Ephraim Vintage Festival Brings Elegant Automobiles to the Escarpment

This weekend will see a temporary yet spectacular change in the roads of Ephraim. Saturday morning, workers will go about the task of setting up 30 concrete barriers and 400 hay bales to construct a one-mile course for the Ephraim Vintage Festival Hill Climb and Concours d’Elegance. Entrants bring their vintage cars to run the course, experiencing not only the beauty of Door County but the thrill of testing their classic cars on one of Door County’s steepest hills and sharing in the joy of driving with other automobile enthusiasts.

The event begins Friday with a driving tour of Door County, with the convoy stopping at boutiques, shops and cafes as it makes its way around the county. The hill climb comes Saturday at 11 am, with viewing areas for spectators spaced out along the course. In the Concours d’Elegance on Sunday all of the cars entered in the event will line up to be judged on rarity as well as quality and authenticity of restoration. Each night will hold parties for the entrants at the Hillside Inn in Ephraim overlooking Eagle Harbor.

John Welch, seasonal resident of Ephraim and organizer of the Ephraim Vintage Festival, started the event three years ago after local interest increased for having an event in the village based around classic cars. With decades of experience in organizing auto sports events, Welch knew they needed something more than a car show to garner interest; they needed to give the car owners an opportunity to drive their cars.

“Let’s say you bought this car. You love it. You polish it up and take it to car shows, but there aren’t very many places to drive it,” Welch said. “It’s a machine. People fell in love with automobiles because they gave them mobility – the freedom to move – but it also gave them the opportunity to become part of the device.”

Ephraim’s antique fire engine leads the parade laps at the 2016 Hill Climb. Photo by Len Villano.

Hill climbs have become a rarity in the United States, being more of a European tradition. The biggest American events are along the coasts in California and Florida, affording beautiful scenery as event-goers drive along coastal byways that ascend mountainous terrain.

Which makes Door County, often called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest” and home to some pretty steep hills (thanks to the Niagara Escarpment), the perfect place for a hill climb.

So why vintage cars? This year’s head judge Dave Cooper describes the experience of driving classic cars as rich and rewarding.

“Most modern cars are designed for somebody to be oblivious to driving,” Cooper said. “If you’re driving an old sports car, you have to push it a little bit to really drive it. That way it’s more fun. It [an older car] rewards a good driver.”

As a spectator, the enjoyment comes from the spectacle of the cars themselves. The Friday tour will send a parade of beautiful automobiles around Door County, stopping passersby in their tracks. Watching a 1937 Rolls-Royce V-12 Phantom III Coupe, a 1961 Alfa Romeo Giulietta, and a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair convertible round the corner is a show that only comes around once a year. Saturday, though, they’ll be coming around the bend all day.


The Ephraim Vintage Festival Hill Climb begins at 11 am on Saturday, Sept. 9, starting with several parade laps followed by one car on the course at a time. Sunday’s Concours d’Elegance begins at 11 am as well. Registration for this year has closed; for more information, visit


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