photo by Phil Long Audi
THEY CAME FROM everywhere, crossing country borders and countless state lines, with the same destination in mind: Colorado Springs. All to attend Camp allroad, the inaugural gathering of people who share a passion for what I believe to be Audi’s most interesting model of the past 15 years.
Even among Audi enthusiasts, the allroad is somewhat of a cult car. It’s the only car-based vehicle ever to conquer Land Rover’s off-road course, thanks to a unique air suspension. With the touch of a button on the console, the air springs can inflate or deflate on command, in turn raising or lowering the suspension along four levels of height adjustment. Voila! A car that can instantly rise from 5 ½ inches of ground clearance all the way up to 8.2 inches.
But even with this innovative suspension, the allroad never sold in large numbers in the states. Far from being a sales success, Audi quietly pulled the plug after the 2005 model year and instead offered up the gargantuan Q7, which was a much better match for Americans wanting a skyscraper-level view out their windshields.
Yet in the ensuing years, something amazing happened. Though sales were perhaps far less than Audi had hoped, those who did buy the allroad loved them. People joke that SUVs rarely leave the pavement, but the allroad routinely fulfilled its go-anywhere, do-anything reputation. Whether ice driving, rock climbing, mud slinging or boat towing, people love taking advantage of the allroad’s potential. Search for the hashtag #usingit on Instagram and you’ll find thousands of pictures of the allroad at every height level.
And thanks to the internet, these passionate drivers found one another and formed a vibrant community which continues to grow to this day. Not bad for a purpose-built car which sold only a few thousand units during its initial run. So thanks in part to this small—but vocal— crowd, the allroad returned to the U.S. in 2012, now riding on the smaller B8 platform and devoid of the air suspension that made the original allroad unique, but still catering to someone who’s looking for something different.
How about some statistics? For the first-ever Camp allroad, the turnout was impressive. Over the three day event, a total of 145 were registered, many of whom traveled over 1,500 miles—one way—to attend the event. There are over 17,000 followers on Instagram. And the event wasn’t limited to just allroads, with dozens of Audi Avants and sedans joining the festivities. So welcome to Camp allroad, a dream fulfilled by a passionate few, brought to life by many. FRIDAY: 1,200 miles from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs. Sunset. Nametags.
photo by Justin Osmer
I arrive early evening in my 2005 allroad 4.2 and park in a lot full of cars that look just like mine. I wonder what’s in store. It’s hard to convey the feeling of meeting someone for the first time that you’ve talked to for years online. In a way, you know them, as threads of conversations can attest, many of which revolve around the allroad. But now here I am at the Penrose Conference Center in Colorado Springs, surrounded by the faces attached to those online names.
Now that I’ve driven 1,200 miles and parked amidst a lot full of allroads from all over the continent, how can I possibly connect with everyone? The thing is—you don’t. Making the transition from online to in-person is akin to transitioning from space to gravity. There’s the descent, the airlocks, getting your sea legs back. Everything feels so recognizable yet overwhelming. Yet in the sea of faces, I see some familiar friends and instantly I feel at home.
After dinner, drinks and many introductions, we slowly make our way back to the parking lot, where a lot of people have gathered, checking out the allroads, Avants and other Audis. SATURDAY: Playing hooky. A giant park. A rotating statue. Rooftop shenanigans.
Saturday marked the “big event” otherwise referred to as Camp allroad festival at America the Beautiful Park in downtown Colorado Springs. This is where we brought our allroads to spend the day getting to know one another in person.
But what’s a visit to Colorado Springs without a little adventure? Knowing the festival would be going all day, a fellow 4.2 owner and I grabbed our mountain bikes and found an epic trail right behind the hotel property that stretched into the wilderness. Off we went.
Breathing at 6,000 feet can be quite a challenge, especially at high exertion levels. We took several breaks out of oxygen-deprived necessity. And just when we thought our lungs would burst, we rounded a knobby path into a clearing and found ourselves back at the hotel. Then it was off to join the festivities downtown at America the Beautiful Park.
Picture this: a wide, expansive swatch of grass. At the center, a giant circular statue that rotates at a lazy speed. On either side, allroads as far as the eye could see. And in the middle, scores of allroad owners soaking up the sun of this spectacular day.
While Friday night was a whirlwind tour of greetings and nametags, the gathering at the park was a more leisurely affair and the chance to match faces to the names that I was already so familiar with. Hatches were open, sporting impromptu parties, one allroad at a time.
As the afternoon wound down, we motored to Phil Long Audi, host to a BBQ on their rooftop deck. Later that night, we headed downtown Colorado Springs where a town square concert was underway. Streets were closed to cars and thousands of people turned out to watch a variety of bands perform. Once again, we were on the roof, watching from a great vantage point. As allroad owners might say, we were on Level 4. SUNDAY: Pike’s Peak. Goodbye for now.
photo by TRJ Photography
To me, this is where the magnitude of the event really came to the forefront. One by one, allroads arrived in the staging area. Rows were filled with allroads of different heights, colors, conditions, ages, all ready to climb the fabled hill where quattro dominated many years ago. The half hour before the climb was special. It was like the best combination of Friday and Saturday. Our cars were gathered in one place, everyone was laughing and talking, and for many of us, this was the last event before packing up and heading home.
And then at 8:30 our allroads, stretched out for a mile on the two-lane road before the ranger station, began the 14,000 foot mountain ascent. The posted speed up Peak is between 25 and 35 mph. As you navigate the 12 miles of 156 turns, many of them blind curves and switchbacks, you quickly understand why. What’s less clear is how Michele Mouton managed to race to the top in 11 minutes.
The drive is exhilarating. From the base of the station to the top, you gain almost a mile in elevation. The view is spectacular, though most of the time you’re too focused on the road to even notice the vista just past the drop off.
And up we went. For the turbocharged allroads in the group, this was their time to shine. Regardless of elevation, those twin turbos kept packing in the fresh air, the high-pitched whistle merrily staying on boil. My 4.2, so wonderfully torquey at sea level, was huffng and puffing just as I had been on the mountain bike ride.
And then we cleared the summit. Wow. The view was like that of a painting—layers upon layers of colors and depth, clouds skimming along in various strata. Pockets of snow clung stubbornly to patches of rock. The air temperature wasn’t far off: At the base, it was about 85 degrees. Up here, the needle barely hit 60. I forgot to bring a sweater.
photo by TRJ Photography
But this wouldn’t be a hill climb without a little #usingit. Joe, a proud owner of an A4 Avant 3.2, kept motoring about the summit, looking for the ideal place to photograph his car amidst the stellar backdrop. Many of us quickly followed suit, creeping over rocks and navigating hills to get an amazing shot. A Pike’s Peak Ranger watched with bemusement.
“Just don’t get stuck,” he advised. I don’t know if it was the lack of oxygen, but that was the funniest thing I had heard all day. Peak conquered and pictures taken, we lingered for an hour before we gradually began our departure.
Colorado Springs was beautiful. Not just in the “that mountain is amazing” beautiful, but in a “that mountain is amazing so I must go climb it” beautiful. It’s a place that heartily encourages physical exertion, rewarding you with sights and experiences that go far beyond what you could ever hope to capture with a camera. It was the perfect setting for Camp allroad, reflecting the adventuresome spirit of both the cars and the people who drove them.
photo by TRJ Photography
As a fellow allroad owner put it so eloquently, “Yes, I drove to Colorado to meet people from the internet stubborn enough to also own allroads and drive them halfway across the country.” That shows a passion not only for a car, but for a loyalty to a family that exists mainly online. The journey was to prove that this is a car unlike any other, and if it meant a journey of this magnitude, so be it.
In the end, Camp allroad was worthy of its name and very much like the car itself: A unique event that offered something exciting at every level. We didn’t need to use our cars for every activity during the weekend, but without this car, we would have never come together in the first place.
Audi built its reputation by building cars that appealed to the enthusiast, to someone who was looking for something different. My allroad is now 10 years old, the youngest of its generation. I have no plans to sell it anytime soon. There is no other vehicle out there like it. In this age of chasing the sales crown, here’s hoping that Audi doesn’t forget these vocal and loyal enthusiasts. C8-based allroad in the U.S.? Yes please. It would be a perfect addition to Camp allroad 2020.