Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel Curve

Bay to Birdwood – Australia’s Ultimate Automotive Run

Editor’s Note. This story is a firsthand account of Alan Galbraith’s journey down under to the Bay to Birdwood run. Held each fall, the event is one of the most popular events for automotive aficionados in the Southern Hemisphere.

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel Curve

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel Curve


It dawned on me as I was taking in scenery worthy of the best postcards that I had journeyed half way around the globe to find a place that looked remarkably like home. But for the kangaroos and eucalyptus trees it would be easy to think one were in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills when pulling into Birdwood, South Australia. Founded in 1848, the small town closely mimics California’s late 1840’s Gold Rush era towns in architecture, geography and ambiance. What separates this quaint town situated in the heart of the Mount Lofty Ranges some 40 miles from downtown Adelaide, other than the interesting indigenous flora and fauna, is the presence of the Australian National Motor Museum. At first blush it may seem strange to have a National Museum located in a remote foothill town with a population of approximately 1300 when a major metropolitan city sits nearby. But as any philosopher might argue, it’s the journey and not necessarily the destination that is important. In the case of the Bay to Birdwood Run however, both are equally important. Now in its 37th year the Bay to Birdwood Run is a car show, challenging road drive, fashion show and history lesson combined into a journey and destination like no other in the world.

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel Curve

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel Curve

True to its name, the event had started in the chilly pre-dawn hours just blocks from Adelaide’s glittering beaches. The manicured multi-use sporting grounds of Adelaide Shores Reserve are large enough to fit seven football (soccer) pitches or fourteen softball diamonds, but on this particular morning, serving as the Bay to Birdwood Run staging grounds, it held approximately 1700 classic cars and a multitude of admirers. Safety-vested Field Marshalls ringing the grounds assured that the incoming vehicles were parked in tidy rows, so that when the starting flag dropped the procession of classics could file out smoothly along the route to Birdwood. Before then everyone was free to gather warm coffee and a hot breakfast from the popular food vendors to fight of the chill and take in the sights. The spectacle was as rich and varied as Australia itself.

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveBay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveThe field slowly filled with 1956 to 1981 cars of every description and origin. Svelte European sports cars lined up next to lumbering American classics while Japanese cars rarely seen outside the Western Pacific region cozied up to examples of Australian domestic cars. Strongly evident was the Australian love for 70s era muscle cars. The familiar shapes of Mustangs and Camaros could be seen in their original US trim with design cues adapted to the numerous Australian production Fords, Holdens and Chryslers. Since American Corporate automotive design language runs strong even when separated from Detroit by half a continent and the Pacific Ocean, I could separate the vehicles by make, even if the models where unfamiliar to me. But after spending a few brisk hours walking the nearly endless rows of cars I could confidently tell a Morano from a Torana and a Valiant Pacer from a Valiant Charger. In some cases, matching the owners to their rides was just as easy.

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel Curve

In addition to a sizable gathering of classics at both ends of the run and a great drive in the middle, the Bay to Birdwood run features a concours class wherein the vehicles and their owners are judged for period correct appearance. The morning light showed that some owners regarded these requirements with serious intent, mirroring their meticulously restored vehicles with fashions worthy of any runway show. Others took a more lighthearted approach with mismatched thrift store-sourced fashions and somewhat battered, though none less cherished vehicles. Gaudy colors from the Summer of Love easily associated the owners to their Volkswagen beetles and buses. Restrained tweeds and more formal dresses with pearls pegged the owners of 50’s classics. Polyester fabrics in earth tones matched the owners of 70s sedans. Sporting jackets, scarves and goggles made the sports car owners stand out from the rest. The pairings were made even clearer as they all returned to their cars when the PA system announced the start of the run to Birdwood.Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel Curve

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveBay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveBay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveDignitaries from local town councils, sponsor representatives and a sizable crowd of onlookers lined the road at the starting line. With a few words from the Lord Mayors of the towns, the procession was about to pass through. A ceremonial ribbon was cut and the classics started their 44 mile drive to Birdwood. Glen Dix, a 92 year old local motorsports figure known for flagging the Adelaide F1 races, was on hand to send each car off with his signature flag waving flourishes. Kevin Noel, a member of the board that puts on the Bay to Birdwood run, was standing by to offer me a ride in his 1961 Lincoln Continental. Again, I had come half way around the world to find something to remind me of home.

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel Curve

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurvePolice had cordoned off the route to every day traffic and spectators lined the streets giving the start of the run a parade like feel as the mass of classics cruised through the heart of Adelaide. Even so removed from its home in Detroit, Kevin’s Lincoln felt at home delivering a limousine smooth ride and receiving the admiring gaze and waves from the onlookers. Having covered only 20k miles since new and receiving sympathetic mechanical updates since rolling off the showroom floor, the ride was a time capsule and stood out in stark contrast to the gleaming modern buildings of Adelaide’s Central Business District. The nearly three tons of American luxury began to elicit protests from the bias ply tires as the route reached the outskirts of the suburbs and began to wind into the Adelaide Hills.

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveKevin and his super-wide Lincoln took full advantage of both sides of the twisting road as he attempted not to impede sportier rides behind. Fortunately for us, as the suburbs gave way to foothills, the run organizers had arranged to have the serpentine, and most beautiful, parts of the route limited to one way traffic favoring the miles long procession of cars headed towards Birdwood. The admiring crowds of Adelaide were replaced by rolling hills dotted with kangaroos and koala bears that had been interrupted from their grazing by the sound and smell of tortured tires. The route passed through a series of foothill towns that had attracted smaller groups of spectators enjoying a roadside BBQ and adult beverages. The passing line of classics garnered jovial waves from the clumps of onlookers, who like their marsupial counter parts, had their attention diverted from their snacks.

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveArriving at the Nation Motor Museum in Birdwood the mass of cars flowed onto the parklike grounds with the help of yet more volunteer Safety Marshalls. I skipped watching the hours-long arrival parade to explore the surroundings and museum. Founded in 1964 the Nation Motor Museum occupies a series of large buildings and eucalyptus studded fields in the center of Birdwood. The Torrens River head waters, merely a burbling brook at this point in its course, cuts through the verdant grounds and gives the whole setting a feeling of a time and place long since passed. The buildings range in style and age from the mid 1800’s stone to ultra-modern steel and glass, just like the collections they house. The extensive displays tell the tale of Australian automotive production and culture, highlighting vehicles adapted to Australia’s unique geography and demography. Examples of 1920s and 30s hawker vans, delivery trucks that visited remote outposts outfitted to serve as rolling department stores share exhibit space with El Camino/Ranchero like Ute’s of every decade. Sandman Vans and Muscle Cars are the focal point of the local 1970s obsession, many combining surf culture and horsepower. Modern production cars show how Australian designers tweaked global automotive platforms to suit the unique demands of the Aussie consumer. The day of the Bay to Birdwood event saw the museum unveiling a new display that brings to a close a chapter of Australian motoring history.

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel Curve

The new display chronicles Holden’s rise from an 1800s saddlery manufacturer to becoming the quintessential Australian car brand. The first Holden sedan produced sits next to parts and fixtures from the nearby suburban Adelaide assembly line. Shortly after my visit Holden shuttered the plant, ending 69 years of domestic Australian production. Dignitaries gave speeches at the unveiling that put a brave face on the event while Holden fans perused the artifacts. Even with its bittersweet undertones the Museum staff hit the right note portraying the marques importance to the story of automobiles in Australia. While inside the museum the mood was slightly melancholy and reflective, outside was anything but.

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveBay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveBands playing the hits from every decade had been rocking the stage and lifting spirits since the cars started to pull in around mid-morning. The Concours judging had seen costumed owners preen and their rides gleam in the intermittent spring sunshine. While the surroundings reminded me of my home half a globe away, the event was like none other I had ever attended.

Bay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveBay to Birdwood 2017, Australia, Fuel CurveThe warmth and convivial spirit of the participants was matched the glowing scenery and wide variety of automobiles both on the green and in the Museum. As the high-spirited event wrapped up, the awards in multiple categories were presented to some truly deserving winners. The assembled crowd of participants and spectators were appreciative, having relished the beautiful destination as much as the scenic journey to Birdwood. What a trip!

Bay to Birdwood Photo Extra!

Photos courtesy of Alan Galbraith, Adelaide Now, and Epsom Ad Studios
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