The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance has blossomed over seventeen years to the unimaginable point where its growth must be managed to protect its standing as our favorite place to bask in the aura of automotive love. The ambience, bonhomie, full access to cars and stars, preponderance of racing cars and drivers, and good-natured inclusion of oddballs (motorcycles, dragsters, coal-fired cars, and Wienermobiles) place it first among car shows.
But it’s getting awfully damn crowded. Then again, as difficult as it is to wade through the manufacturers’ midway — rows of gleaming Mercedes-Benz SLS roadsters, Lamborghini Gallardos, Bugatti Veyrons, BMWs, Bentleys, and Porsches being scheduled for test drives throughout the weekend — wrapped around the Ritz-Carlton’s horseshoe entrance, someone has to pay the freight. That freight, by the way, has contributed to just over $2 million in donations to hospice care, spina bifida research, and Boys and Girls Clubs, among other local charities favored by the event’s founder and chairman, Bill Warner, a racing fan whose passion heavily influences the four-day affair.
A record crowd jammed the island in March for three days of action leading up to Sunday’s main event. The receipts from the Gooding and RM auctions totaled a staggering $59 million, in case you were wondering about the economy. Jerry Seinfeld bought a 1973 Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder for an all-time Porsche record of $4.4 million. More my taste, and equally out of my reach, was an adorable 1958 DKW Universal Kombi wagon that went for a not-so-adorable $60,500. There were art shows, road tours, book and autograph signings, cocktail parties, and a sold-out black-tie fundraiser honoring racing great Vic Elford.
If your heroes are the drivers of old, they were everywhere you looked, yakking it up with people like… you. Warner seizes the moment each year to get them together in sold-out seminars to talk about the old days. I managed to snag a seat at Saturday’s event, which featured some of the world’s greatest endurance drivers, including Elford, Sam Posey, Jim Hall, Brian Redman, Hurley Haywood, Derek Bell, Gerard Larrousse, Joe Buzzetta, and David Hobbs. With only modest prompting by moderator Tim Considine, the endless anecdotes — both harrowing and hilarious — enraptured the crowd. The mob then lined up for hours, clutching photos and books for autographs.
Hurley Haywood and I were paired as usual for judging duty, joined this year by my heroine, the incomparable writer, racing driver, and raconteur Denise McCluggage, which seriously hampered our ability to judge our class in a timely manner. If it wasn’t the car owners wanting to chat up Denise well past our allotted eight minutes per vehicle, it was the sea of fans that dogged her every step. I am not fit to drive her golf cart.
No slouch on the Celebro-Meter himself, Haywood attracted his own rabid fans. I would like to testify that Haywood, rounding the first turn of the field, spied a 1938 Bugatti Type 57C, its long, sinuous black flanks and fenders topped with seafoam green hood and trunk. “Oh, my,” he exclaimed. “That is stunning. There’s your Best in Show.” And he was right.
Something like $420 million worth of twelve Ferrari 250GTOs were corralled at the far side of the show field, a staggering display of…of…I was drawn to the dirty one, of course. Yes. A $35 million 250GTO with leaves on it. It took a while to track down the owners, Leslie and Ed Davies, a laid-back couple in pedal pushers who looked like they had just spent the morning on the beach.
“Your car is dirty,” I said, stupidly.
“That’s because we didn’t wash it.”
“You’re not taking this very seriously.”
“We used to, but we’re over that.”
“You drive it? On the road?”
“We drove it 300 miles to be here.”
“Leslie races it, especially in Europe. She was pregnant at Monza.”
“What do you do for a living?”
“Not much of anything.” No, really.
They were laughing during our entire conversation. Of course I gave them the Automobile Magazine Driving Enthusiast trophy.
Update: A reader in California won the eBay auction of my Official Ferrari Magazine collection with a bid of $4000, which went to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Thanks to all the bidders for your support.