This 127-corner, tree-lined German road was one of the great European hillclimb challenges. So it’s little wonder that it attracted some of motor racing’s great names
By Ed Foster
Freiburg-Schauinsland is one of the most spectacular hillclimbs in Germany and, in its day, was famous for being one of the most difficult. Located just outside Freiburg im Breisgau in the far west of the country, the climb started at 400 metres above sea level. It ran for 12km up to 1200 metres to an area called Schauinsland, which literally means ‘look into the country’ such are the views from the top.
The road still exists today and starts just outside Günterstal, a suburb of Freiburg. It is lined with beech trees, but within a few corners the road climbs into a thick forest of fir and pine until it emerges briefly at the Holzschläger Matten-Kurve, only to disappear once again into the trees some 300 metres later.
Freiburg may not have rivalled the likes of Mont Ventoux in neighbouring France, which climbed 1599m in 21.6km, or the 66.5km Cuneo-Colle della Maddalena in Italy. But both pre- and post-war it played host to some of the greatest names in motor racing including Hans Stuck, Rudolf Caracciola, Bernd Rosemeyer, Stirling Moss, Edgar Barth, Ludovico Scarfiotti and Gerhard Mitter. In 1964 someone entered under the name of ‘James Bond’, although no evidence exists to suggest that 007 did hone his driving skills by hillclimbing a Lotus Elite…
One of the most staggering features of this hillclimb was the 127 corners that drivers and riders had to negotiate. There isn’t space here to name them all, but the ones that were considered to be among the most interesting and challenging included Forsthaus, a right-hand hairpin less than a kilometre after the start; Diesendobel, a quick right-left-right; Tiefenbach, a long right-hander that opens up onto a short straight before Haibrein, a left-hand hairpin. The road carries on through the trees and heads towards Brünnele, a right-hand hairpin, after which you head through Weisfelsen, a sharp left-hander that roughly marks the halfway distance.
It’s here that the road suddenly emerges from the trees, climbing towards the famous Holzschläger Matten, a long right-hander that swung past the main stands, now long gone. During the 1960s it was here that the bulk of up to 60,000 spectators would gather to catch more than a fleeting glimpse of the cars. After the corner the cars dived back in among the trees, climbing to the tightest corner on the course, Gieshübel, but Holzschläger Matten provided the best vantage point. After Gieshübel, the last three kilometres included Ochsenberg, a right-hand hairpin, and Rasthaus, a quick right-hander.
Chris Lawrence, who campaigned a TVR Griffith throughout the 1965 European hillclimb season, remembers Freiburg as being one of the highlights. “I couldn’t race the TVR there as all cars had to be under two litres in those days, so I went up in my SLR Morgan Plus 4. Freiburg was big news in Germany and it was a proper, pukka hillclimb, mostly tree-lined. Not quite a mountain, but a pretty sharp piece of country. It was also quite long – not as long as some, but it was a bloody good hill. There were a lot of very tight corners which suited the Porsches, but the Morgan was completely useless.
“The fact that all the corners looked quite similar through the trees was one of the difficulties and there was no free practice to speak of – I think I got a couple of climbs before I went against the clock. I hadn’t learnt anything. It was difficult, even when you used the trick of splitting it up into sections and learning them separately, but it was an amazingly dramatic place – even if I wished like hell I was running the TVR. I nearly got [the organisers] to let me do a demo run at lunchtime, and somebody on the committee was all for it and somebody wasn’t, but eventually they said no.”
Hillclimbing was already popular by the turn of the 20th century, when it was considered the way to test a car’s performance and durability. With little power or grip, even climbs like Kesselberg in Germany, which scaled just 245m, were a challenge.
It was in 1930 that the various climbs throughout Europe became more seriously driven following the introduction of the European Mountain Championship by the FIA’s predecessor, the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR).
The first championship was made up of 10 events at Zbraslav-Jílovište in Czechoslovakia, the never-ending Cuneo-Colle della Maddalena in Italy, Britain’s Shelsley Walsh, Switzerland’s Klausen, Freiburg-Schauinsland, Mont Ventoux in France, Poland’s Tatra, Austria’s Semmering, Svab in Hungary and Feleac in Romania. The inaugural championship was won by the 1928-29 ‘Bergkönig’ (Mountain King) Hans Stuck,with five victories in an Austro-Daimler. But because each driver had to participate with the same make of car in at least 50 per cent of the events in order to qualify, only Stuck and Laszlo Hartmann were eligible in the racing car class. The other class for sports cars was won convincingly by Rudolf Caracciola.
The pre-war championship proved less successful than its post-war reincarnation, however. The series only ran for three years and by the end it was down to four events and rumoured not even to have reached a conclusion. Freiburg was in fact dropped from the official championship after just one year.
It was in 1925 that Freiburg-Schauinsland had held its first event. On August 16 Mercedes test driver Christian Werner, piloting a works Mercedes 2-litre, completed the climb in 11min 34.4sec to set the best time of the day. Such was its success that the hillclimb became an annual event until 1937, even if it only had championship status for one season.
Of course the times of ascent fell during the pre-war period with Hans Stuber, Heinrich von Morgen, Caracciola and Stuck all winning events. But it wasn’t until the Auto Unions first appeared at the hillclimb on August 19, 1934 that the record dropped to nearly eight minutes flat with Stuck driving a Type A. Two years later Bernd Rosemeyer managed 7min 59 sec in a Type C – a remarkable time when you consider that his average speed of 56.05mph wasn’t bettered until almost 20 years later in 1958 when Jo Bonnier, driving a Borgward 1700, clocked 59.28mph.
Bugattis and Mercedes dominated at Freiburg until the latter’s withdrawal from racing for two years at the end of 1931, but Caracciola returned in ’32 – having won the previous year’s Freiburg aboard the very short and light SSKL – to win once again in an Alfa Romeo Tipo B. By 1937 SA Stormtroopers had started lining the route, guiding winner Stuck back down, and the event didn’t run again until 1949 when Stuck sealed back-to-back victories – albeit 12 years apart – in the 2-litre, unsupercharged F2 AFM. Rather handily Stuck’s dual citizenship – he had an Austrian licence – meant he could sidestep a rule forbidding Germany from competing in international racing until 1950.
Meetings were held in 1951 and ’53, and Freiburg’s future was secured with the launch of the new European Hill Climb Championship in 1957. It was in 1951, when the climb was part of the Formula 2 championship, that Stirling Moss tackled it in both a works HWM and his own 500cc Kieft-Norton. “As the HWM team was in the middle of its continental tour, it seemed a good idea to take in the spectacular Freiburg hillclimb because it fell between major fixtures at Zandvoort and Erlen,” said Moss in his book All My Races. “I was pretty satisfied to finish fourth in the Formula 2 class at this venue, which was totally new to me, although my hillclimbing experience certainly helped.
“The Kieft-Norton came straight to Freiburg from my disappointing retirement at the Nürburgring and all the effort was rewarded with a trouble-free run to a class victory.” When I asked him about the run, Moss added that “I must have been paid some start money because I wouldn’t have gone otherwise!”. What he failed to mention was that on his way to winning the 500cc class he smashed the record by more than 1min 20sec with a time of 8min 18.9sec. To put that into perspective, the runner-up in the Formula 1 class, Tony Branca in a Maserati, was over a second slower. Meanwhile Paul Pietsch, in the new overhead-cam Veritas, broke the F2 record with an 8min 9.1sec ascent.
The new FIA-backed European championship was a huge success. Porsche and Ferrari ran full works teams and with those came drivers of the calibre of Scarfiotti and Barth. Although the calendar varied, Mont Ventoux, Gaisberg and Freiburg were included every season from the championship’s inception for nigh on 15 years. The only change to Freiburg occurred during this time when, in 1962, the climb was shortened to 11.2km. The following year Barth, driving a Porsche 718 WRS, posted an average speed of more than 100km/h for the first time in the event’s history.
Perhaps Freiburg’s most important meetings came in 1963, ’64 and ’65, for the World Sports Car Championship had been changed to include both rallies and hillclimbs. Freiburg was chosen during these years alongside other climbs like Coppa della Consuma and Rossfeld – where Scarfiotti would tragically lose his life in 1968 – and the ‘Swiss Mountain Grand Prix’ at Sierre-Montana-Crans. The hill climbs understandably attracted little attention compare to events at Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona, though Freiburg was thought of as one of the ‘classic’ hillclimbs. In 1964 it came at a point when Ferrari and Ford were separated by only 30 points, which meant the Italian marque supported a semi-works GTO64 for Scarfiotti. In the previous seven years the hillclimb championship had been won only twice by a non-Porsche driver (Willy Daetwyler aboard a Maserati 200SI in 1957 and Scarfiotti behind the wheel of a Ferrari Dino in ’62), so it came as no surprise when Porsche driver Barth was victorious at Freiburg in ’63 and ’64. In 1965 though it was Scarfiotti who led Gerhard Mitter home in the Ferrari Dino 206P.
Another notable performance came courtesy of Bob Bondurant in a Shelby American-entered Cobra. Even though he had never driven a hillclimb before, let alone Freiburg, Bondurant finished fourth ahead of Scarfiotti’s 250 GTO – after starting down the order for the second runs when it had begun to rain. His meticulous reconnaissance days before the event, when he split the climb into various sections to practice, had paid off.
Even though the European Hill Climb Championship still exists today, the factory teams lost interest in the early 1970s. With that, the big names also dropped out. Freiburg had one final ‘big’ meeting in 1972. The Deutsche Automobil-Rennsport-Meisterschaft, based at the Nürburgring, visited the German hillclimb in its inaugural year. The 139-strong field was topped by Xavier Perrot in a March 722 ahead of Reinhold Joest in a Porsche 908/03, but it was Hans-Joachim Stuck who won the Automobil-Rennsport-Meisterschaft class aboard a Ford Capri 2600.
Today, only a few locals seem to know about the road’s illustrious past, and for most it is merely a way to get to the view at Schauinsland. But there are some who understand the road’s importance. On the day we visited, shortly after 5pm the climb suddenly filled with bikers. They weren’t just running to the top and down again either – one 1998 Honda CBR600 passed us at Holzschläger Matten 10 times, each time taking the corner at ever-increasing speed. Although Freiburg has been somewhat lost in the mists of time and does not benefit from annual revival events like other hillclimbs, it’s heartening to know that its 127 corners are still a source of enjoyment – if only for a few unhinged bikers.
Many thanks to Audi UK for their help with this feature.