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Swiss revive British motoring tradition

The car event was the talk of the town (ST/swiss-image.ch)

Most British car manufacturers have been taken over by foreign companies, but Swiss enthusiasts are helping to keep the English motoring tradition alive.

Plenty of events are held in Switzerland each year giving vintage car owners an excuse to take their old Rolls-Royces, Austin Healeys and Jaguars out of the garage.

Claudia Riederer climbs into her sports car and starts the engine. “That’s music isn’t it?” she says, before driving off through the Engadine valley.

Sitting behind the wheel of a 1958 Austin Healey, Riederer was taking part in the British Classic Car Meeting recently held in St Moritz.

The Swiss doctor was one of nearly 200 vintage car owners – most of them Swiss – enrolled in the event.

Mountain pass rally

For three days, the classic cars took over the upscale resort. The highlight was a rally along the narrow side roads and over the mountain passes of the Engadine (see audio).

Several vintage car events like this one are held in Switzerland each year.

Next week (August 22-28), St Moritz will again be behind the wheel when it hosts the “2nd European Healey Meeting”.

About 400 participants from more than a dozen nations are expected to attend.

In October, more than 1,000 vintage British cars will take pride of place in at an event in the town of Morges on Lake Geneva.

“British cars were more advanced as far as comfort and reliability was concerned,” says Christoffel Vonmoss, a mechanic in the Engadine who specialises in maintaining and restoring old makes.

World’s best

“Take for example the Rolls-Royce. It’s always been the best-made car in the world. And Bentley, Aston Martin and Jaguar were all built to the highest standards.”

It is estimated that 70 per cent of all Rolls-Royces ever made are still on the roads. And there are about 1,700 in Switzerland alone.

Swiss architect Walter Steinemann collects them, along with Bentleys. He has 39 Rolls and Bentleys in his 1,000 sq m garage near St Gallen.

He chose to drive a 1951 Bentley in St Moritz.

The event organiser, Vic Jacob, who is director of the five-star hotel, Suvretta House, says St Moritz is the perfect setting for the meeting because of the influence the British had in developing the resort.

Jacob is the proud owner of a 1956 limited edition Austin Healey 100M “Le Mans”.

Very British

It rained on the morning of the rally and the dapperly dressed director chose to drive with the top down and the umbrella up. “Very British”, he said.

“It doesn’t have any windows, and not much chrome. It’s simply long and elegant,” Riederer added about her Austin Healey during a lunch break on the Ofen Pass.

She developed a passion for sports cars as a child growing up in St Moritz, watching races that passed through the Engadine.

“When you drive, you sit so close to the ground and the front axle is so far away from you that you see the car turning a corner before you actually do. It’s a sensational feeling!”

“My car is worth about SFr77,000 ($62,000) but you can’t put a price tag on how much it means to me,” Jacob said.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in St Moritz

Key facts

The “British Classic Car Meeting” is held in St Moritz each July.
St Moritz will host the “2nd European Healey Meeting” from August 22 to 28.
The “Swiss Classic British Car Meeting” is held in Morges in October.

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