An Enlightening Guide to the Amelia Island Concours
Contributed by Gary West
For those of us who are car junkies and auto show enthusiasts there can be few places better to hang our helmet than Florida. If your particular interest leads you to classic car auctions then welcome to nirvana.
From one of the world's premier classic car and auction venues-Amelia Island Concours de'Elegance -to the weekend Show & Shine, there is enough action to wear you out.
Let's devote this article to the week that should be on everyone's bucket list, the Amelia Island Concours. Ticket prices and additional information are available at their web site (www.ameliaconcours.org). Considered a premier, world-class Concours, Amelia was created over two decades ago by enthusiast Bill Warner with the event proceeds going to local charities. As opposed to Pebble Beach/Monterrey this show is acknowledged as affordable, friendly and welcoming. Each year, select motor sports drivers and marques are honored. This year the honored driver is Hans-Joachim Stuck. The cars in the limelight will be Cord and Pegaso. Also featured will be various 12 Hrs. of Sebring and Le Mans winners. In addition we have the 100th Anniversary of BMW.
Cars are by invitation. Last year there were over 300 cars invited to fill many different classes. Be on the lookout for a few classes that aren't the usual norm as Mr. Warner has a well developed sense of humor. Two years ago there was a class “What Were They Thinking”. Weirdness prevailed.
Unlike several other concours, at Amelia there are no rope lines or boundaries between you and the car. As always, look but don't touch. Photography is welcome and attendees are very good about giving the photographer room. In many cases the car owner is right there with the vehicle and I have yet to meet a show participant reluctant to talk about their car. Especially in the Brass Era section many entrants dress in period costume, very cool.
The event is staged on the golf course next to and a very short walk from the Ritz-Carlton. Tickets are picked up at Will-Call inside the Ritz which will give you the opportunity to visit various vendors set up in several locations. Don't deny yourself the chance to visit the gift store, the silent auction, the automotive book and model car shop and the gentleman selling historic driver suits and petroliana. This entire area is where you will see Famous People, Well-Known Drivers and Captains Of Industry. In other words car junkies just like you. (A few years ago my wife and I had a chance encounter with Sir Stirling Moss which allowed us to sit & talk for 15 or so minutes. A charming and elegant man.) If you are a viewer of Velocity Channel or the televised car auctions you WILL see not only the “stars” of these shows but you'll recognize many bidders of high-end cars and the occasional rock star and athlete. (A hint: they're there, as you are, satisfying their automotive Jones. Leave 'em alone. This isn't the time nor place for the autograph hound or the fan boy. Please.) RM/Sothebys stages their auction cars on the lawn overlooking the ocean. This is open to all at no charge and provides fantastic photo-ops. More on auctions in an article to be written later. The Concours is a Sunday event but a visit on Saturday allows you a less frenetic experience. Besides on Saturday there is a free Cars and Coffee on the golf course. This can be a true voyage of discovery as all manor and flavor of cars are on display just as you would expect from a C & C.
One of the lesser-known experiences available, FREE to anyone in possession of a valid drivers license, is the opportunity to drive a high-zoot, go-fast car. Porsche, M-B. Jaguar, Bentley, McLaren and others bring their wares to Amelia and you, yes you, can drive one. Just ask. Since a company representative will be in the car with you there is no chance you can channel you inner Lewis Hamilton but it allows you to enjoy driving some fine automobiles.
A couple of hints: Parking has several options. Parking is available on the Ritz-Carlton Driving Range (entrance on Scott St.) for $25-35. depending on the day. Sunday is the higher price. Many private homes make parking available for about the same price. Watch for signs. On Sunday free parking is available along the main road leading into the area but A WORD OF CAUTION, if it says No Parking then don't. The police are accommodating but they will have you towed. Coming out to your car at the end of the day and finding it gone is about as startling as finding out Grandma was a pole dance. It's flat gonna mess your life. Most folks park at the small airport ($15.) and take the free shuttle to and from. Note: sometimes the wait for this shuttle can be longer than you would like. We just bite the financial bullet and park at the driving range.
Sunday at the Concours. Get your tickets at Will-Call….or as some wag said, Will-Wait. The gates open about 9:30am. Early admission is at 8:30am but it costs extra. A bunch extra. Is it worth it? That's your decision to make. Your ticket gets you a pass holder/lanyard and a free program. Inside there are many vendors giving out free stuff such as magazines. Get 'em. Especially Sports Car Market magazine ( that's the mag for whom I free-lance), duPont, Grassroots Motorsports, Hemmings etc. Bring a bag with a comfortable handle to carry the swag. Make that bag double as a seat cushion because you will want to sit down during the course of the day, trust me. It will be crowded like you will not believe and it will take the better pert of the day to properly see the cars. This isn't dine and dash. From experience we've found the crowd thins out around 2pm. Please reward yourself by taking the time to see it all and there is much to see. It has to be admitted that the crowd and the cars can be overwhelming, almost stupefying. During our first visit years ago we literally had no idea where to start. On the ocean side of the show field there are landscaped elevations, stand there for a moment, survey the vastness, create a plan and let the voices in your head tell you to go for it.
Judging starts early and they usually work in groups of 3. Lots of well known people do this job and, like the Famous we just talked about, leave 'em alone. As hard as it maybe to believe, judging is a brutally tough job when done correctly. I've done it and there are times it's about as appetizing as a Mackerel Smoothie. Judging takes the better part of the morning. Award presentation starts about noon. Enjoy our National Anthem usually sung by Donald Osborne, an internationally recognized auction analyst with a 5 star singing voice. Cars receiving trophies are brought to the awards area in front of the viewing stands. I've never figured a way to sleaze myself into one of these seats so, do as most do, and creep through the crowd and sit on the lawn in front of the grandstands. (I told ya to bring something to sit on.) All the award-winning cars will come right by you and your camera.
Do yourself a favor, go to Amelia, enjoy the ambiance and revel in the cars. It's worth every dime. Next up, auctions at Amelia. Where bidding paddles and common sense frequently part company.