It all started on a Christmas Market last December when a couple of Lotus owners from Hamburg had a bit too much Glühwein. We often do group outings in the summer, driving the secondary roads of Schleswig Holstein between North Sea and Baltic where there isn’t even a hint of mountains.
Someone asked the question if it wouldn’t be fun to do a joint tour of the Alps and everyone chimed in. Somehow the idea still seemed good when we were sober again in January. We soon had six cars together and miraculously found a common date in the first week of July. Jens had already planned a trip for that period so we organized around that. Udo and Janek equally wanted to drive South on their own. This left Thorsten, Markus and myself, we quickly booked the Autozug (car train) from Hamburg to Innsbruck for July 2nd.
I took charge of organizing the route and soon we had a plan for 30 top Alpine passes in five days, averaging 300-350 kilometres a day. We would spend two nights on Stelvio pass and two night in Klausen (Chiuso), Italy.
It was July 2nd when Thorsten, Markus and I met up at Hamburg Altona to board the train, two Elise and the Lotus Komotec EX460 JPS. We lined up in the loading queue just to find out that there would be a two-hour delay, Deutsche Bahn as usual. Finally, they started to load for the ÖBB-train to Innsbruck and I was first in line. Excitement immediately grew when the agent pulled out his ruler and said minimum clearance 10 cm. The Ex460 is very low and with me inside he measured 8 cm, which had him grabbing his phone to talk with the load master whether to allow me on board. Fortunately the load master said yes when he heard it was a Lotus, whilst I was already seeing myself drive a thousand kilometres through the night to meet up with the rest in the morning. They guided me onto the train inch by inch with utmost care. The train ride was without further surprises, we had a sleeping coach and everyone was able to catch a few winks.
Photo: Thomas Dorn
Day 1: Monday
When we woke the next morning the train was in Munich on time! Apparently they normally stop for 3-4 hours in Nürnberg, used that stop to recover from the delay in Hamburg. From there it was just a short continuation to Innsbruck where we arrived around 9 am. Udo was already waiting for us in his Evora S together with his girlfriend.
And off we were! The first day would be our longest ride, from Innsbruck over as many Tirolean passes as we could get, then up Stelvio where we had our hotel for the night.
It was raining when we crossed the Kühtaisattel but started to dry up when we crossed Imst. Next up was Hahntennpass. The roads were nearly dry by then and we started to have fun. Most roads are classified as 90 km/h, which may seem slow, but I have yet to see a car try to get near that speed in a hairpin.
We then stopped for lunch in Lech am Arlberg where I had been skiing before in January. These winter ski resorts have something of a “Walking Dead” atmosphere in summer when everything is closed down. The scale of infrastructure somehow never seems to match the remaining population.
After lunch we crossed Flexenpass and continued to the Silvretta Hochstrasse, which proved to be a first highlight, despite the busses.
From Silvretta we continued through Galtür, then Ischgl and Landeck on our way to the Reschenpass. There was a lot of traffic on this rout and the pass itself is by far not as spectacular. After a short break in Glurns it was 7 pm when we arrived at Trafoi, ready to ascend up Stelvio. We were quite tired, but it turned out to be the ideal time for that ride with almost no traffic at all. And none of those pesky fatigued cyclists meandering across the road. With 48 hairpin turns this ascent is a true experience, though not ideal for fast driving. You need first gear to get around the corners and it is often impossible to see what is coming around the corner. Particularly right hairpins are hard to oversee, the low roof of the Exige limiting visibility even further.
Day 2: Tuesday
We stayed on top of Stelvio where we had booked a hotel, not knowing that we would be staying amidst several national ski teams training on summer ski station above Stelvio.
When we woke the next day Janek arrived in his Europa to join us for our tour of Swiss passes. We started by descending from Stelvio over Umbrail, then crossing Ofenpass on our way to Flüela. Even in Switzerland, known for its ridiculously stringent speed laws it is hard to exceed these on these mountain roads.
We completed the morning driving through Davos and then stopped for lunch at Alvaneu Golf club. We were quite surprised that the prices were actually reasonable, in fact the value for money was better than the day before in Lech.
After Lunch came Albula pass, a great road with some very interesting scenery.
Our cars were desperately running low on fuel by now and we were glad to find a service station in Samaden. The EX460 needs at least Super Plus with 98 octane and that is not always easy to find. Particularly in Italy many stations only offer Super and Diesel, so it makes sense plan ahead.
Photo: Thomas Dorn
We decided to skip St. Moritz and the Julierpass as we still had quite a bit of driving ahead to return to our hotel on Stelvio. Instead we headed for Pontresina towards Bernina. From there it was Forcula di Livigno, then Foscagno. What could have been a great road was compromised by traffic, clouds and scattered showers. It is amazing how fast the weather changes on the Alps, we started the day in full sun, then came the clouds and showers, but by the time we reached Bormio the sun was back.
The drive up Stelvio from Bormio was a real highlight, first being chased by a local bike rider, then chasing him the second half of the drive. We were both going full on, leaving traffic behind us as we passed in blinding speed. Many people think it is impossible to pass the myriad of mobile homes, caravans and family vans on these roads, but I have ever again learned that this is all a question of power and brakes. And road prestige! A thank you to all those drivers that have pulled over to make room when they see a Lotus blasting up the hill.
We ended the day with a nice evening in the Tibet House overlooking the pass.
Photo: Thomas Dorn
Day 3: Wednesday
We left Stelvio in the morning. We were probably still a bit hung over from the local Kräuterschnaps, but the descent back to Trafoi woke us up quickly. We were early enough to not be confronted by the usual midday traffic up the pass. The hairpin turns also seem to be a real challenge for the bikers. also.
From there we continued towards Meran, together with what seemed to be every other tourist in Italy. It was a tedious drive and crossing Meran with 5 cars was equally challenging. From there we turned North towards TImmelsjoch. Again a quick ride up the mountain.
We met Jens and his wife in their Elise at the top, they had also taken the car train and had just arrived in Innsbruck that morning. We had lunch at the top, we were now a group of six Lotus on the way back down.
Next pass was Jaufenpass. We were now getting closer to the tourist centres and traffic picked up. The restaurant at the top of the pass proved to be a biker meeting point, we could hardly find a place to stop our cars. On the way down a couple of Porsche drivers proved to be pain, driving wide but not fast. Porsche drivers will almost NEVER let anyone pass and it took a while for the EX460 to get by.
From there we headed directly to our hotel in Klausen (Chiuso), after three days and 15 passes our bones ached for a warm shower and a splash in the pool. Our hotel in Klausen proved to be a great choice and we had a nice walk through the town before finding a pizzeria.
Day 4: Thursday
Our mate Franz had inquired whether he could join us for the drive on Thursday as he was spending his vacation in the area. So, after breakfast there were now seven Lotus in the group eager to attack the mountains, Franz joining us with his daughter in his Exige.
Photo: Thomas Dorn
We headed towards Gröden (Val Gardena) intending to do the Sella Ronda with all its passes only to be stuck in traffic. The Dolomiti are definitively tourist country. It makes no sense to try and pass anyone once you have bumper-to-bumper traffic.
We decided to diverge over Sellajoch towards Canazei, from where we headed towards Fedaia. These roads were all a bit more off the beaten path. The drive up Giau was great, with Franz using all his Nurburgring experience to keep up with the EX460.
From Giau we continued through Cortina d’Ampezza to Tre Croci, again confronted with traffic that required all 460 HP from the EX460.
We were utterly overwhelmed by the view from lake Misurina and seized the opportunity for some nice pictures.
Photo: Thomas Dorn
It was now time to head back towards our hotel, crossing Falzarego, then Valparola and finally Grödnerjoch on the way. We arrived at 6 pm, except Thorsten, who had decided to “take a shortcut” directly from Falzarego. It proved to be a scenic tour, we never quite reconstructed the route he took, but even he finally arrived two and a half hours later.
Day 5: Friday
The group split up Friday morning, with Jens continuing his vacation, Janek heading towards a wedding invitation near Nürnberg and Udo a direct drive towards Munich.
Thorsten, Markus and myself were due back in Innsbruck in the evening. We headed towards Austria crossing the Staller Sattel. We had planned to cross Grossglockner next but realized we were late and chose to take the Felbertauernstrasse instead. Gerlospass was our last crossing before Innsbruck.
Photo: Thomas Dorn
We were quite apprehensive boarding the train in Innsbruck as our destination Hamburg Altona was right in the midst of the riots related to the G20 meeting in Hamburg. No one could tell us whether the train would actually make it to Hamburg or whether we would be diverged somewhere along the line. But, the riots had moved a few blocks and the police had finally managed to clear the area by the morning when we arrived.
LOTUS – Lots of Trouble Usually Serious?
So, how did the cars fare? Actually excellent, we had no breakdowns and only minor issues. Thorsten had to reset his instrument cluster once because his speedometer failed, Franz newly installed (non-Lotus) Lithium battery failed and the Komotec exhaust switch is stuck open on the EX460 (which only bothers others in my vicinity).
Day 1: Kühtaisattel – Hahntennjoch – Flexenpass – Silvretta Hochstrasse – Reschenpass – Stelvio
Day 2: Umbrail – Ofenpass – Flüela – Albula – Bernina – Forcola di Livigno – Foscagno – Stelvio
Day 3: Stelvio – Timmelsjoch – Jaufenpass
Day 4: Sellajoch – Fedaia – Giau – Tre Croce – Falzarego – Valparola – Grödnerjoch
Day 5: Staller Sattel – Felbertauernstrasse – Gerlospass
In total 1750 Km in 5 days.
All videos made with GoPro Hero 3+. Data overlays made with Racerender 3 from Torque Pro data recording. Videos edited for the illusion of speed (and for legal protection). Best viewed in VR or live on original location.