Strolling around the greens and fairways of the golf course facing Amelia Island’s Ritz Carlton, it was easy to forget the organizers of the 22nd Annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance had to, at the 11th hour, bump the show ahead to Saturday (from the traditional Sunday) due to an impending storm coming in off the Atlantic. Yes, there was a cool breeze on Saturday but the Florida sun shone brightly on the more than 300 vehicles gracing these grounds.
The Amelia Island event differs from the famed west coast Pebble Beach affair in that it is not quite so stuffy although the quality of iron is certainly on the same plane. Indeed, most cars here could be labeled as priceless (at least to mere mortals), but those who do trade in the crème-de-la-crème of collector cars had a chance to spend some money, as RM Sotheby’s was holding an auction in the Ritz the same afternoon. It posted a record $70.9 million in sales, with top price of $7,700,000 going to a 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Cabriolet that would look at home in the any of the very best automotive museums.
One of the more jaw dropping displays here was an assemblage of eleven Jaguar D-Type racecars, here to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the D-Type’s 1957 historic sweep of Le Mans where the cars placed first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth. Jaguar retired from racing after that, as founder Sir William Lyons wanted to focus on building his road cars. The D-Type was the first race car to use monocoque construction, and of course being a Jaguar, it remains stunning to behold.
Michael Quinn (grandson of Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons) and Norman Dewis, Jaguar development driver in front of 1955 D-Type
Another huge part of the D-Type’s success can be attributed to one diminutive fellow who served as Jaguar’s chief development test driver for thirty-six years – Norman Dewis. Now 96-years-old, and still as sharp as the D-Type’s shark fin, Dewis was here at Amelia Island as an honoured guest and judge.
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3.4L 250 hp straight-six in ex-Steve McQueen's 1957 Jaguar XKSS
Also on the green was the ex-Steve McQueen Jaguar XKSS that he famously drove with wild abandon over Mulholland Drive and surrounding canyons, collecting numerous citations from the local constabulary. It is one of the sixteen road-going cars Jaguar managed to build off the few remaining D-Type chassis before the factory was ravaged by fire in February 1957. The very definition of priceless, an XKSS sold last year for just under US $20 million.
There was plenty to gawk at here for those fond of Porsches. A 1955 550 Spider in original bright blue with canvas soft top was a standout, as was the “holy grail” 1973 911 Carrera RS. There were a couple of 718 race car (considered to be the prettiest competition Porsche), and Jerry Seinfeld brought his Gulf livery 1969 Porsche 917 racer, the very car used in the 1971 movie Le Mans starring Steve McQueen.
Not all the Porsche-porn here was 100 percent vintage. Singer Vehicle Design of California had a couple of local customer cars on display. Here’s how that works. Take your 964-series Porsche 911 (1989–94), stuff it with half a million dollars, send it to Singer and wait around for a couple of years. You will be rewarded with an obsessively crafted piece of very fast rolling art that is arguably the best air-cooled 911 ever.
Larry Titchner of Toronto brought his gorgeous mint green 1956 Austin Healy 100M to the event. One of only 640 produced, the “M” sports a high-compression four-cylinder engine (up from 90 hp to 110 hp) and other modifications that made it suitable for track work. While the show goers were admiring this very pretty roadster, Titchner had another pressing matter on the go – his 1971 Ferrari Daytona Berlinetta Competizione Conversion was going up for auction next door at RM Sotheby’s. Larry said he was 50/50 on whether it sold or not. “I’ll have no problem parking it back in my garage.” As the Daytona didn’t meet its $US 1.25 million reserve, that’s exactly where it will end up. For now.
American racing legend Al Unser was honored at Amelia Island this year, with a number of race cars on show spanning his lengthy career from dirt track to IROC to endurance to Indy. In all, Unser won 39 IndyCar races, which included four Indianapolis 500 victories. Standing proud amongst these racers was the Indianapolis 500 Borg-Warner trophy.
AC/DC singer Brian Johnson is a Florida resident and an active vintage racer, and he brought his massive green 1928 Bentley 4 ½ Litre with “Thunder Guts” emblazoned on its hood. This obvious non-period sentiment is a nod to the band’s mega hit “Thunderstruck”.
By late in the afternoon the swarm of judges had picked the two grand prize winners. Named Best in Show Concours de Sport was a black 1939 Alfa Romeo 2900B Lungo Spider (body by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan), and capturing Best in Show Concours d’Elegance was a 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ-582.