Former world champion Jim Clark says it’s the most exciting sport he’s ever tackled. We’ll take his word for it. But if you have any doubts, he recommends "a Cortina, lots of nerve, and plane tickets to Italy for you – and your doctor.”
So concludes the astonishing minute-long newsreel about the ‘Salute to Cortina Champions’ of December 1964, when road-going Ford Cortinas were driven down an Olympic bobsleigh track. You can read about this audacious (read foolhardy) event at the bottom of this page. Fifty-five years on, we’re taking one of Ford’s current stars, the suitably game Ford Fiesta ST, to revisit the site of this historical madness.
Following a night-time handover at Treviso Airport, our eager little three-door ST pounds up the empty Autostrada before climbing deep into the Dolomites to the chic ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, home of the 1956 Winter Olympics and regional epicentre for la dolce vita. There’s a particular excitement to arriving somewhere scenic in the dark, and we bed down in a hotel beside the town’s landmark bell tower in anticipation of what sunrise will reveal.
And rightly so. The next day, drifting wisps of mist can’t hide the huge, broken crags of limestone that cradle the Ampezzo Valley, their haywire structures jutting at all angles, barely softened by January’s snow.
At the base of the Tofane range on the north edge of town, we meet Gianfranco Rezzadore, president of Bob Club Cortina and former Italian international bobsleigh driver. Our rendezvous is Bob Bar, a tiny wooden shack and local hang-out nestled beside the Eugenio Monti bob track’s finish. Founded almost a century ago, the course was 1700 metres long by the 1956 Winter Games, with 16 turns and a 152m vertical drop. Unchanged by 1964, it was just wide enough to accommodate a Ford Cortina.
The track was shortened, narrowed and artificially refrigerated from 1979 (until then, snow and ice were hand-packed) but closed in 2008. There are plans to recommission it should Cortina successfully bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics in partnership with Milan. For the moment, the smooth, concrete-lined track lays dormant but largely intact, so we walk its length with Rezzadore, who has piloted 3000 runs down here (not including extra-curricular jaunts aboard a snow shovel).