Like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, or the buzzards to Hinkley Ohio, March is the time for the faithful to return to Amelia Island. From AC to Zagato, the 15th annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance lived up to its history and hype, and once again presented a stunning array of cars and motorcycles to one of the largest crowds on record.
Having attended the Amelia weekend for the past 12 years, I have watched the Concours and associated activities grow from a very nice regional show, to undoubtedly one of the top two shows in the country – an internationally recognized major event. This year was the biggest yet. With almost 300 vehicles present, and the entire Amelia weekend continues to expand with new activities and possibilities.
This year’s major activities included Gooding and Company’s first annual Amelia Island auction on the grounds of the Amelia Island Plantation. To no one’s surprise, Gooding put together a magnificent and varied collection of cars. From the preview through the auction, every detail was first class. The star of the auction was last year’s Amelia Island Best of Show Voisin Mylord, an absolutely stunning vehicle that wowed the crowds – both at the show and at the auction. It went to a new owner at the world-record price of $2.75 million – just a bit out of my budget! The one-off Nash Palm Beach was one of my favorites, but failed to sell at a top bid of $600K. Judging by the packed auction tent and enthusiastic bidding, Gooding has already established themselves as a future Amelia Island fixture.
RM held its 12th annual auction the following day on the grounds of the Ritz Carlton. With the old parking garage remodel completed, there is now more function rooms above, and for the first time RM held the auction in one of the new ballrooms. The new arrangement was not without its problems, as the crowd of spectators was so large that many registered bidders could not even get into the room. Or if they could, they could not find any seats. The logistics didn’t seem to deter the crowd, as record prices were established for several models, while others sold at fractions of their presale estimates. RM continues to offer a wider price range of cars than Gooding, so there is something for everyone.
There were no Allards crossing the block over the weekend, which I take as a good sign – Allard owners are holding onto their cars and enjoying them!
In addition to the auctions, there is a whole host of additional activities throughout the weekend. Jaguar, Aston Martin, Mercedes Benz, and Spyker were offering test drives to anyone interested in their latest models. The Automotive Fine Arts Society (AFAS) continued their association with the Concours and once again offered something for every taste and budget. A silent auction to benefit the Hospice, book sales, automobilia sales, and vendors of just about anything automotive related could also be found at the Ritz to help attendees spend their money.
Sunday dawned cool but sunny for the Concours, as is usually the case. Somehow Bill Warner and company pulled a rabbit out of their hats with regards to weather. There was only one year where the weather gods refused to cooperate, and even that deluge didn’t squelch the show. It just caused some last-minute scrambling to move the cars into a ballroom and the parking garage.
There were no such theatrics needed this year. The gates opened at 9:30, and by that time there is already a long line of spectators waiting to get in. I knew the day would be a good one, as when we parked to walk to the Ritz, an Allard Palm Beach was parked right there in the same beach parking lot. This particular car has actually been sold twice by RM at previous Amelia auctions, and is regularly seen throughout the weekend. It’s one of those ‘Man, I should have bought that car when I had the chance’ things…
Once onto the show field at the Ritz (a magnificent setting by the way), the toughest decision is where to start looking? The cars are arranged by class in multiple rows up and down the fairways, and the low-key atmosphere allows spectators to walk freely among and around all vehicles to get the best view. No ropes or restrictions here. Even the judging is much more low-key that other shows, and makes showing a car here extremely enjoyable.
Once again, Mr. Warner mixed classes that everyone loves with classes you won’t see anywhere else – such as ‘Cars You Didn’t Know Existed’ (and after seeing some, you might wonder why they do), to ‘Forgotten Fiberglass’, a fantastic assemblage of glass-bodied cars that many people have never seen or heard of (how about Victress or Byers?). Then there was the Motor Trend Cover Cars class, with cars ranging from the strange Davis 3-wheeler, to the spectacular one-off Norman Timbs Special. I was fortunate enough to meet the owner of the Timbs Special at breakfast in our hotel one morning. He graciously filled me in on the story of the car, how he happened to acquire it (almost by accident at an auction), and its multi-year restoration. Only at Amelia Island.
There were two Allards in the show this year, one of the LeMans bodied J2X’s restored to far better condition than it ever was from the factory, and the famous Tom Carstens/Bill Pollack J2 – also in impeccable condition. Additionally, I ran into Roger Allard and his J2X Mark II, which really is a lovely car. I can’t afford one, but if I could I think I would put one into my garage along with my K2. Would love to drive one some time.
There were several unrestored cars included in the show, and these re always my favorites. They show their age and patina, and many have been with their current owners for many, many years. They ranged from a magnificent Ferrari Superfast to an original AC Cobra 289, which also looked like it hadn’t even been washed in 20 years! You just have to love it.
While in my mind there was no obvious stand-out for Best of Show (like last year with the aforementioned Voisin Mylord), this year’s award went to perennial showman/winner Sam Mann and his silver Mercedes Benz 540K Special Roadster. It’s hard to argue the classic lines and outstanding quality of the car. A complete list of winners will be posted soon on the web site of the Concours (http://www.ameliaconcours.org), and may already be there by the time you read this.
In my mind – and for my dollars – Amelia Island is the best show in the country. Admission is only $45 in advance, versus $125 (and climbing) for Pebble Beach, and an outrageous $400 or more for The Quail. The setting is spectacular, the cars are spread out enough to let you actually see the cars, food is reasonably priced, access and parking are well managed, and the cars are second to none anywhere in the world. If you’ve never been there, you owe it to yourself to go. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
The show gets better and bigger each year, and unfortunately the crowds do too. So make hotel reservations well in advance if you plan on going next year. No last minute decisions, or you’ll be staying on Georgia or Jacksonville for the weekend!
And for me, that Timbs Special got my vote for Peoples Choice!