Sunday, July 15, marked the conclusion of the 36th-Annual-Pittsburgh-Vintage-Grand-Prix. An event like no other, the PVGP hosts a 10-day extravaganza dedicated to all things automotive. With all proceeds benefiting local charities, the PVGP has helped raise over $5 million to date. Car shows, rallies, and races kept the streets of Pittsburgh vibrant and loud, allowing car geeks, myself included, the chance to ogle at the congregation of metal and rubber. Finishing the week-long event is the Grand Prix itself, the only vintage road race left in the United States, raced on the streets surrounding Schenley Park, looping the massive Concours-like car show held at the Bob O’Connor Golf Course. As an avid car enthusiast, I made it a point to attend “the greatest race in the U.S,” as one announcer put it.
Sunday was hot. By noon, real feel was above 100 degrees. As I climbed out of my air-conditioned Subaru, the humidity hit me. The air was thick and sticky, reminiscent of a Southern summer’s day. Sweat began to form on my brow as I hiked up the alleyway toward the race. The unmistakable roar of a V8 engine and the squealing of tires permeated the air. As I approached Schenley Drive, the mighty V8 was now deafening. Like a flash of lightening, the beast responsible for this ruckus barreled down the empty track. A retired BMW Z4 GTE doing hot laps darted past spectators, unleashing all 500 horsepower from its gold-wrapped engine, as it headed for Schenley Bridge. The BMW racer, purpose built for 170+ mph-runs down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans, was now a spectacular sight cornering fast through Pittsburgh side streets. I was unbelievably giddy as this magnificent piece of engineering tore off into the distance.
My journey up the street continued, navigating through crowds of sweaty spectators, past the starting grid for the first class of racers. Austin Coopers, MG Sprites, and Triumphs sat staggered on the starting grid, waiting, as the drivers warmed their engines. The race steward flashed the five-minute warning, and then the one, and then dropped the green flag. The light-weight, stripped-down sports cars sped off, leaving behind the wonderful aroma of burnt rubber and spent fuel. The crowd, left with their ears ringing, cheered as the final car departed the grid.
My goal for the day was to find the car show located on the lush greens of the Schenley Park Golf Course, hoping to grab a frothy pint of beer along the way. However, my poor sense of direction and lack of event map had fatefully led me into the racers’ paddock, instead. This mile stretch of road, normally reserved for joggers and cyclists, had been transformed into a fully functional pit lane.
Race cars of all classes and manufacturers lined both sides of the street. Porsche 911s, BMW 2002s, and gorgeous Alfa Romeos sat under tents, waiting for their opportunity to tear up the track. Voices boomed over the loud speaker, signaling the next class of cars to take their places at the starting grid. All around, racers, adrenaline coursing through their veins, wearing one-piece, fireproof-suits shuffled to their cars. Spectators chatted with owners, swapping stories of vintage-car ownership. Momentarily, I was in 1965, sauntering through the set of a Steve McQueen film.
Eventually, after finding the appropriate shuttle, I was on my way to the car show. The humidity, combined with a few miles of walking, had left my shirt completely soaked. Excited about the show and the prospect of a cold beer, I soldiered on. For over two hours, I walked the fairways of the sunbaked golf course, meeting my automotive heroes. A 2009 Porsche 911 GT2, only 1 of fewer than 200, sat basking in the afternoon sun.
A beautiful, pre-WWII BMW 328 coupe caught the attention of many. This vehicle, with its elegant red interior and exquisite, black, streamlined-body, looked like it should be parked in Batman’s garage, rather than on the lawn of a car show.
A stroll through the soulful Italian section of the show never disappoints. Ferraris of all make and model were on display. The beautiful Rosso Corsa colored 458 Italia, 328 GTS, and F355 Berlinetta were truly spectacular but paled in comparison to the legendary Ferrari 330 parked away from the others. This ultra-desirable 1960s Ferrari only appreciates, commanding almost half-a-million-dollars.
Nearing four o’clock, the blue sky began to turn black, as the heat became almost intolerable. I was officially the sweatiest person on earth and very nearly the thirstiest. The impending storm signaled my departure from the PVGP, unable to snag that ice-cold beer I had craved. As I buckled myself into the Subaru, the clouds burst, no longer able to contain the heat of the day. The storm was short-lived, giving me and my girlfriend Marissa ample time to journey to Sharpsburg, grabbing a beer at Dancing Gnome, and eventually catching the sunset on Hitchhiker’s new patio.