiberglass body. Then, beginning in the late-‘50s, came the production of 50 sports cars with a fiberglass Scaglietti-copied bodies mounted on various chassis from Austin-Healey, Alfa Romeo, BMW, MG, and Peugeot. Their engines also came from a wide variety of producers, including Volvo. This particular blue car is based on an Austin-Healey 100 chassis and driven by a four-cylinder, 140hp Volvo B18B engine. There are only a couple of cars left from Erik’s legacy, but his name is still alive in the Ockelbo Plast company, which is producing a wide range of plastic products from snowmobile bodies to water slides!
Now, my third favorite rarity from the event. There is a strong link between my favorite event, the Grossglockner Grand Prix, and the Classic Days, because both are organized by the same team. Some of the participants love these events so much, they often attend both in the same year. It creates a good way to get to know people from other parts of the continent, and I was greeted as a friend in the castle’s garden by the Swiss Pitt Jung, whom I saw driving up the ‘Glockner in his 1928 Marmon T68. This time, the Marmon stayed home and he drove a very rare 1938 Atalanta Sport Tourer. No surprise if the brand’s name sounds unfamiliar, as there were only 22 Atalantas built until 1939, before WWII put an end to the small firm’s short history.
Albert Leslie Gough, once chief engineer at Frazer Nash, founded the company with three other enthusiasts. He had the opportunity to bring the “Gough” four-cylinder engine with him, his creation from his former employer. The aim was to build a light and fast car, eligible for road and track use both. The brand’s name refers to that performance ethos, as Atalanta is a virgin huntress in Greek mythology, known for her agility and power. These tailor-made British classic cars were arguably the most technologically advanced cars of their time, with fully independent coil spring suspension in the front and rear, adjustable damping, an electrically adjustable choke, and hydraulic drum brakes. The 1.5-liter Gough engine was fitted with a three-valve twin-spark cylinder head, and produced 78 horsepower.
The Atalantas were available in a variety of configurations: two-seater, two-door saloon, and drophead coupé. Pitt brought an almost completely original Atalanta from his workshop, with all of the wooden parts and the dark green body wearing a very nice patina. Its price is somewhere up in the sky, but this car’s importance is much higher than any dollar value you can attach to it. HMX-956 represents the brand’s history—it is one from the make’s original survivors. Atalanta’s history was new to me, and I got an intensive lesson about this great British car while sitting on the passenger seat and enjoying a spirited ride, chasing other legends down the Classic Days’ racetrack. I felt great level of grip in the tight corners, despite the wet tarmac. Although Pitt apologized in advance that we wouldn’t be running at race speeds, I still had to grab a handle to hold myself in the seat through each corner. This ride was a unique opportunity that I could not have imagined awaiting me at the already-fantastic Classic Days. It was a dream, and dreams are important in Atalanta’s history. The brand was relaunched in 2012, because two enthusiasts who dreamed of owning an Atalanta went about creating a modern car with a vintage look, remaining true to the original car’s design principles and philosophy.