Subaru 'Invents' Automotive Bobsledding 53 Years After Ford Did It With a Cortina

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
subaru 8216 invents automotive bobsledding 53 years after ford did it with a

Most automotive advertising has little to nothing to do with the actual car. It’s usually about presenting an image or hawking brand identity and then loosely associating it with a vehicle — Mercedes’ current “Grow Up” campaign is a perfect, cringeworthy example. However, enthusiasts know that the best car ads feature incredible shenanigans and loads of life-or-death action.

Dave Chapelle mocked Mitsubishi for its pop-and-lock Eclipse spot, while Top Gear honored Land Rover for winching a Defender up the side of a dam. Keenly aware of this is Subaru, which, after sending Mark Higgins and a WRX STI around the Isle of Man TT course in 2014, brought both man and vehicle to the world’s oldest bobsled run in St. Moritz, Switzerland to record another automotive spectacle.

Unfortunately, Subaru is more than 50 years too late for this particular publicity stunt. Ford filmed an identical feature in the Italian Alps with the Cortina GT way back in 1964. It even named the car after the Cortina d’Ampezzo ski resort, where it later held the event. Subaru may be calling it “boxersledding” today, but it’s really just a rehash of Ford’s classic “auto-bobbing.”

By the winter of 1964, the Cortina was already a force to be reckoned with in the world of European motorsport. Ford wanted to highlight its 200 Cortina-related victories but also wanted publicity for the car to boost sales. That December, some 19 men met in Italy to attempt to drive the Cortina down the resort’s Olympic bobsled run. Among them were championship drivers like Henry Taylor, Jim Clark, Vic Elford, Jack Sears, Colin Chapman, and Sir John Whitmore.

Taylor recounted the experience in a 1965 interview with The Chicago Tribune, stating, “Races like the Indianapolis 500 and rallies like the Monte Carlo can’t touch auto-bobbing for thrills and fun.”

Half a century later, Jeremy Hart floated a very similar concept to the marketing department at Subaru. One is forced to ask if Hart, who was also behind Jaguar’s high-wire crossing in London, was familiar with Ford’s auto-bobbing when he pitched his idea or if this was all just a massive coincidence. There’s plenty of overlap between the two capers. The two models even have similar rally-bred and family-friendly heritages.

While the Cortina drivers were given little more than safety netting and helmets, Subaru handed the WRX over to Prodrive to equip it with the safety and performance modifications necessary for the Swiss stunt. Anticipating the likely event of a horrible crash, they replaced the STI’s glass with Perspex, gave it a fuel cell, new bumpers, an improved roll-cage, and reinforced just about every nook and cranny with steel. They also upgraded the suspension and swapped rally tires for Tungsten-tipped studded snow tires. Side mirrors were removed because Higgins would, assuredly, knock them off on his way down the icy road.

Unlike Ford’s stunt in Italy, a low-speed practice run on the Swiss bobsled track was impossible, as the WRX would likely destroy it on the first attempt. And, with above-average temperatures quickly turning it into slush, that worry turned into a guarantee. “It’s not something that we can practice. The ice is too soft, and we risk damaging the track on the first run through,” Higgins told AutoWeek in an interview. “It’s not like anything I’ve done before.”

“We’re doing this all on theoretical principles,” Hart said at the shoot.

Theoretical? There are 19 very old — or very dead — men that would disagree with that statement. The Fords hit similar 50 mph-plus speeds, keeled over in the turns, and were all heavily battered and bruised by the icy sides of the exceptionally narrow bobsled track.

None of this makes Subaru’s escapade any less spectacular to witness, though. Watching the STI shutter and bounce off of the high-banked edges of the course is actually more enthralling than the vintage Ford footage. However, being extremely late to a party — and then acting like you helped orchestrate it — does mar some of the glory they were hoping to incur.

[Images: Subaru; Ford]

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3 of 19 comments
  • Red60r Red60r on Mar 23, 2017

    There is also a Land Rover ad showing RangeRover on a mostly-melted ski run. "Vehicle modified to deactivate certain safety systems..."

  • StarAZ StarAZ on Mar 23, 2017

    I want to buy an STI, or at least a WRX, whenever I see something like this. I stop wanting one and start considering the Merc GLA45 AMG as soon as I sit inside a Subaru. I understand the challenges they face as a smaller automaker, but their flagship cars need modern technology.

  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).
  • Master Baiter New slogan in the age of Ford EVs:FoundOnRoadDischarged
  • Albert Also owned a 1959 Continental Mark IV coupe for 20 years and loved every minute!
  • ToolGuy You coulda said "Jeep Tomahawks Cherokee" -- just sayin.