Twenty years ago, Amelia Island Concours burst onto the car show scene. No one expected much, least of all its founder, Bill Warner. He is a lover of cars, a collector himself, an established motorsports photographer, and a super nice guy. The most he could have hoped for back then was a decent turnout for the few cars coming. No one could foresee that twenty years later his little idea would become one of the top two Concours in the United States. 1996 was just the start of a huge unknown future. Each year a significant driver has been honored as the center of attention. That first year Warner invited the world famous British race driver Sir Stirling Moss to be his honoree and Susie Moss, now Lady Moss, of course accompanied her husband. Twenty years on, Warner invited Sir Stirling to be this year’s honoree, for this special anniversary.
One of the great achievements of this Concours is the money raised for charity. Over 2.5 million dollars has brought help to the Hospice of Northeast Florida, Spina Bifida Association of Jacksonville, The Navy Marine Corp Relief Society, Micah’s Place (for abused woman), and the Shop With Cops Program of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County. This is a remarkable achievement for a car show.
The show features everything from turn of the century cars and buggies to “What Were They Thinking”, a selection of bizarre one-off creations, to concept cars from the 1950’s and cars from every era and decade including world-class race cars. This is one show that has something that can be found on everyone’s favorites list. Located in the northeast portion of Florida it is on the property of the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Amelia Island. The area looks much more like southern Georgia than Florida, lending a soft, green wispy warm feeling to this show. One might call it a typical Southern comfort place. No palm trees or typical Florida landscape. Just willowy large trees, some shedding Spanish moss, others tall enough to shade large areas and lots of lush green foliage making up the surroundings. The people are kind and mellow and the entire atmosphere is one of relaxation and calmness. It is perfect spot for a high end car show.
The featured marques for this year were the famous Stutz automobiles and the Porsche 914/916 sports car models. Some 21 examples of the Stutz marquee graced the 18th hole of the Ritz golf course along with a select group of nine Porsche 914 and 914/916 sports cars. Only one of the original eleven 916 models made its debut at Amelia this year. The 916 was created as an offshoot to the 914, (built to compete with the Ferrari Dino of the day), but more powerful with a sexier body style and luxe interior. It never made it into production. The model was scratched prior to the Paris Auto Show in 1971.
Some 312 cars in total graced the lush manicured lawn this year and any one of them could have been the Best of Show in sports or Concours categories. All of them were impeccably prepared and shown and as always made the job of the judges that much more difficult. Warner hand selects his judges, and this year he had over 100 esteemed members of the automotive world help make the final decisions. As always, prior to the award ceremony, Warner stands with microphone and nothing else and recites the names and accomplishments of each and every judge for the crowd. That has always amazed me and he does it year in and year out with no notes, nothing but his memory; an amazing feat to be sure.
The awards given range from class winners to Amelia winners, but the top prizes are the two finalists that vie for the most prestigious trophies. This year a 1932 Alfa Romeo 8-c 2300 Zagato Spider of David Sydorick took top honors as Best in Show-Concours de Sport and a 1930 Cord L29 Brooks Stevens Speedster, owned by Judy and Ed Schoenthaler, took Best in Show-Concours d’ Elegance.
Amelia represents the highest level of car show. There is so much more that happens during the weekend that if you are not there by early Thursday you could miss a great deal. The RM-Sotheby’s auction now stretches over three full days, packing a full auditorium of buyers and lookers, and providing great deals and record prices for wonderful cars. On the grounds or in a huge tent before and during the auction itself, there is the ability for ticket holders to walk the grounds and see most of the cars that will be going up for auction. In other parts of the venue, traditionally there are two seminars, one each on Friday and Saturday.
This year the former was titled The Design DNA of Iconic Cars and the latter, The Car Guys of Television. Both brought full houses of spectators. A poster signing is held for the featured artist. Several manufacturers, like Jaguar and Mercedes and Porsche, offer the public opportunities to take a short driving experience in their new cars. And, on Saturday morning one can enjoy Cars and Coffee at the Concours featuring additional cars not being shown on Sunday on the field. There is also a silent auction, a Breitling Watch reception, and for an additional donation a Mercedes-Benz Gala Dinner on Saturday night.
There is even a fashion show presented each year just prior to the awards ceremony. In other words, there is enough going on each day to keep everyone happy and busy. The annual photography exhibit was eliminated this year for the first time due to the overwhelming response to the RM-Sotheby’s auction’s extra day and the need for extra space; but Warner promises that it will return in 2016.
This is an event that is a delight to visit as well as cover as a journalist. Everyone is treated very well and the field is jammed with spectators, owners, judges and general lovers of cars from as early as 9am until late in the day. The awards ceremony begins around 1pm and lasts all the way through the afternoon, finishing up near 5:30pm. No fans seem to want to leave until the Best of Shows are presented and those BOS are trumpeted in by medieval long horns played by three tuxedo attired gentleman announcing the winners with a special flare.
It is twenty years on, and this show still rocks the car world. Bill Warner created a brilliant affair with no place to go but up. If the last twenty years are any sign of what the next twenty might bring, we can keep attracting the younger folk into this wonderful hobby and continue to preserve our automotive history. It is such a perfect weekend. You need to experience this: once is never enough.