Pity the poor groundskeepers of the Golf Club of Amelia Island at Summer Beach. First a horde of car-crazed enthusiasts rise with the sun to drive nearly 250 rare and unique automobiles to parking places on the beautifully kept 10th and 18th fairways and set up their lawn chairs. Then more than 40 judges, a veritable Who's Who of automotive journalists, racers, designers and collectors, wander around and around each and every vehicle trying to decide the winners of more than 70 prizes. At 9 a.m. the first of 15,000 spectators begin to crowd the field and trample, albeit with very nice shoes, the same paths as the judges. And last but not least, every prize-winning car then drives up one side of the 18th fairway to receive its award and back down the other side. I wonder if there is a special relief rule for those unfortunate golfers trapped in a rut come Monday morning.
But don't feel sorry for anyone else lucky enough to attend the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, as I did in 2002. The sea breeze t the bright Florida day comfortable, the company was good and the cars on display were spectacular. Credit founder and chairman Bill Warner with putting together an event by a car guy for car guys.
Amelia is "invitation only," and Warner alone does the inviting. "Cars are meant for driving," he said, and by unwritten rule each and every one of the nearly 250 cars drives to their appointed spot under their own power. Those wise enough to awaken early Sunday morning are treated to some glorious sights and even more glorious sounds.
"There is something here for everybody," said Warner. "It's a celebration of the automobile. I've been racing for 20 years, and I like race cars. I try to have about 30% race cars." Warner and many of his 300 volunteers also like racers, and for all seven of his Concours he has asked an important driver to be honorary chairman. This year the honor fell to American Dan Gurney, a winning driver in F1, NASCAR, IndyCars and sports cars, and founder of All American Racers. An innovative car constructor and team owner, Gurney was, after winning the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ford GT40, the first driver to spray his champagne in the winner's circle.
Of course, one day of cars is never enough for the truly faithful. They arrive in time to join other like-minded owners and drive their cars on Friday's tour. For those needing a steed for next year, Saturday featured a wide variety of cars sold at the Vintage Motor Car Auction presented by RM Classic Cars. A total of 76 lots sold for nearly $13 million dollars. Of particular interest, a 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2600 Monza Spider Corsa sold for $2.53 million, the only Scaglietti-bodied Ferrari 375 mm (a 1953 bodied in 1954 after numerous racing shunts) sold for $1.92 million, and a 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sport Cabriolet sold for $1,001,000. Actor Nicolas Cage thinned his personal collection, his 1955 Jaguar D-type going for $935,000, his Ferrari F-40 for $312,000 and his 2001 Diablo for $195,000. Obviously aided by its celebrity owner status and recent restoration, Cage's first car, a 1975 Triumph Spitfire, sold for $13,200.
All told the 2002 Amelia Concours was a great event. The first six years has raised just over $1,000,000 for the Community Hospice of Northeast Florida (this year's totals are yet to come in), and the event continues to grow in scope, status and popularity. And like the Greenwich Concours to the north, Amelia has that "car guy" feel and openness sometimes lacking at other venues.