AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — Car enthusiasts know it’s spring in Florida when Amelia is blooming with chrome and the quivering palms echo with the warble of high-horsepower exhausts. There’s no better tonic for shaking off winter’s rust than spending a few days luxuriating in bright sun, green grass, palm trees and exotic classic cars at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
By TOM STRONGMAN
The concours, founded by Bill Warner, has become one of the top classic-car events in the world, and for one day about 300 historically significant vehicles from all over the world pose on the Ritz-Carlton golf course like four-wheeled fashion models. About $2 million has been donated to local charities in 18 years.
This year was a special celebration of Harry Miller race cars and the 50th Anniversary of the Porsche 911 and Ford GT40. This was also the 50th year of Lamborghini, and several were on hand.
Amelia Island is just northeast of Jacksonville and is one of a chain of barrier Sea Islands that was named after Princess Amelia, daughter of George II of Great Britain. For the last 18 years it has been home to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in March.
What’s so fetching about Amelia Island is the relaxed atmosphere and the eye candy. Beautiful cars, beautiful people and lovely scenery are everywhere you look. Want to take a test drive in the newest Porsche or Jaguar? Step outside the Ritz and there they are, waiting for test drives. Other manufacturers, such as Mercedes-Benz and McLaren, were on hand, as well.
Stroll through the hotel and you’re just as likely to pass a famous race driver as you are a family on vacation. You’ll bump elbows with legendary automotive personalities and even the occasion movie star, but what you’ll notice most are dozens and dozens of breathtaking automobiles outside the hotel. Auction houses Gooding and Company and RM conduct daylong collector-car auctions on days preceding the Sunday concours, and through their hands pass millions upon millions of dollars of exotic sheet metal. Gooding sold $28.1 million dollars worth of cars on Friday and RM sold just more than $26 million.
Throughout the event you will find books, literature, the Automotive Fine Arts Society gallery, clothing and automobile signs, brochures and posters.
The highlight of the weekend, however, is to be on the wet grass before dawn on Sunday as cars begin their entry onto the show field. They shimmer in the morning light as they roll down the cart path and onto the grass. The raspy exhaust of an old race car bounces off the surrounding trees while big Duesenbergs and Rolls-Royces glide by in near silence. Some cars placed the night before take on an unearthly look when covered with dew or clear plastic sheeting.
Once every car and motorcycle is in place, more than 20,000 spectators stream in and the fairway is elbow-to-elbow for several hours. There are blazers and straw hats, sundresses and high heels but most visitors are dressed casually. Sometimes the collective energy of the crowd felt almost like a carnival, but that would be a very rich carnival since many vehicles were worth millions of dollars.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.