At this time of year there are a few reliable signs that summer is finally looming. Daylight savings is an obvious one, as is the gradual shift of the Adelaide Hills from lush green to parched brown. But just as regular, and arguably of more importance, is the Climb to the Eagle. When this annual celebration of Adelaide’s Formula One grand prix heritage rolls around, you just know it will soon be time to break out the sunblock.
The timing was perfect this year. With a forecast 39deg heat in the city, the first big heat of the year, everyone was out early to make the most of the balmy morning. The run officially starts at nine, but the parklands section of the Adelaide Street Circuit was already a hive of activity when I arrived just before seven.
The Friday morning timeslot is a unique feature of the Climb; a hangover from its days as a support event of the Adelaide Grand Prix in the eighties and nineties. You’d never usually run an event like this on a weekday morning, but heritage dictates popularity and the Climb to the Eagle is sold out months in advance. The physical size of the venue and Adelaide City Council regulations create the exclusivity of an entry, no doubt to the merryment of bosses around the city. If numbers were unlimited the Climb would be huge.
The Adelaide Street Circuit is three-quarters public road, with a short section of permanent track through Victoria Park that forms the start/finish straight and pit lane complex. The track is only used annually for the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercar race these days, and the bizarre workings of the Adelaide City Council require all of the infrastructure to be stripped down and rebuilt each time.
This lends the circuit a unique air outside of the race week, and the chance to explore a famous racetrack with zero of the typical infrastructure in place is a little surreal. Standing here at the Senna Chicane in November, and then again in March during the Clipsal 500, is a slightly confusing experience.
If you have an entry for Climb to the Eagle and you arrive early enough before it becomes a parking lot, you can even take the racing line through the last few corners. At responsible speeds, of course.
There’s nothing I need to say about the Speciale that hasn’t already been said in just about every publication worldwide. It really is just the absolute pinnacle of automotive engineering. Everything you need and nothing you don’t, all for the thrill of the driver. And what a thrill it would be.
At the other end of the prancing horse spectrum was this immaculate 246 Dino, a car that ticks the same boxes as the Speciale just in a very different way. A different era of design but the styling is just as breathtaking, and the noise from that sweet V6 is something to behold. Lightweight with communicative handling; I don’t doubt it would offer the same thrills as the Speciale. Sure, the dials on the dash are pointing to different places and the trees aren’t whizzing by quite so fast, but it is still a vehicle built purely for driver enjoyment.
Sitting hunkered down on a set of factory road wheels, this Group S prepared Alfa Romeo Montreal was enjoying some road use for a change. Speaking of smile-inducing noises, the breathed-over V8 in the Monty didn’t sound half bad either.
This Mercedes ticked all of the late eighties/early nineties boxes, and was an easy favorite of a group of friends I was with. AMG bodykit, Lorinser wheels, yellow fog lamps. I didn’t check to see if it has a car phone, but one would hope it does. As my friends quipped, the original bill of sale is likely made out to Ice-T.
It’s a good way to spend a couple of hours’ on a Friday morning, just milling around and talking rubbish about 90’s rappers. Or imminent James Bond references, inescapable when in the presence of such an Aston Martin.
As nine rolls around the siren sounds; drivers run to their cars, fire up the rumbling engines and prepare to dump the clutch and take off…. in a calm and relaxed manner. The Climb to the Eagle enjoys the support of the Police, who provide an escort through the busy peak hour traffic for the lead cars.
Of course traffic lights and the nature of traffic soon make the escort useless for the last three-quarters of the field, but that’s okay. Heading in the opposite direction to the rush isn’t too bad, and the traffic is littered with interesting cars. Regular drivers are visibly confused as to what the fuss is. What are all these nice cars doing out on a work day?
Friend of Any Given Reason Stewart Kay kindly invited me to ride along with him for the run in his 1965 type 901 Porsche 911. Stewart’s 911 isn’t just any 911; it is probably the most significant of the model in the country. This is the third ever right-hand drive 911 built, before regular production began, and was the first 911 to arrive in Australia.
Despite its rarity and historical significance, Stewart firmly believes in using his cars and the 911 is no exception. By the time we were driving the ambient temperature was really starting to rise, and the 49 year old 911 still displayed just why these cars quickly earned their famous reputation for durability and speed. The heat didn’t bother it one bit, and as we took it past 7500rpm it just kept asking for more, the little two-litre flat six singing that trademark Porsche growl. I won’t say too much more about the car because it will be the subject of a future feature story on Any Given Reason, so stay tuned.
Just a few kilometers up the freeway we took the exit to Eagle on the Hill, tracing what used to be the main highway to Melbourne but is now a smooth, little used, enticing and heavily policed section of driving road. We followed a 997 generation 911 on this section, providing a nice comparison of evolution. The old girl more than kept up with the police car that happened to slot in just in front of our little pack.
This used to be the Eagle on the Hill hotel, and during Grand Prix days the run would end here at ‘The Eagle’ with a large show and morning tea. The diversion of the main road quickly led to the closure of the hotel, and it has since become a private house with incredible views over the city and out to the sea. I’d like to think that everyone on the Climb to the Eagle tipped their hat to the Eagle as they drove past; I did. There were two Police cars waiting but instead of speed cameras they simply pointed a friendly wave in our direction.
From Crafers we turned off, and took Old Belair road which twists through the bushland. This road isn’t usually the best for a spirited drive, but the run was creating its own traffic and we were content to sit back and cruise.
The odd sharper corner gave the 911 a chance to display its handling prowess, and I was thoroughly impressed. For an almost stock 49 year old car, this thing really gets moving. I can’t imagine how incredible this level of performance would have felt in 1965.
This GT-40 replica did it for me though, and was my favorite car of the day. I like the attention to detail, and it appears to be a replica of chassis GT40P/1033, a 1966 Mk1 that lived life as both a road and race car, back in the days when you could race these things at Le Mans and then drive it back home to Switzerland.
Down to the BRM GT-40 wheels, huge twin fuel fillers on the bonnet and period sticker set, this thing is GT-40 replica perfection in my eyes. It probably provides the same thrills and is far more usable than a real one too – what’s not to like?
With the weather growing warmer by the minute we decided not to continue on to the Nuriootpa lunch stop, and headed back into the city to put the Porsche away. Not that the car was bothered by the heat, mind you – it was more for our own comfort than anything else.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles
Thanks to Stuart for the kind ride in such a historic 911. Stuart is the proprietor of Historic Plates and deals in historic, grand prix, low number and personalised number plates. He has a plate auction coming up soon – view the full listing by clicking here.