By Drew Hardin
Gold Country Classic
Photos Courtesy Bud Lang, Petersen Publishing Company Archive
This summer will mark the 66th year since a group of Georgetown residents looking to promote interest in their small Northern California town hosted the first Jeep Jamboree over the rocky Rubicon Trail. Since then, the owners of countless Jeeps—and Scouts, Broncos, Land Cruisers, Land Rovers and dedicated rock buggies—have made the trek, from first-timers crossing off a bucket-list rite of passage to family members following years of four-wheeling tradition.
The area around Georgetown has more to offer than just the Rubicon, though, as Hot Rod’s Bud Lang discovered over Memorial Day weekend in 1967 when he attended the Gold Country Classic. Hosted by a local club called the Sacramento Jeepers, the Classic “was developed with the family in mind,” Lang wrote in the magazine’s August 1967 issue, “catering to kids, wives and hard-core Jeepers alike.” A “hot rodder of sorts” and an admitted “flatlander,” Lang said club members did a “bang-up job (no pun intended) during all three days.”
Saturday’s driving events started with “fun games”: backing a trailer over a winding course, a slalom run, and a game where the Jeep’s passenger had to lean out and snag hoops off poles as the Jeeps drove by.
Things got more serious that afternoon with a timed cross-country event: “If you ever tried to make a sharp right-hand turn while cresting a left-leaning hillside with both front wheels off the ground, you’ll have an idea of what these poor guys and gals had to go through,” Lang wrote. “Quite a number ended up in the bushes trying to get around the course in record time, and one guy even rolled his Jeep on a turn, got back on course, and finished with one of the best e.t.’s.”
Sunday’s events started with a steep hillclimb in soil so loose that, of the “around 175 guys who tried their luck, only one succeeded, and believe it or not, he did it with a four-banger Jeep,” Lang said. The victorious climber, Sacramento Jeeper Mike Kelley, also won the obstacle course later that day.
“This event could rightfully be called a four-wheeler destruction derby,” Lang said of the obstacle course. “There’s nothing as wild as watching a four-wheel machine trying to dig its way from a 4-ft.-deep trench, filled with two feet of oozing red muck, then go bouncing over boulders, logs, around tight corners, through a pit full of loose tires, and over chuckholes and dips, ofttimes with all four wheels off the ground.”
Sure there is. Getting in there and driving it!
The weekend culminated in an “all-day trip across nearby mountains and canyons, loaded down with wives, kids, pets and goodies for a picnic lunch in the gold country.” Relaxed as it sounded, even that cruise had its adventure, as one of the Jeepers had to change a flat tire “in two feet of stream water (the flat occurring while he was fording—or is it jeeping?—the stream).”
The Gold Country Classic is no more, but the Sacramento Jeepers are still a going concern, hosting several club trips each year and promoting “family Jeeping since 1957,” says their website.