Ephrain Hillclimb in Wisconsin will race to the top for second year

An early Austin-Healey leads the field in an  orientation run of the hillclimb course | William Hall
An early Austin-Healey leads the field in an orientation run of the 2015 hillclimb course | Peter Gloede

As classic car events become more numerous, many strive for that elusive quality of “authenticity” that separates them from the pack. The famous Goodwood Revival vintage race in England plays upon the British people’s sense of history and frolic, requiring participants to wear period attire to access the paddock, creating a seamless panorama of the automotive past.

Here in the New World, we former colonists have been reticent about playing dress-up and eschewing modern conveniences. So how does the Ephraim Hillclimb and Concours, which will be held Saturday in the village of Ephraim, Wisconsin, succeed where others fail in capturing the full essence of a vintage motoring event?

Participants wait for their turns during the 2015 hill climb | William Hall
Participants wait for their turns during the 2015 hill climb | William Hall

Start with the hillclimb course itself, which is set on a closed public road winding from the shore of the old harbor town up and over the Niagara Escarpment, a geological ridge of land that stretches to Canada. Closing down a public road for a road race was commonplace in the early 1950’s, but liability and inconvenience had pretty much made that extinct.

Not so here, where an enthusiastic village populace has embraced this second-year event, not only agreeing to close the road, but line it with period-perfect hay bale barriers and, like at the inaugural event, show up by the hundreds to cheer on the varied array of cars.

The cars race against the clock, taking turns ascending the hill in a competition for the lowest elapsed time.

Car participation is always critical in creating the right atmosphere in such events. In this case, early MGs, Healeys, Alfas and Porsche 356s form the backbone of the field, punctuated by the occasional Bugatti or Mercedes. Brass-Era cars rub shoulders with handsome early-50s Buicks, Oldsmobile’s and Pontiacs, and somehow it all makes sense.

And since Ephraim is such a small, old and traditional village, they didn’t have far to go to traipse back in time. This is a place where only this year, they finally repealed Prohibition. Which means these folks have had a lot of experience in good, clean fun.

A Jaguar races for the checkered flag | WIlliam Hall
A Jaguar races for the checkered flag | Peter Gloede

The hillclimb is part of a weekend of classic car festivities. A Friday afternoon driving tour of the Door County Peninsula has been added, making the requisite stops at artisan boutiques and cafes. On Saturday, the hill runs culminate with the dinner dance for participants overlooking Eagle Harbor, where Sunday’s Concours d’Elegance takes place at the water’s edge.

Last year’s dinner dance in the old Village Hall featured a ‘40s-style swing band, with the vast majority of participants taking up the challenge and sporting their best evening wear, circa 1946 – the year that serves as the event’s inspiration.

The Ephraim Hillclimb is timed to take advantage of summer’s last warm days, with just a hint of the brilliant Fall foliage that is the trademark attraction to the Door County Peninsula. Outdoor fish boils, craft beers, local wines and the nautical landscape of Green Bay contribute to the unique appeal of this event.

If it always has been a dream to race your classic up a tree-lined public road past a cheering throng, this may be your opportunity to do so. The charm, culture and amenities of this quaint Victorian-era resort village will ensure your co-pilot goes home happy, too.

For more information on the Ephraim Hillclimb and Concours d’Elegance, visit the event website.

Photos by Peter Gloede 

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