To the summit of the Schockl: One of the toughest off-road test tracks


What fails at the Schockl is not a real off-road vehicle

To the summit of the Schockl: One of the toughest off-road test tracks-test

In the Puch Pinzgauer on the Schockl

Source: Tom Schuller

It is also called the green hell of Styria: the route to the summit of the Schockl is extremely difficult to drive. But sometimes she also serves as an icebreaker at business meetings.

A.hen Georg Thalhammer sees the summit for the first time in the early morning, a smile falls on the Austrian’s face. The green monolith a few kilometers north of Graz is only 1445 meters high and therefore hardly more than a hill for serious mountaineers, but Thalhammer is not on foot or on a mountain bike. The engineer sits at the wheel of an old Puch Pinzgauer, and in front of him lies one of the toughest off-road courses in the world: the path to the summit of the Schockl.

While the people of Graz mostly use their local mountain as a local recreation area, the Schockl regularly becomes a place of work for Thalhammer. The man in his mid-forties leads driver training at the car manufacturer Magna and makes the test engineers fit for the summit. And that has a tradition of over 100 years with the Styrians, as Thalhammer later reports when he bridged the waiting time for the Wiener Schnitzel with black and white photos in the cozy “Halterhutte”.

They tell of the first ascent of the Schockl in August 1909 with a Puch 18/22 HP, of the first ascent in the Puch Alpine wagon without the help of oxen or chains in the summer of 1913 and of the beginning of the test drives with the Pinzgauer and his little brother, the Haflinger . In the 1950s, the manufacturer was able to obtain special permission from Graf zu Stubenberg to use his private property.

Magna has had a special permit since the 1950s

The deal continues to this day. The prototypes from the Magna plant are still fighting their way up to the summit every day through dust, mud or snow. The field and forest paths are initially tarred, then gravel and finally completely unpaved. Gradients of up to 45 percent, inclines of 40 percent, deep furrows, frightening bumps, breakneck entanglements and wooded areas in which the trunks are so dense that Thalhammer has to fold in the exterior mirrors then have to be overcome.

“Of course there are extreme off-road routes all over the world,” admits the Magna trainer, while the car slowly but steadily pushes its way up the natural stone stairs. “But nowhere is everything that an off-road vehicle can do in such a short distance life makes difficult. ”He has to keep the steering wheel in check with the arms of an iron bender, that’s how much it turns on the stony ride.

To the summit of the Schockl: One of the toughest off-road test tracks-summit

The Austrian car manufacturer Magna is testing new vehicles on the Schockl

Source: Tom Schuller

No wonder that the Schockl has a similar reputation in the off-road scene as the Nurburgring’s Nordschleife has in the full throttle group. Even the nickname “green hell” could justifiably be transferred from the Eifel to Styria.

A car that fails at the Schockl does not deserve to be called an off-road vehicle. “This is where the wheat is separated from the chaff,” says Thalhammer. In addition to the Pinzgauer and the Haflinger, the G-Class from Mercedes also had to be prove their worth on Graz’s local mountain before conquering the mogul slopes and then the boulevards of this world.

The G-Class is now one of the dinosaurs among all-terrain vehicles. But while Land Rover has just stopped production of its Defender, the Swabians are sticking to their primeval giant. Again and again, Mercedes prototypes appear on the route, which also storm to the summit. “Endurance testing,” says the engineer and suddenly becomes unusually taciturn. He doesn’t want to reveal what is being tested there. But how his colleagues test it, he says with a certain pride, after all, he trained them.

To the summit of the Schockl: One of the toughest off-road test tracks-toughest

The mountain north of Graz is 1445 meters high, but the route is tough

Source: Tom Schuller

“You have to unwind 4,000 to 5,000 kilometers here,” says Thalhammer. “That corresponds to 300,000 to 400,000 kilometers under normal traffic conditions. Anything that holds on to the Schockl should therefore not break in the Sahara or in Siberia. ”He is not jealous of his colleagues in the G-Class vehicles, even if the current Mercedes engines and the electronics have up to 630 hp turns climbing into a ride. Because while the summit storm is little more than an excursion for Thalhammer today, it becomes a backbreaking job for the test engineers with up to eight mountain trips a day.

However, Thalhammer also has to make an effort. In addition to plenty of experience, it also takes a bit of commitment to drive the Pinzgauer to the summit. Because although a comparatively modern Audi diesel with 2.5 liter displacement and 115 hp rattles under the block between driver and pillion and there is even an automatic, the almost 20-year-old off-road giant drives sedately like a classic car. Thalhammer takes the rustic pensioner under protection: "Pinzgauer are cold-blooded horses and not racehorses."

With a top speed of just over 120 things and the roadholding of a cargo ship in a hurricane, the Pinzgauer looks like a foreign body on the autobahn, but here at the foot of the Schockl he is completely in his element. With selectable all-wheel drive, three hundred percent locks and a gear reduction, he fights his way stoically up the hill like the back horses with which the forest workers are sometimes still out and about in the forest. Strength lies in peace, and if you are in a hurry to climb the summit, you should kindly take the leveled dirt road or the cable car.

To the summit of the Schockl: One of the toughest off-road test tracks-toughest

Vehicles that make the Schockl don’t get stuck anywhere

Source: Tom Schuller

The Schockl is no longer reserved for test drivers alone. The fame of the G-Class attracts many wealthy customers to Graz. The mountain is so famous in the Mercedes world that the Swabians even developed the Iron Schockl, a steel adventure course that simulates the worst passages from the green hell of Styria at trade fairs and motor sport events. But because nothing is better than the original, Thalhammer and his colleagues occasionally chauffeur a load of VIPs to the summit or lead convoys of customer vehicles, for which there are occasional exemptions.

In addition, the Magna team uses the mountain excursion as a tactical means in wrestling with suppliers or clients: "A trip like this also loosens up deadlocked negotiations," says Thalhammer. A look in the rear-view mirror shows that he is right: While the Pinzgauer is rumbling over roots as thick as legs and jumping over knee-high stones, the passengers in the back hop up and down on the longitudinally mounted plank beds like at a rodeo and inevitably come closer.

When you see the grin on the driver’s face, you almost think that he sometimes drives the Schockl up and down until his passengers have agreed on the last contractual clause. Thalhammer, of course, denies that.

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