All good things must come to an end, so the maxim goes, however hand-in-hand with the negative is the positive that regeneration occasionally spawns new traditions. I’m not going to stand here and say that we’d rather have the Climb to the Eagle over a return of Formula One to Adelaide, that would be crazy, but in it’s absence this is a mighty fine way to spend a sunny Friday.
The tradition began back in 1985 when a freshly retired John Blanden suggested to the Australian Grand Prix corp that there should be a classic car component to the first Adelaide Grand Prix. They were extremely receptive of the idea but not to making it a reality, and informed Blanden that if his dream was to come to fruition, he must organise it himself.
With the help of the Sporting Car Club of SA, Blanden turned his idea into one of the highlights of the event and the crown in his classic car roster was the Climb to the Eagle. Held on the Friday morning of race weekend, a traditionally quiet time at any Grand Prix, a large contingent of high quality cars would depart from the start line and navigate their way through peak hour traffic with a police escort before a short blast up the twisty old freeway to a morning tea at the Eagle on the Hill Hotel, just 10km away but with sprawling views of the metropolitan area.
The climb was soon etched in history as the likes of Moss and Fangio joined enthusiasts from Adelaide and all over Australia. Vern Schuppan once drove his Porsche 962 Le Mans racer and Mick Doohan even rode his GP winning race bike through the public streets and up the hill. It was quite something.
Since our GP departed for the financial allure of Melbourne in 1996, the tradition of the Climb to the Eagle has been continued each year on the first Friday in November and 2013 marked the 29th running of the climb.
Any Given Reason’s coverage of the Climb to the Eagle is usually compiled from the sidelines, however this year I was lucky to be the beneficiary of a last-minute change of plans and was gifted an entry by Simon, who had entered months ago but received a better offer and was away on an interstate road trip. So early one Friday morning I skipped through the commuter traffic and found myself pulling up on the famous starting grid of the Adelaide Street Circuit behind the wheel of my Dad’s 1978 Fiat X1/9. Friend of Any Given Reason and fellow Fiat/Alfa nut Luke Jaksa joined me for the run, and managed to be the first co-driver to dubiously provide directions without ever really looking at the road book.
The field lined up 3 wide along the straight so that the world famous Adelaide Grand Prix chequered flag waver extraordinaire and dedicated local motorsport identity Glen Dix can flag everyone away. Line by line we inched closer to the starting point…
But then the harsh realities of Friday morning traffic set in. The first group of cars has a police escort through the city but unfortunately that was no good for us in the middle of the pack, but we couldn’t really complain. It was a stunning Friday morning, we weren’t at work, we were surrounded by beautiful cars and faced an entire day of just that.
During the Grand Prix years the run went only as far as the Eagle on the Hill Hotel where it stopped for a large carpark morning tea. Times change and the hotel is no more, its conversion to a private residence complete, but thankfully the famous bronze Eagle is still proudly on display so we stopped for photos under the run’s namesake statue.
We skipped the coffee and scones and remained in the carpark because It was really just another chance to stop and have a look at the 230 strong field, and the 300SL Gullwing was one of the obvious crowd pleasers. Stunning.
It was soon time to get back in the cars and head back onto the roads. This is the point where a few chose to head back down the hill (work? pfft) and this was originally our plan too, but it was such a lovely day and the little Fiat was running so nicely that continuing on with the run was the only real option.
The deliciously twisty roads we found shortly thereafter in the Longwood/Ironbank area vindicated our decision. Being a weekday late morning, the roads were practically deserted except for vehicles joining us on the run.
The road opened up out of Strathalbyn as we headed along the Bull Creek Road through Ashbourne. It’s always a struggle sticking to the speed limit on these wide roads, even in the Fiat, but I suspect it was even more difficult for the guy in the E34 M5 following us.
One of the highlights of the day was standing back and listening to the comments from passer-byes regarding this pair. The SLS got the majority of the attention, and I suspect few realized that it’s worth less than a third of the old Toyota parked next to it.
Despite getting thoroughly sunburnt the Climb to the Eagle was a relaxing day out with good friends and good cars. Granted, it’s not a patch on Formula One, but it’s still a mighty fine way to avoid work on a Friday.