Dozens of vintage sports and race cars rumbled through downtown Durango on Thursday as part of The Colorado Grand, an annual 1,000-mile Western Slope charity tour.
The exact route and stops vary each year, but the tour traditionally begins and ends in Vail; it last visited Durango in 2009. Thursdays itinerary involved a complete loop around the scenic San Juan Skyway. Drivers left Telluride in the morning and passed through Ridgway, Ouray and Silverton before making a pit stop in Durango. From here, they continued to Mancos, Dolores, Rico and finally Telluride again.
On the lawn outside the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango Elks Lodge 507 prepared a lunch of sandwich wraps and antipasto salad for the drivers and their entourage. The nonprofit club was selected by Bob Kunkel, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, to receive two monetary donations from the tour: a $5,000 scholarship for a 2013 Durango High School graduate to be determined and $6,000 (less the cost of the lunch) that the lodge intends to spend on basic supplies for vulnerable war veterans. Those include meals, toiletries, clothing for job interviews and travel vouchers, said fundraising organizer Lori Rundquist.
Costumed waitresses from the nearby Diamond Belle Saloon and women in classic Victorian garb strolled the block between Fifth and Sixth streets to give the visitors an Old West welcome.
Whenever they want a little ambience, they call us up, said Eliane Viner.
Tennessee native Tom Smith was the first driver to arrive at the train depot. Despite driving a sleek silver 1952 Aston Martin with bright red leather seats that most car enthusiasts could only dream of, Smith was in awe and downright giddy about the vehicles following behind him.
These are some really, really special cars here. Ive seen cars this week that Ive only ever seen in magazines, he said.
Soon enough, 89 other classics joined. Ferraris and Allards, Austin-Healeys and Jaguars drew gawking stares from bystanders as they rolled into parking spaces. Some were alumni of the historic Circuit de la Sarthe racing course in Le Mans, France, as their owners were proud to note.
Receiving special acclaim this year was the Shelby Cobra, the little car, big engine icon celebrating its 50th anniversary. Organizers bent the rules to accommodate the Cobras because the tour normally accepts only models manufactured before 1960.
The cars, most of them rare collector items and normally immaculately kept, were splattered with mud and water spots from traversing several mountain passes in inclement weather.
Drivers were grateful for the warm temperatures and sunny skies, having spent Wednesday pummeled by heavy rain. More than half the cars were open-top and, unlike modern convertibles, lacked motorized roof panels that could be closed at the touch of a button. Drivers had no choice but to put on raincoats and forge ahead.
It was a deluge (Wednesday), said Brian Murray, participating in his 18th Grand. I had a half inch of standing water on the floor, and my headlights were filled up with rain. But theyre still working for now.
The late car collector and racer Robert D. Sutherland founded The Colorado Grand in 1989. In the last 24 years, the tour has donated a cumulative $3.3 million to small nonprofits such as the Elks Lodge, as well as the Colorado State Patrol, an agency with which Sutherland had a close relationship.
Since 2001, the tour also has supported a foundation, affiliated with the University of Colorado-Boulders Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, that offers affordable, sliding-scale treatment for bipolar patients. Sutherland suffered from the disorder before his death in 1999.
Its great fun to drive on the open road, enjoy your car and support a good cause at the same time, Murray said.