In an incredible short time the annual Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance has become a set fixture on the calendar. It is hard to believe that the 2009 edition was only the fourteenth. The big driving force behind the success is concours founder and co-chairman Bill Warner. Each year he manages to assemble an eclectic mix of vintage road and racing cars. These are displayed on a lawn in front of the Ritz-Carlton hotel on the beautiful Amelia Island, just off the coast of Northern Florida. Despite the difficult economic conditions, the organizing team still managed to attract an impressive number of spectators who were treated to an equally impressive number of exciting entries. The themes for the 14th annual Amelia Island Concours included the Group 44 racing cars and custom coachwork by Bohman & Schwartz.
Some of the many highlights are described in the following paragraphs and all of them can be found in our exclusive 300-shot gallery
RM Auctions – Automobiles of Amelia Island
No event these days is complete without an auction and for the last decade now RM Auctions has been the official auction partner of the Amelia Island concours. Considering the state of the economy, it is no surprise that each auction is now observed with great interest. While prices have gone down a little bit experts believe the market is still strong, particularly for 'good' cars. A quick browse through the auction catalog revealed that there was little wrong with the supply side of the market. The sale was headlined by a Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, a beautiful Duesenberg and two ferocious Cobras. There was also a wide range of more affordable lots of which a striking Lamborghini Islero and an ex-Sebring winnig Austin Healey Sprite caught our eye.
The auction kicked off very well with every lot sold during the first two hours. It was impressive to see how 'spot on' the pre-sale estimates were for the 'no-reserve' lots. A collection gathered by Mr Grant Oakes of 1930s Fords sold for a total of $700,000. A 1932 Ford Model 18 Deluxe Three-Window Coupe from the collection broke the type's world record at $165,000. Once the 'big cars' appeared on the screens (the cars did not cross the block), the sale slowed down a little. On most of them the initial reserve had to be dropped to match the bidders' best offers. At the end of the day the top seller was the Duesenberg, which found a new owner for $1,072,500 including buyer's premium. Another impressive result was $700,000 for the Packard Panther-Daytona Roadster Concept Car.
Road tours and seminars
In the build up to the concours d'elegance on Sunday, there are various activities to keep the visitors occupied on Friday and Saturday. On the first morning a variety of road tours were held around Amelia Island. First 'discovered' by a European in 1562, the Island is filled with many exceptional old structures that are well worth closer inspection. The main tour for concours participants left the Ritz-Carlton hotel early and stopped for lunch on the 'picture book' main street of Fernandina Beach.
For those that remained at the Ritz Carlton, there were various seminars to attend. On Friday morning the great American tradition of car customizing was celebrated. Sharing the stage were several generations of customizers. Among them was George Barris, one of the customizing pioneers. He is perhaps best known for his creations for 'Hollywood', like the original batmobile. The most famous designer of the current generation, Chip Foose, was also present to answer the questions of the audience. He has won the much coveted Riddler award several times and is already a member of the Hot Rod Hall of Fame.
The Saturday seminar focused on the 50th anniversary of Indy Cars at Daytona. Indy legends Parnelli Jones, Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Unser were joined on stage by the race's winner Jim Rathmann.
Cars of Bohman & Schwartz
Building on the foundations of the Walter M. Murphy Company, Christian Bohman and Maurice Schwartz set up shop in Pasadena, California in 1932. While they built a variety of bodies from scratch, Bohman & Schwartz specialized in 'modernizing' existing coachwork. One of their most famous creations was a Duesenberg Convertible Coupe once owned by Clark Gable. Its existing Rollston coachwork was modified by lengthening the hood and painting the radiator shell. Having already won 'best in show' at Amelia in 2008, it was not on display here. Its current owner, Sam Mann fortunately had another, equally breathtaking bodied Duesenberg to enter in the in the dedicated class. Fitted with an-all new Bohman & Schwartz Convertible Coupe, it was first owned by Russian aristocrat and playboy Prince Serge M'Divani. Not surprisingly, the supercharged Duesenberg was picked by the judges as 'best in class'.
Another Bohman & Schwartz car of note was the unique Phantom Corsair. Commissioned by ketchup mogul Rust Heintz, its design was well ahead of its day. Amazingly, Heintz intended to produce the Corsair in large numbers. A fatal car crash in 1939 ended Heintz' dream prematurely. The sole example produced has survived and was brought from its home, the National Automobile Museum in Reno, to Amelia Island.
Under the Group 44 banner, Bob Tullius was responsible for bringing Jaguar back to Le Mans in 1985, nearly 30 years after the British company's last win in the legendary endurance. It was the culmination of two decades of racing a wide variety of British Leyland cars, all liveried in the typical white and green colours, in the United States. Tullius was most successful with the V12 engined Jaguars, first E-Types and later XJSs. With some support from Jaguar, Tullius won the SCCA's Trans-Am championship in 1978. He then went on to construct a Jaguar branded GTP car from scratch. It was this American designed and built Jaguar that raced at Le Mans in 1985. Although they were no factor in the 24 Hours race, the XJR-5 and XJR-7 did go on to score 11 wins in the hotly disputed IMSA GTP championship.
Honoring the great efforts of Bob Tullius and his Group 44 team was a special class that featured many of the great racing cars to wear the white and green livery. Taking top honors in the class was Bob Boller's XJR-5.
US Grand Prix at Sebring
The 1959 season did not only see Indy cars race at Daytona but also featured the first ever United States Formula 1 Grand Prix. Held at Sebring, the F1 race was memorable for a variety of reasons. The European F1 cars were the fastest ever around Sebring; Stirling Moss broke his owned lap record, set in an Aston Martin sports racer, by over 20 seconds. The 42 lap event was won by outsider Bruce McLaren, who at 22 became the youngest ever Grand Prix winner. His record was not broken until very recently. It was, however, his team-mate Jack Brabham that captured most of the attention. His Cooper had broken down in the final lap and in order to ensure he clinched the World Championship, he pushed the stricken T51 across the finish line. Brabham collapsed immediately after the finish line but he became the first man to 'drive' a mid-engined F1 car to the World Championship. This mean feat was celebrated at Amelia Island with a special class that was not surprisingly won by Joel Finn and his ex-Brabham Cooper T51. A week later, at Sebring, Sir Jack's son David Brabham relived the experience by pushing the same Cooper across the line in the build up to the 12 Hours race.
The curse of David Hobbs
Today probably best known for his Formula 1 commentating career in the United States, David Hobbs was a formidable driver in his day. He won his fair share of races but probably should have many more. More often than not, his best efforts were no match for his self-described 'Hobbs curse'. That was most painfully apparent in the 1971 season when he raced alongside Mark Donohue in the Sunoco liveried Ferrari 512 M. The best prepared and fastest Ferrari that season, the Penske 512 M was always found at the head of the field early in the race. Unfortunately it never appeared there towards the end, usually due to freak mechanical failures and/or accidents.
As mentioned earlier, Hobbs did have a very successful racing career, competing at the top level from the late the 1950s, well into the 1980s. The assembled machines in the 'Cars of David Hobbs' class showcased the diversity of his 'rides' over the years. They ranged from a Ford GT40, Formula 5000 single seaters to a variety of BMW machines Hobbs used late in his career. Bernie Carls' superb Gulf liveried GT40 took the best of class honors. The greatest aspect of having David Hobbs as the Honorary Chairman was the 'airtime' he was given on the PA system. His great anecdotes had remarkably little to do with on-track action but did include topics like champagne, lady's man Mike Hailwood and sneaking out of bars in Monaco. Ah, the good old days ...
Best of Show
After what seemed like an endless procession of cars driving by the judges' table for a class and/or a special award (click here for the full list of winners
), it was time for the two 'best of show' winners to pull forward. Yes Amelia Island has two winners; one for the Concours d'Elegance and one for the Concours de Sport. The former was won by Lee Munder's unique Voisin C20 'Mylord.' It is powered by one of just two sleeve-valve V12 engines produced by Voisin and sports an exceptionally low body. Chip Foose remarked that it reminded him of the chopped hot-rods built some 20 years after. Munder's team had only completed the full body-off restoration two days before the show. The best of show award will certainly have made up for the long days of hard work.
With spectacular Ferrari and Maserati racing cars present on the field, the Concours de Sport best of show for the 1923 Miller 122 was not quite as widely expected. The judges should however be commended for their pick as this Indy racer really is something special. Back in the 1920s Millers dominated American road racing and were raced for many more seasons with great success. To keep the cars competitive, they were continuously upgraded and modified. As a result only very few Millers have survived with a matching chassis and engine. Richard A. Vermeil's ex-Cliff Durant Miller is one of them, making it one of the most important 1920s racing cars in existence. Above it is a testament of the great talent and skill of the likes of Harry A. Miller, Leo Goossen and Fred Offenhauser.
Although we have reported on the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance before, this was the author's first visit to the event. It was a very refreshing experience. The concours featured a high quality field that was more diverse than that of most other major events. Above all the atmosphere was a little more relaxed, perhaps benefitting from the legendary Southern Hospitality. In addition to creating a fantastic event, Bill Warner and his (mostly volunteer) staff have also raised millions for charity over the past years. Regardless of the themes, we are already looking forward to the 2010 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance.