Vile Gossip: The month of March—In like a lion, out goes a lion

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The valets at the Jacksonville airport know me. I fly in and out of JAX a lot, mostly to visit the de Padua clan for whom our three-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, GCH Irish’s Robert Garcia de Padua, a.k.a. Bob, is named. (Dr. Robert Garcia de Padua has Bob’s framed AKC championship on his wall along with his own medical degrees.) This time, the valets were waiting curbside with the Porsche 911 Turbo that we would be taking to Amelia Island for the sixteenth annual Concours d’Elegance, our favorite pre-spring automotive extravaganza.

There was concern about our vast quantity of baggage. Boys of little faith. I dumped the whole load—two Tumi rollaboards, two large briefcases, one full golf bag, and two duffels—on the sidewalk. I then methodically filled the Turbo: largest Tumi in the “frunk” with one briefcase, one duffel on each fake rear bucket seat, second Tumi briefcase pushed in under the backlight, then golf bag horizontally laid in atop the rear seatbacks, which were folded down over the duffels. A similar moment of valet astonishment greeted us upon arrival at the Ritz-Carlton, when we poured forth with what looked like all of our earthly goods.

Do you really need to know how the Turbo drove? Like butter, darling. Hot, melted butter. Not that one drives much during the Amelia concours weekend. There is no need to leave the grounds, between the seminars—always incredible, always sold out—packed with every racing hero you ever wanted to meet; the RM auction; autograph sessions; book and poster signings; and sightings of this year’s concours honoree, Bobby Rahal, everywhere you looked. And the cars, oh, the cars.

Most of the most famous people in our world were in the judges’ room Saturday morning, including our founder, David E. Davis, Jr., looking a bit tired, thinner, but as dressed to the natty nines as ever. He’d been on chemotherapy for bladder cancer, “a nonevent,” as he described it. “I’m going in for the surgery ten days from today.” We hugged, I kissed his cheek, and we set off in opposite directions to look at cars and hand out awards.

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My greatest joy at Amelia is in giving the Automobile Magazine Driving Enthusiast Award to someone who drives his or her car with abandon, weather be damned, high-dollar restoration of no concern, and distance hardly considered.

Past winners have typically never won a ribbon at a concours but love the scene. They’ve often driven long distances to Amelia and can’t imagine what the big yellow rosette on their car’s hood means until they’re called to drive up to the reviewing stand to receive the very impressive bronze sculpture in front of the crowd. This year’s winner, longtime collector Harry Van Iderstine, had a foundry business in West Virginia before retiring to Florida. Thirty-six years ago, he bought a 1932 Duesenberg Model J dual-cowl phaeton “in many pieces,” built for Hollywood producer Howard Hawks, and spent nine years restoring everything but the chrome and the upholstery. He drives it at highway speeds and has been all over the country. “When I lived in West Virginia, it never saw a trailer. Now, it’s harder to find aviation fuel. Any trip over four hours can start a fire.” Van Iderstine’s fuel economy? “Terrible!” He smiles.

It was a great start for a vacation. Porsche whisked my precious Turbo from the Ritz on Sunday, and Mercedes-Benz slid a CL63 AMG into its place for the week ahead. Sending a CL to AMG for a hand-built, twin-turbocharged, 536-hp, 32-valve V-8; slick bodywork; aluminum wheels; rumble-tuned dual exhaust; lowered and tightened suspension; and more . . . made my heart beat even faster for it. The practical Jean could live without the $7560 of extras listed on its $159,685 Monroney. But beggars can’t be choosers. Every piece of the Jennings luggage overload fit neatly into the CL63’s vast trunk. Watching it pour forth 1000 miles later at the valet curb in Jacksonville caused one young smarty-pants to say, “That would be impressive if I hadn’t seen you stuff it all in that Turbo last week.”

And I would still be basking from the warmth of the entire ten days, but a week after we returned, David E. Davis, Jr., did not recover from his surgery. He died three days ago, on March 27. Jamie Kitman talked to him before his surgery. We will have his last interview in the July issue.

Rest in peace, David.

Photography: Jean Jennings

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