Georg Plasa’s is not a household name, even among the niche world of motorsport. The German never graced an F1 or a touring car grid, and never competed in the United Kingdom, at least not to our knowledge. But the 51 year old, who passed away in an accident some 8 years ago, owned one of the most evocative and best known hill-climb cars Europe has ever produced – the Judd powered BMW E36 shown below. Here’s why it, and the similarly driven and powered cars that succeeded it, are so beloved.
First up, let’s take a look at the world in which Plasa made his name, European hill climbing. Our friends across the channel take the sport rather more seriously than we do, and that’s reflected in the scale and spectacle of their courses, all of which make the likes of Prescott and Shelsey Walsh seem a tad quaint. The courses themselves form the European Hill Climb Championship, and as anyone who has ever clapped eyes on the cars that take part will confirm, the amount of aero on show would make the HMS Ark Royal blush.
It was this ultra-specialised world that Plasa made his own from the late ‘80s until the time of his untimely passing in 2011, and he soon gained a reputation for being both extraordinarily brave and an immensely gifted engineer. Both of these traits were put to good use on a regular basis, and upshot was that Plasa would score 6 FIA European Hill Climb titles in the middle of the last decade, not to mention more podiums than we care to mention.
But back to the car, the E36 in which Plasa cut both his racing and engineering teeth. Now owned by KW suspension and restored in readiness for the Goodwood Festival of Speed last year, the 3-Series became a regular on the European circuit (no pun intended) at hill climb events across the continent from 1999 onwards.
Aero, suspension and chassis work are all of supreme importance, but none of these come close to being this car’s standout trait. No, that honour must go to its engine, a Judd V8. For those not clued up customer F1 and endurance engines from the early noughties, Judd made a series of all alloy, competition spec V8 engines, some of which found their way into a series of mid-grid F1 cars. Outright victories escaped the outfit and they’d switched focus to the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), but there was no doubting Judd’s engineering chops.
The Judd motor Plasa selected for use in his E36 (though only after the near 400bhp S14 it replaced had driven its owner to the edge of distraction) was the KV675, a 3.4l V8 designed for ALMS and therefore better suited to the rigours of hill climb work. It made an easy 550bhp and could, as the video below demonstrates in glorious, ear-splitting fashion, rev all the way to 10,000rpm and above. Very few cars, either before or since, have sounded as menacing.
Plasa’s family had a history of working in the aeronautical industry, and it showed; the E36 eventually bristled with custom aero, including wings, splitters, a cavernous rear diffuser and a crop of canards and dive planes. It might have been homebrew in origin, but there could be no denying the aero kit’s ability to make the BMW stick to the ground like chewing gum to a trainer. This paired well with Plasa’s undeniable bravery and willingness to brake later than most of his rivals, with a stunning 6 titles the end result.
Plasa perished in a horrific accident at Italy’s Cuppa Bruno Carotti in 2011, the incident sending shockwaves through the tightly knit hill climbing community. To say that Plasa was a beloved member of this community would be a massive understatement; his skills were respected, as was his willingness to lend a helping hand to everyone, his closest rivals very much included.
A good measure of gauging just how respected Plasa was, is by looking at the lengths to which the hill climb community went to mark his passing. This car, the one most closely associated with him, had been partially stripped, cannibalised for parts so that Plasa could built its 1-Series replacement at the end of the naughties.
This being a custom car built by a single, talented engineer in his free time over a course of more than a decade, this was no simple task. Indeed, actually achieving it took the best part of 6 months and the efforts of KW suspension and its hill climb mad boss, Jörg Weidinger, not to mention a dedicated team of engineers donating their time after-hours.
The icing on the cake came in 2018, when Weidinger finally achieved a lifelong ambition of Plasa’s; to fire his own creation up the infamous Goodwood hillclimb. He set the third fastest time overall and the quickest ascent of any petrol powered, internal combustion engined car.