If you have ever watched the Tour de France on TV (or in France!) and seen the stream of cyclists making their way along streets lined with cheering folk with banners and signs making a jolly spectacle, then you have a bit of an idea what the Bay to Birdwood is like.
In place of cyclists there were 1748 classic cars built between 1956 and 1986. Unlike the Tour de France the event is not timed or competitive in any way. But otherwise, the atmosphere is very much the same. A lot of fun.
As the name of the event infers, it starts at a Bay, Holdfast Bay to be precise but you may recognise the general area better as Glenelg a little south-west of Adelaide, and finishes at Birdwood in the Adelaide Hills where the National Motor Museum is. The drive route includes some closed roads, some café strips, some interesting climbs and a surprisingly large number of spectators.
And hats off to the organisers. This is a seriously big event which runs like clockwork.
There are four entry classes, Concours, Preservation, Special Interest and General. Concours and Preservation are judged, the rest are not. I elected to put the 700 in the Preservation class, not because I thought it might win but because that got us into one of the first groups away and one of the best parking spots when we reached the Museum.
I’ve done this before and learnt (with my E21 JPS two years ago)!
The Special Interest group is for models selected by the organisers because they have significant anniversaries. This year this included over 120 Minis celebrating 60 years of Mini and about 15 Haflingers (amazing 4x4s a mere 3.5 m long with a 643cc air cooled flat twin which can traverse just about any terrain you can think of – if they get stick 4 guys can just pick them up!).
The start point is at Barrat Reserve at West Beach, and each entry class has a designated area but the order within each area is simply arrival order. With 1748 cars to marshal attempting anything else would be madness. Each car has an entry number and class letter to be placed on the left headlamp or left side of the screen so the marshals know where to send you. Simple and effective.
Gates open at 6am, first cars away at 8:30am with any late comers directed around the reserve so as to not clash with outgoing traffic. A pair of commentators keep up with the flow of cars as best they can, not every car gets a mention. We were on the road at about 8:40 but the last of the starters would still be there at 10. That’s an average of 20 cars a minute so not as slow as it sounds.
Waved and cheered on by the crowds we set off on the hour or so drive in amongst a group of Minis and Haflingers with an SA Club member Alvin in his Isetta further up the road but not yet in sight. A string of traffic lights broke the groups up but we quickly reformed once past the city.
Some of the spectators clearly make quite a thing out of, there were BBQs, a huge open fire in a large drum with a spit over the top cooking what looked like a very large pig, deck chairs, people sitting on tailgates, flags, support groups for particular marques, some cars worthy of being in the cavalcade, children, the lot. And all happy.
Absolutely brilliant atmosphere. We were smiling the whole way and giving the Mins a run for their money up the hills.
We got within sight of the Isetta at one point but a red light slowed us done and after that we did not see it again until it reached the Museum – he’d stopped for fuel half way because he ran out on his last outing meant no longer trusted his fuel consumption calculations. I had offered to tow him if the hills proved too much – which was a possibility as, without wishing to be rude, he almost doubled the weight of the car simply by stepping in!
Once at the Museum we parked up in the reserved area, right by the Museum buildings, put our chairs under the eaves meaning we had shaded seating all day within easy reach of the food vans etc and the main displays. The judges came and did their thing. No prize for us but Alvin won Concours so we could share the joy.
I have no idea how many people there were there, but it was a huge and happy crowd and about half of those I spoke to had not driven a car up. So, maybe 2000+ as some cars elect to not stop at the Museum. And some people never get out of the general class car parks – there is so much to see.
Entry to the Museum is free and, as the exhibits rotate regularly, I enjoyed looking around inside as well as out.
It is a long trip to Adelaide but it is well worth the effort. And, yes, we did take the 700 on a trailer, housing it and the trailer overnight in the workshops of a fellow 700 owner (Thanks Mario).
Usually the Bay to Birdwood alternates between pre 1956 vehicles and 1956 – 1986. However, next year will be the 40th anniversary of the event and the plan is for there to be 800 antique, veteran and vintage vehicles, 800 1956 – 1980 vehicles, 100 1980 – 1990 vehicles and 50 special interest vehicles. Entries are expected open in mid January – so it’s well worth a thought.
Lawrence Glynn | Member #3
BMW Drivers Club Melbourne