The Bay to Birdwood
Adelaide, South Australia
September 30, 2007 -
Words & Photos by Dave Carey
hen enthusing in the realm of Japanese Nostalgic cars, especially with a home base such as Adelaide, a non-bustling, sub-million-capita city in South Australia, one has to search hard to keep the Japanese Nostalgic love going.
Of course, Lady Internet has enough classic-Jap-autoporn to keep even the most ardent voyeur satisfied. But sometimes it's NOT enough. Sometimes you need a peep show. Sometimes you need to touch and feel. Sometimes you need... to go to a show.
With all-Japanese shows thin on the ground in this neck of the woods (read: non-existent), what's a Jap-o-phile to do? Go to a classic car show with over 1800 cars, that's what!
The Bay to Birdwood Classic has been running biannually for over a decade now, with a period starting at 1955 and ending in a floating '30 years old'. It always brings out a score of rare, oddball and desirable vehicles, while bolstering numbers with immaculate original and restored examples of Australia's rich family motoring heritage. With 1800 cars on display in a rolling cavalcade from Glenelg to Birdwood, at least one of them had to be Japanese!
Actually, at least two of them had to be Japanese as I'd entered a pair of my Isuzu Belletts, my seemingly-immaculate-yet-mechanically-recalcitrant 1966 Isuzu Bellett 1500 sedan and my visibly-stock-but-mechanically-dangerous 1968 Isuzu Bellett GT. The spirit of the event is for the vehicles to be standard, original or restored vehicles. However, with an angry Isuzu twin cam under the bonnet of my GT, masked by a stock body and a set of original Bellett deluxe wheelcovers, what the organisers don't know don't hurt 'em!
Down at the West Beach oval, earlier than God intended (that is anything before 7:00am), things were bustling. An army of orange-vested volunteers were busy directing traffic in the usual obvious way such volunteers direct traffic. "You want me to follow the car in front? Would never have guessed," usually crosses my mind. A young teenage girl, possibly roped into helping by her father, directed traffic through interpretive dance.
The form up area in West Beach is never intended to be the show; cars are lined up nose-to-tail and are close together, but this is where the best discoveries are made. Not all of the cars park in the finish area in Birdwood; some elect to return to Adelaide straight away, while some never make it through the hills, becoming statistics for the RAA roadside assistance crew to tow away.
Although for 2007 the featured marque was Hillman, a brace of Prince Skyline's headed the field. Ever keen for the Bay to Birdwood, the Victorian Prince club's presence is mandatory despite the 800 kilometre journey from Melbourne to Adelaide.
The Prince Skyline was probably once a semi-common feature of the Australian motoring landscape, but no more. I don't recall ever seeing one outside of a club event, yet the club is so strong they had no less than six Skylines, all from interstate and all S50 variant GTs! It was awesome to see them lined up together, but the star of their club display was the Prince Gloria station wagon. Australian delivered, but one of only a handful in existence, the Gloria was a special kind of car; ugly but hot, a bit like Uma Thurman. Despite the rarity, the owner had purchased it not long before hand for only AUD$4000!
I'd actually seen one of these, in sedan form, in a paddock in the country a couple of years ago. The owner has a huge paddock full of cars, mostly Australian and European, but with the occasional oddball in there, although he hastens to call it an actual 'wrecking yard'. To the owner of the Prince Gloria, this would be solid gold information. He was most appreciative of the info and even gave me a slap on the back, until I told him where it was precisely. "Nuriootpa? Went there last year; it's gone!" Well given the trouble the buy would have had to get it out, hopefully it's gone to a better home, not the crushers.
Another Prince/Nissan/Datsun product that makes a strong showing at the Bay to Birdwood is the Datsun Fairlady. Marketed in Australia initially as the Fairlady, then as the Datsun 2000 Sports following the realisation that the name Fairlady was a bit, well, gay, they have until recently played poorer cousins to the MG B. Fortunately taste has prevailed and values on these cars are increasing in leaps and bounds, while the average MG B value has stayed stagnant over the last decade or so. It's a crazy comparison, really; they are equally as attractive as each other, while the Datsun benefits from being built by Japanese people who were obsessed by honour and precision, rather than jaded, post-war Brits who were obsessed by tea and labour strikes. Or better still, hard-working Aussies who had to screw together cars cast by post-war Brits who were obsessed by tea and labour strikes!
Unlike 2006, this year's weather vastly more clement, resulting in tonnes of topless action… in regards to the Fairladys at least.
Of course, the Skylines and the Fairladys are rarer, enthusiast cars, but Bay to Birdwood would not be complete without some bread-and-butter, run-of-the-mill machines. And what is better, from Datsun at least, than the venerable 120Y? Whether you call it a B210, a Sunny or any other name, the damned things have always been considered ugly. Time has been kind to them however, as their overstated, overdone over-styling now rates highly in a nostalgic, kitch-factor way. A late 1977 example made the Run, and although lacking the vulgar (but cool) cake-tin wheel covers of the earlier models, this particular 4-door, featuring original plastic wheel covers, mudflaps and an immaculate black vinyl roof was just pristine.
And finally, despite their popularity amongst rally racers and car modifiers alike, the Datsun 510 or 1600 as it's known locally made a poor showing. No more than a handful were spotted, including one that uniquely featured a column shift automatic trans, period-correct roll-back sunroof and a bold stainless side-flash.
But the Japanese world is not uniquely Datsun. The world's biggest car manufacturer, Toyota, made a strong showing, but not as strong as you'd think. A beautiful, immaculate S40 model 1965 Toyota Crown Deluxe made the trip over from Victoria, while Brenton Morris' '65 model Toyota Stout was definitely local. "It's got a top speed of about 80km/h!" laughed Brenton. He assures us that it's not going interstate any time soon. The Stout has only got around 80,000kms on it from new and needed nothing but a good, hard polish to get it looking great for the day.
Although still fairly common on Australian roads, only a handful of 'shovel-nose' RT40 Coronas made it along on the day, including a rare 4-door Corona S. Rarer still was an RT72 Corona Mark II hardtop coupe. Although not mint, it was excellent to see some rare Japanese metal come along on the day!
The once diminutive Corolla is probably one of the greatest nameplates in the history of motoring, not for being cute or alternative, but for simply providing honest, conventional motoring for the masses. But despite healthy sales of the KE10 to KE30-model Corollas between 1966 and the 1977 cut-off year, very few were present, although a very nifty orange, whitewalled granny-spec item did offer a high light.
While many old Japanese cars in Australia are actually Australian-assembled, some are even Australian-badged, but despite this they are still top Japanese cars! Opel designed the Gemini in Europe as their Kadett, then Isuzu re-engineered the car for the Japanese marketplace. Sold in Australia as the Holden Gemini and built in Acacia Ridge in Queensland, the Gemini was a strong-selling little thing in the day and even garnered Australia's prestigious Car of the Year award in 1975. While there was only one on the entire Bay to Birdwood run, it was good enough to be entered in the Concourse section.
Chrysler also had a few Aussie-assembled Galants and Lancers, including a now-rare LB Lancer, which was known in most other markets as either the Plymouth Arrow or the Mitsubishi Celeste. However, before Mitsubishi's partnership with Chrysler Australia, private import houses were bringing in a small trickle of vehicles, some of which were sold in dealerships next to the Isuzu Bellett. Craig Fordham's original, unrestored 1968 Mitsubishi Colt 1100 sedan was a sole example of that era in Mitsubishi's history. Craig is an avid collector of old Colts and hopes to have one of his 1100F coupe's ready for the run in 2009.
Perhaps one of the more revered Japanese Nostalgic cars is the Honda S-series convertibles and coupes. In previous years, the event has been full of them and while I've been told there were some on the run, I certainly didn't spot any. Not hard to miss though, given their size! However of interest was an excellent Honda 1300S coupe. Air cooled, front wheel drive and one of a few left on local roads.
In lieu of any specialist classic Japanese-themed shows in Adelaide, the Bay to Birdwood is the next best thing. The pure size of the event ensures a healthy smattering of the strange, the old and the oddball. And unlike Victoria's Picnic at Hanging Rock, the show is not entirely static. People line the route for miles, waving and smiling, barbequing on the road island and pointing at cars they recognise from long ago. And while parking at Birdwood is deemed to be the reward, the true reward is having someone see your car when you've stopped at the lights and say, "mate I had one of them!" And then you realise that although these cars are rare, they are not yet forgotten. Bring on 2009!