The West Coast has Pebble Beach, but there’s glamour aplenty on the other side of the US at the Amelia Island Concours. Words Mick Walsh. Photography Eric Sawyer.
JEWELS OF THE EAST / Amelia Island Concours 2019
It might be called a Concours d’Elegance, but over the past 24 years Amelia Island has become so much more. It’s now a dazzling automotive festival that welcomes more than 300 diverse machines, from wrought-iron VW Beetle to ‘Blue Train’ Bentley, Duesenbergs to dragsters. The turnout on the fairway of the Florida golf course on 10 March was as spectacular as ever, and entrant and rock legend John Oates was even enticed to sing the American national anthem that traditionally opens the showfield.
The sun-soaked 2019 event celebrated the remarkable racing career of Jacky Ickx, the Belgian legend better known as Monsieur Le Mans after his six victories. On Sunday morning, Ickx drove in to the show in the 1981 Le Mans-winning Porsche 936 to park with a superb group of his former racers, ranging from Grand Prix Brabham BT26 to a replica of his 1983 Mercedes-Benz 280GE Paris-Dakar victor. All weekend the usually quiet ace charmed the huge crowds by telling stories and signing autographs.
The star of the 12-car Ickx display was undoubtedly the double Le Mans-winning Ford GT40, chassis 1075, in which he famously won in 1969 with Jackie Oliver. After his controversial protest start, Ickx powered off last and eventually took the final stint for the closestever finish as he swapped positions with Hans Hermann’s Porsche 908 on the last circuit to win by just 1.5 secs. “It would not have looked good if I had lost the race by the amount I used up in my demonstration at the start,” recalled Ickx.
Now owned by Rob Walton, the Ford is rightly regarded as one of the greatest racing cars of all time. Less familiar racers included a mean 500bhp, 7.2-litre IROC Chevrolet Camaro and the 1979 Can-Am championship-winning Carl Haas team Lola T333CS. But of all the cars and motorcycles Ickx raced, it’s his Paris-Dakar experience that he rates as the most satisfying. “It was the hardest, most complex race in the world,” he said. “But in discovering the event, my love affair with Africa began.” The prestigious Best of Show awards for road and race machines went to a pair of awesome automobiles.
From a special supercharged Mercedes-Benz class, the magnificent 1938 540K Autobahn-Kurier deservedly took the Concours d’Elegance trophy for owners Deborah and Arturo Keller. One of just two special streamlined coupés built by the Sindelfingen works, this great car was hidden away in a Barcelona garage after more than 60 years with the same family until it was sold to America in 2004. Bought new by Prof Barraquer, an eminent Spanish eye surgeon who had seen the dramatic coupé on show at the Paris Salon, the 540K was immediately driven on an epic road trip around North Africa and Egypt.
Although the Autobahn-Kurier was beaten by a Daimler Double- Six at its Pebble Beach debut in 2006, it has since won the Coppa d’Oro at Villa d’Este and now at Amelia. “I first saw it in the ’80s, when I was student backpacking across Europe,” recalled auctioneer David Gooding. “I spotted a prewar Alfa in a back-street workshop and out back was this fabulous black coupé. I’d heard rumours, but never expected to stumble across it.” A second Autobahn-Kurier is believed to survive in Iran.
In contrast to other premier events, Amelia splits the top awards with a separate Concours de Sport for the finest competition car.
Making its first public outing since Artcurial’s 2016 Rétromobile auction, the winning 1957 Ferrari 335S was the favourite of many visitors including C&SC senior contributor Alain de Cadenet.
Formerly part of the Pierre Bardinon Collection, this fabled 400bhp four-cam V12 finished second in the final Mille Miglia, and is now owned by Brian Ross of Cavallino Investments. The Ohiobased collector recently acquired an Alfa Romeo 8C-2900 at Rétromobile, so expect to see him land another Best of Show win when the car’s restoration is completed. Event founder Bill Warner and his team always dream up inspired classes for Amelia, and the 24th running was no exception. A group of Volkswagen Beetles with custom coachwork drew a remarkable variety, including Rometsch and Hebmüller designs, with F Scott Bosés bringing his class-winning 1954 Beeskow Coupé all the way from La Canda, California. Fritz Rometsch learnt his craft with Erdmann & Rossi before setting up his Berlin firm building bespoke VWs. The Beeskow became known as ‘the Beetle for high society’, with famous owners including Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.
Although not an award-winner, the special filigree-bodied Beetle – created for Mexican weddings – turned heads. A contrast to its see-through ironwork, reputedly made from old garden furniture, came from the sleek ’1965 Karmann Ghia Type 1 concept by Giorgetto Giugiaro. The one-off convertible never made production, and is now owned by VW of America.
But the star of the class for many was a very straight-looking Bug entered by the Revs Institute. As well as aluminium body panels, this discreet Q-car built by legendary So-Cal engineer Dick Troutman features a 2.6-litre flat-four, type 901 gearbox, Porsche Spyder drum brakes and wide steel wheels.
Another car from Miles Collier’s collection was an early Gmünd Porsche. In 1949, after a 72-hour record attempt at Montlhéry, this 1949 356SL Coupé was displayed at the Paris Salon, still covered in dirt from the 94.66mph endurance run. Fresh from a superb Paul Russell & Co rebuild, the historic 356 was making its show debut.
At the other end of the performance spectrum was a tribute to the Porsche 962, with 11 Group C titans ranging from 1984-’1994 lined up to salute the hugely successful sports-prototype. Elsewhere, Tony Nancy’s wild ‘Sizzler’ dragster took part in the ‘cacklefest’, a deafening feature you’re unlikely to witness at Pebble Beach but that’s part of the unique appeal of Amelia Island.
A special hot-rod class celebrated builder Ken Fenical, better known as ‘Posies’, with 11 customs created in his Hummelstown workshop including the Deco-inspired 1937 Studebaker Extremeliner.
John Oates – half of duo Hall & Oates – curated ‘Cars of the Rock Stars’, which attracted plenty of interest. Displayed with guitars associated with the famous cars, the set included the Corvette Stingray XP87 racer that Elvis Presley drove in the ’1959 movie Clambake, founder Warner’s ex-Ricky Nelson Cadillac Eldorado, and the prized 1928 Bentley 4½ Litre of AC/DC’s carmad lead singer Brian Johnson.
Oates is a big fan of Amelia and, as well as his 1960 356 Emory Special, he brought along his hilarious ‘Pink Pig’-inspired Porsche tractor. Built by Gunnar Racing, it made its debut in the special tractor race at last year’s Rennsport Reunion at Laguna Seca. “It’s an overwhelming event,” said Oates. “It’s tough to choose favourites, but the beautiful green Tucker and the Alfa Romeo T33 ‘Periscopica’ are my standouts.”
The rock-star class was won by Oates’ 356 custom, but the group of junior judges for the Hagerty Youth Award had different ideas and chose the ex-Janis Joplin 356C Cabriolet with psychedelic paintwork.
The Meguiar’s People’s Choice was Joseph Cassini’s 1927 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8A S Roadster, with Fleetwood body made for movie star Rudolph Valentino.
UNIQUE ’VETTE HEADS HOME
Not seen in America since Expo 1974, the Chevrolet Corvette XP-897 GT crossed the Atlantic for Amelia Island, where the little-known rotary-engined prototype mystified enthusiasts. Originally the project of GM executive Ed Cole, who was convinced that rotaries were the future in the early ’70s, XP-897 was built on a shortened Porsche 914 platform and powered by a mid-mounted two-rotor engine with a GM-styled body made by Pininfarina.
The rotary programme was aborted after extensive testing and motorshow displays, and XP-897 – with the engine removed – eventually ended up in storage with Vauxhall in Luton. Thankfully, British Corvette specialist Tom Falconer was tipped off about its fate and, after calling GM designer Chuck Jordan, was allowed to save it from the scrapper. Now powered by a Mazda rotary, XP-897 was displayed at Amelia alongside its original engine, which Falconer has finally acquired from the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum in Michigan after several years’ persistence. Watching diehard ‘Blue Ribbon’ enthusiasts aghast at seeing an Italian-built Corvette with a German chassis and Japanese rotary engine was worth the trip alone.
Ex-Janis Joplin custom ’1964 Porsche 356C Mary and Ted Stahl’s skiff-bodied Delage. Magnificent Bugatti Type 57 Atalante leads the multi-million-dollar convoy – including Auburn and Bentley – on the event’s Eight Flags Road Tour.
Ex-Derek Bell/John Andretti/Bob Wollek 1989 Daytona 24 Hours-winning 962 and ex-AJ Foyt/ Wollek 962 lead incredible Porsche Group C display. Wedding Beetle and Eisenhower’s Cadillac. Ferrari 250GT SWB set included ’1961 Speciale (second from right) with 400SA-style body Wild LaDawri Sebring with Beetle power 1952 Fiat 1400 Vignale tackles the tour. Ickx poses with his racers, fronted by Porsche 936 and Ford GT40 Le Mans winners, plus ’1979 Can-Am Lola T333. Right: trophy-winning Ferrari and Benz.