Up to the Hexenküche

Not a road. But a challenge. Since its construction, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road has attracted the best of the best to compete on Austria’s highest mountain.

Days before the grand opening of the bold pass in August 1935, the mountain’s faces “echoed with the roar of the engines”, recalls the road’s builder Franz Wallack. On the very first day after the ceremony, an international mountain race was planned, for which the drivers tested “their machines and their skills by driving uphill many times” in advance.

On the day of the race, thousands of spectators watched “the surging battle of all the greats from the international motorsport world”, as the Innsbrucker News reported. This first competition on one of the world’s longest mountain racetracks is won by the Italian Mario Tadini in an Alfa Romeo in 14:42.74 minutes at an average speed of 79.59 kilometres per hour.

Electric power on a historic route

88 years later, during the test drive of the Elcty electric double-decker bus on the same route, many things are different: the bus drives up the hill at a swift pace, but not in a race. And the whirring electric drive eliminates the “noise of racing pistons”. What has remained, however, is the fascination of the challenging route – from the village of Fusch through the Bärenschlucht gorge to Ferleiten and then via Piffalm, Piffkar, Hochmais and Hexenküche up to Fuscher Törl – with its spectacular hairpin turns and inclines of up to twelve per cent.

Before construction began, engineer Franz Wallack had spent a year visiting 36 other pass roads in the Alps and had come to the conclusion that the crossing of the Großglockner would be “the shining star among all Alpine roads”: “The view of the imposing three-thousand metre peaks towering directly next to the glacier … with the king of the Eastern Alps, the Großglockner, as the culmination point, this mighty symphony of ice and stone, could now be admired from one road.” And that one road was the Grossglockner High Alpine Road.

"A road for its own sake"

The unique panorama was the main reason for the construction of the road. In view of the emerging motor tourism, Salzburg Governor Franz Rehrl pushed the project forward against all economic and political opposition – and did not miss the opportunity to be the first person to drive on the road, which was still under construction.

On September 22, 1934, unnecessary parts such as the doors were removed from the Austrian Steyr 100 so that it could pass through the narrow tunnel sections that had not yet been completed. “We slithered on in a helter-skelter manner,” says co-driver Wallack, summarizing the experience of this first crossing on the gravel road.

In 1935, the road was opened to private cars which were still a luxury that few could afford. “Anyone who had a car was rich anyway,” remembers Hella Dick, the first “toll girl” from the Grossglockner, who collected the fee for using the private road at the checkpoint in Ferleiten.

However, the car quickly began its victorious rise as means of transportation – and companionship – for everyone. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road, this “road for its own sake”, became a “test track for mass motorization”, writes historian Georg Rigele.

To this day, the panoramic road attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the Grossglockner every year. And with its challenging profile, it has remained a touchstone of automotive development – a must for the retrofitted electric bus Elcty.

In addition to proving its efficiency, it also achieved a premiere on the Grossglockner, as the operating company confirmed: as the first electric double-decker bus in the nearly 90-year history of the high Alpine road.

Großglockner - Übersicht

Pictures © Archive GROHAG Großglockner Hochalpenstraßen AG – many thanks!

Full strength on the mountain

The Elcty’s electric drive really comes into play on steep inclines.

Electric advantage
Elcty Großglickner Fahrer Reiner Zern

Without breaking a sweat

Reiner Zern found the ride up Austria’s highest mountain “very relaxed”.

What does the driver say

Ready for series production

New and old buses can be converted to an electric drive with the Elcty conversion kit.

Silent and climate-friendly
Elcty Stadtrundfahrt Dresden Semperoper