The Avid 500: Great Cars, Great Roads and All For a Great Cause

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By Ben Selby

A beautiful Autumn Saturday, 106 Cars, 500 kilometers of open road and 202 people all up for a big drive. A collection factors such as these allows one to draw a single conclusion, particularly if you live in Canterbury. It was time for the second annual Avid 500.

The Avid 500 was the brain child of Bryn Thompson, Nev Jones and Devon Gilchrist. The Avid aspect of the name comes from Devon’s automotive detailing business. Both Bryn, Nev and Devon, were founding members of the now immensely popular Avid Car Caffe. The Caffe is unlike many other car groups in Canterbury, as it is very much about the people, more so than the cars.

The rules for the Avid Car Caffe are simple. One, “No car is better than another,” and two, “Treat everyone with care and respect.” Basically, it doesn’t matter whether you own a Suzuki Alto Works or a Lamborghini Aventador, the fact that you love your car makes you more than welcome in the Avid Car Caffe. Heck, you don’t even have to own a car.

What unites the members is a deep-rooted passion for all things automotive, and said membership is well above the 500 mark, with members nationwide descending on Christchurch for the many monthly gatherings or long distance drives the Avid Car Caffe organises.

Anyway, back to the 500. The name means exactly what it says, a 500 km day out with those aforementioned toys of internal combustion on perfect song, with all proceeds raised going towards three schools within the greater Canterbury area.

I was invited to tag along, which resulted in a 5:30am wake up call on the day itself. Once a quick breakfast was devoured and yours truly was dressed in appropriate attire, which when classic cars are around usually means a scarf, jacket and tweed flat cap, I made my way out onto the street just as group member Charles turned up with my ride of the day. The car in question was a completely mint BMW M3 E46, and it was manual. A rare site indeed.

We made our way to the rendezvous point, which happened to be the Placemakers car park on Cranford Street in northern Christchurch. As the light of dawn began to make its presence known, the cavalcade of mouth-watering machinery arrived in earnest.

Ferraris, Lamborghinis, BMWs, Chevrolets, a McLaren 600LT, Audi R8, Lancia Stratos, a tonne of Aston Martins, Jags, Mercedes and a number of Porsches all pilled into the carpark, with many cars ending up either on the street out front or in the carpark next door.

Other notable classics included a delightful Jensen Interceptor, a totally original Pontiac GTO, a Ford Mondeo ST220, and a very loud and clean restomod Ford Mustang Fastback. It didn’t matter where you looked, there was something to suit your tastes.

After a quick smattering of banter, we were ready for the off. Actually, I didn’t realize we were leaving until the cacophony of engines firing up prompted me to leg it quickly to Charles in the M3. Upon arrival Charles exclaimed, “All I was thinking of was where is Ben, where is Ben??”

First gear selected, and the Avid 500 was underway, with many wasting little time to hit the open road. Within minutes we had reached the newly completed Northern Link, and were at a steady cruise towards State Highway One. Looking ahead or behind, there was a sea of horsepower all in harmony as we headed inland towards Oxford.

The first leg of the route would take in the flat of the Canterbury plains, which included the long stretch of Tram Road. Arriving in Oxford, we all bunched up, which allowed the locals to take in all the sights, sounds and smells of the convoy.

The weather started to deteriorate around this time with a small shower dampening our advance. We made our way along Ashely Gorge Road. This was our first taste of corners and hills past Ashley Gorge.

As the M3 sang that sweet straight six symphony out of each corner, Charles and I were deep in discussion of who was more polite during Bathurst in-car race commentating. Was it Peter Brock or Dick Johnson? Charles was adamant it was Brock and I do believe him.

After an hour or so, we arrived at Amberley School in, you guessed it, Amberley. We proceeded to park up on the school field and many of us partook in a light breakfast and other refreshments. This was an excellent chance to snap some photos of some more cars.

One car which was getting plenty of looks was an orange Lamborghini Aventador S. Named Malibu, the owner was more than happy to let the kids and town residents get up close with this awesome looking supercar. One which caught my eye was a very rare TVR Sagaris. I have always loved British Sports Cars and to see a TVR Sagaris with its shouty straight six and mad styling was pure delight.

Leaving Amberley, we headed north on State Highway One. By now, the weather was staring to clear, with blue sky poking its way through the decreasing cloud cover. Our next stop was Gore bay for a photo op and to allow the convoy to bunch up again.

Unfortunately, thanks to a lapse in my direction skills, Charles and I missed the turn off, resulting in a quick U-turn at the next available moment and heading back. Pole position to back of the pack just like that, but then again, this was never supposed to be a race.

The tight twisty descent into Gore bay had hints of a tarmac rally stage. These hints were amplified by the highly tuned Subaru Impreza in front of us backfiring and spitting flames from its exhaust, giving us the full WRC experience.

Upon arrival at Gore bay, we were met by the stunned locals. Many of which had come to the beach for a morning surf or walk. They certainly didn’t expect to see a group like us turn up, especially when the owner of that Restomod Mustang decided to blip the throttle. I was expecting this V8 monster to be loud, but not that loud.

During this time, I had a wee chat with Paul “Skippy” Goodman. Skippy attends many Avid gatherings with his Holden Commodore VL HSV Group A Walkinshaw reproduction. Its glistening orange paint and 20-inch alloys shining in the autumn sun.

A quick use of the gents, a few snaps, and before long, we had re-joined SH1. The convoy was happily traversing the Canterbury coastline outside of Kaikoura. This road had been out of action for a long time after the Kaikoura Earthquake a few years back, so to drive it again in a car like the M3 E46 was delightful.

Many owners made full use of the tunnels along this road by taking their car to the redline, resulting in an amplified torrent of audible bliss with each blip of the throttle.

We arrived at Kaikoura High School in time for lunch. At this time, many drivers sought to fill up and promptly made their way to the nearest petrol station to do so. We didn’t park on the back field this time, instead making use of the street outside it.

I joined Dave Blyth in a spot of lunch along with his lovely Golden Retriever Jeffrey, who managed to get a small smattering of ham which fell out of my ham sandwich. Dave, a regular Avid attendee, his partner Jo and Jeffrey were in Dave’s black Mercedes CL55 AMG. Dave has a collection of cars with the CL55 being one of his most recent acquisitions. It even has a period in car phone. Very cool.

After lunch we regrouped and chartered our course for the third and final school stop for the day, Amuri Area School in Culverden. To get there, we could have come back the way we came, but this being Avid, the inland route via Waiau and Mount Lyford Village was a much more invigorating prospect.

The inland roads were nothing short of spectacular. Charles put the hammer down as we diced our way through tight corners and fast straights. Up ahead was a Mercedes AMG GT R Pro. It made no bones about devouring bendy bitumen as briskly as possible.

The autumn sun started to sink beyond the Southern Alps as we arrived in Culverden for afternoon tea. The venue was the Amuri Area School Rugby Grounds which held plenty of parking for our convoy of petrol heads.

We all bunched together for a group photo, which thanks to the glare from said setting sun, made it difficult to get the right light. Anyway, the 500km odyssey was nearly at its end. The group had raised $8000 for the three schools. Marvellous.

While many returned to Avid HQ in Harman Street in Central Christchurch for a surprise birthday party for Avid member Angie, I left the company of Charles and rode shotgun with John Cooper in his Aston Martin Rapide for the final leg back home.

John is a keen Aston Martin fan and just loves his Rapide. There was plenty of good conversation about all things automotive on the way back to Christchurch. At around 5:15pm, that V12 tourer growled into my street. John said his farewells, and drove away.

I was a tad tired, but still full of vigour and joy. A day out on a 500km drive with some of the most welcoming car fanatics in New Zealand was a terrific way to spend a Saturday. I can’t imagine to fathom the amount of gas consumed during the day, but turning petrol into pleasure is just what the Avid Car Caffe is about. Same time next year chaps?

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