July 24, 2000

Steel City Eclecticism
Two Days at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix
Article and photos by George Achorn

Each year, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania plays host to one of the single most interesting automotive events of the summer season. The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, whose profits go directly to autistic children, is promoted as the only vintage auto race in the country that takes place on city streets.

These streets, namely downtown's Schenley Park, riddled with hairpin turns and large imposing stone walls scantily clad in tiny hay bales make even the most brazen vintage racer think twice. So, amidst Jaguar XK120's dogging each other heavily around these turns, or vintage Bimmers swapping paint as they aggressively fight for position, one would consider that most car geeks would be content. However, it doesn't end there.

On what could be called the infield of the Schenley Road Course is a sprawling and beautiful golf course. This course plays host to a rather sizeable and truly eclectic collection of automobiles with a heavy emphasis on European makes.

As a tribute to the 20th Anniversary of quattro, Audi held the title of featured marque during this 18th running of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. While not on the scale of Monterrey, Pittsburgh featured its own unique collection of some very special Audis and was surely not short on enthusiastic Audi owners with their own daily drivers on display.

Audi of America sent in their rather sizeable event tent that played headquarters for Audiphiles present at Schenley. Audi's own Boutique promotional items were all on sale as well as a collection of some extremely rare Audis that, for the most part, are based in Pittsburgh.

Of particular note was a pearlescent white RS2 Avant. This extremely coveted family hauler developed by Audi and perfected by Porsche is in the country for development reasons by an engine management software writer who resides in the Pittsburgh area. Whether it will stay in the states remains to be seen. Its appearance in the tent throughout the weekend was highly enjoyable, and was made only more so by its open accessibility. The car was parked all weekend and left unlocked so that salivating Audiphiles could examine it close up.

Secondary draws under the tent had to go to the pair of 20-valve Ur-Quattros built by Sewickley Car Store. The first one, painted bright white, just happens to belong to the owner of the Sewickley-based Audi, Porsche and BMW dealership. While the car has been around for several years, its black stable mate has just been completed. This more recently restored Ur-quattro found its transplant from a North American S6. The engine has been totally rebuilt and makes use of more than a few Porsche-developed RS2 components to give it substantially more power than the everyday European 20-Valve Ur-Quattro.

To many Americans, the first guess at the identity of one of the DKW Auto Union cars underneath the tent may have been an early Ford Thunderbird. The DKW Auto Union 1000SP bore more than a passing similarity to the T-bird. This front wheel drive 2-stroke equipped car was extremely fashionable in Germany during its time, though was never exported officially to the United States. An extremely early Audi 100 sedan and a DKW 1000 sedan rounded out the vintage Audi/ Auto Union cars found within the tent.

Glistening on the fairway outside was a large grouping of Audis. TTs and S4s seemed to be there in the largest numbers, though it all of Audis offerings throughout the years made a showing in one form or another from 4000 sedans to TT Roadsters. One lone NSU TT was also parked at the end of a row of Audi TTs. Quite square in comparison, the little rotary-engined sedan belongs to another Pittsburgh native.

Within the race, Audi was only slightly represented. Being a vintage event, the Grand Prix only accepts cars with significant age. Audi and Auto Union's history of motorsport in the United States, with the exception of the Silver Arrows 1930's winning of the Vanderbilt Cup, is somewhat nonexistent. Ur-quattros and the like are too modern to qualify for the Vintage format.

Still, two NSU TTs did manage to compete. One owner brought his red example in from the west coast. Another German NSU enthusiast shipped his over from Europe so that he could compete in the American vintage race.

As marque of the year, several modern Audis were allowed hot laps during the two-day event. The Sewickley staff managed a range of cars and drivers including a 4000 quattro, Coupe GT, Ur-S4 (based on the Audi 100), an A4 2.8, a TT quattro with 225 horsepower and a modern S4.

Saturday is qualification day. It also happens to be the most attended by owners showing their cars. Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes Benz automobiles, Volvos, Saabs and Volkswagens were all there in rather large numbers. Each brand was set off in its own area, with the local chapters of their national clubs hosting hospitality tents.

Several hundred yards away, British automobiles were also very numerous. Several very active Pittsburgh clubs ensure that the British area is always a big draw for the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. Triumphs, Jaguars, Rolls Royces, MGs arrive in droves each year for the show and rival the more modern German and Swedish metal across the way.

Sunday's race day was less populated. Riddled with more downpours than the day before, the race was on and off all afternoon. Nevertheless, the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix organizers soldiered on through the day. As the clouds broke several times, they did their best to dry the pavement and hustle the next heat onto the track.

Though somewhat slowed by periodic storms throughout the two days of the event, the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix proved to be a truly different type of Audi event and thoroughly enjoyable. Due to its Marque of the Year status, Audis own involvement in the show next year will probably be limited, however the event itself promises to be a promising one on the Audi owners' calendars for next year.

Click here for the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix image gallery