Amelia Island Concours: classic car event full of surprises

The 2017 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance had a big surprise in store for everyone: for the first time in its 22-year history, the Florida show had to be held on the Saturday (11th March) rather than the Sunday. Indeed, with stormy weather forecast for the Sunday, the organizers were forced to bring the concours forward a day. Although this resulted in a clash with several satellite events, including the RM Sotheby’s auction, and also meant that one of the forums had to be shifted to the Sunday, this change of schedule fortunately did not visibly spoil the event. As usual, there were two Best in Show prizes awarded, to luxury and sports cars respectively, and, as always, the judges had quite a tough time making their selection, because the quality of the cars on the field was, as ever, pretty high. The classes at the event embraced a wide range of themes, from Streamliners to the Cars of the Movies, and also included a celebration of the Jaguar D-Type and the XKSS. Overall, it was a great show which once again proved itself to be a first-rate event that is nevertheless capable of creating a wonderful and very relaxed mood.

Saturday or… storm!

The forecast was very clear: the end of the week and the Saturday would be warm and sunny, but the Sunday, the planned day of the show, would bring some very stormy weather. A similar situation arose last year, when organizer Bill Warner opted to open the event early in a bid to beat the thunder, lightning and heavy rain that, on that occasion, was forecast for the Sunday afternoon.

Amelia Island Concours - Bill Warner

This year, however, the situation was definitely more complicated, with the storm expected to strike the Amelia Island field from the early hours of the Sunday morning. “The meteorologist is an old friend,” Mr Warner explained, “and when I called him on the Thursday morning asking for news, hopefully good news, he started giving me a very technical description of the situation. After a few minutes, I was quite lost and simply asked him to tell me which day I should pick so as not to waste my entire budget. He told me, without hesitation, the Saturday, and so we decided to change the day. But it was not easy because of all the activities that had been planned.” Because the change had to be made with so little warning, this decision, absolutely the right one in the end, cost the show some of its public, but the crowd on the field was still numerous enough to justify it. Therefore, the fact that the photos recording the 2017 event will all show a sunny day and blue sky, rather than gray clouds, wet grass and people freezing in a strong northerly wind, is entirely down to Warner’s brave decision.

Le Mans winners

This fact could easily have gone unnoticed, as the cars in question belonged to different classes, but there were actually four Le Mans winning cars on the field — a feat that very few concours around the world would be able to match. The oldest was the 1952 Mercedes-Benz W194 300 SL, car 7 (chassis #194/07), that won the 1952 race driven by Lang and Riess, thus becoming the first German car to win at Le Mans.

Amelia Island Concours - LeMans winning Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

There were also two Jaguar D-Types: the one (chassis #XKD 501) that won the 1956 race driven by the works team of Flockhart/Sanderson, and the one (chassis #XKD 606) that, wearing Ecurie Ecosse colors and driven by Bueb/Flockhart, raced to victory the following year, in 1957. The fourth Le Mans winner on show was the Mazda 787B of Weidler/Herbert/Gachot that won the French marathon in 1991. This Mazda was the first Japanese car to achieve this and also the first ever Le Mans winner equipped with a Wankel engine. To add a touch of glamour, the Gulf liveried number 20 Porsche 917 (chassis #917-022), used by Steve McQueen, in the role of Michael Delaney, in the 1970 movie “Le Mans”, was also present at the concours.

Jaguar D-Type and XKSS

A total of 78 D-types were built from 1954 to 1957, without counting the nine destroyed by the famous 1957 fire. Of these 78, nine were short-nose works cars, 11 were long-nose works cars, 42 were production short-nose cars, and 16 became XKSSs. From the time of its unveiling, the D-type was considered a magical model on account of its remarkable technical construction (not to be matched by other manufacturers for a full decade) combined with its speed and beauty. What is more, as soon as it started to race, and win, it also acquired the legendary status that comes with success.

Amelia Island Concours - Jaguar D-Type and XKSS

In 1955, 1956 and 1957, its record of three consecutive victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, plus something like 80 other victories worldwide in the same period, established the D-type as one of the most successful racing cars in history. The ones that survive today are coveted and dreamed of by collectors all over the world, and to see even just one of them is something quite special. Therefore, the 14 D-types gathered in the dedicated class at Amelia Island created a really special and quite breathtaking spectacle for onlookers.

Streamliners

Ever since the very early days of the automobile, men have wanted to go faster. To achieve this, early pioneers soon realized that an aerodynamic shape would be even more effective than extra horse powers. At that time, the science of aerodynamics was little known and technical aids able to provide useful information, such as wind tunnels, were barely known and not readily accessible. Therefore, inspiration was drawn from the natural world, and in fact the idea that the perfect shape was a rounded one, like that of a drop of water, left its mark for some decades. At Amelia Island some amazing cars were fielded in the Streamliners class, including the “Spirit of Rett” (10 meters and 20 centimeters long), which currently holds the record as the fastest gasoline-powered car in history, being capable of doing 414.316 miles per hour (or 666.7 km/h).

Amelia Island Concours - Spirit of Rett

On this occasion, a special exception was made for the owner, and driver, Charles Nearburg, who, accompanied by his wife Rett, was allowed to parade and collect the trophy without the car, which would have been impossible to maneuver in the “caged” space of the Amelia field. Another sort of cage, in the form of a 1959 “Birdcage” Maserati Tipo 60/61, won the Maserati Trophy for the most interesting car. This car (chassis #2451) is the prototype of the model that would go on to enter racing history with the nickname Birdcage, a reference to its chassis built from small-diameter tubes. Originally a Tipo 60 equipped with a two-liter engine, and tested by Sir Stirling Moss in this form, it was subsequently equipped with a three-liter engine, becoming a Tipo 61, and sold to “Lucky” Casner. It thus became part of his Camoradi Racing Team and was driven by Masten Gregory and Chuck Daigh.

1911 Marmon Wasp

The 1911 Marmon Wasp is an extremely important car historically, so much so that the HVA has just registered it. The car, owned by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, is the very car Ray Harroun drove to victory, on May 30th, 1911, in the very first 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The car, built in Indianapolis, was the only one raced without the aid of a riding mechanic. To overcome the objections of other competitors, who argued that this would make it impossible for Harroun to be aware of cars overtaking him, the Wasp was equipped with a rear view mirror. Many consider this to be the very first automobile to be given one. Harroun went on to build airplanes, which is not surprising looking at the shape of his racing cars. He is thought to have been the first man to fly a monoplane. From what it was possible to see on the show field, this car is, still today, in perfect running condition, and still capable of going very fast indeed.

Amelia Island Concours - An Indy 500 winner from 1911

1957 Chevrolet Corvette SS

The car brought by John and Gina Baldwin of Malabar (FL) is the one that, in 1957, was exhibited as a show car, both at New York’s Waldfor Astoria and at the Chicago Auto Show, in order to present the new ramjet fuel injection. Built in late 1956 at a cost of USD 18,000, it sports some unique features, such as pearl white paint contrasting with a blue leather interior, matching blue cup holders, a steering column-mounted tachometer, and a one-off dashboard with a center console. It is equipped with a 283 C.I. engine capable of developing 283 Hp, the first Chevy engine to generate 1 Hp per C.I., and experimental U.S. Royal XP-140 tires, with a Corvette crossed flags imbedded in the sidewalls. It has covered only 4372 miles since new, and is still equipped with the original drivetrain and original interior, while the paint has been re-sprayed in the correct color.

Amelia Island Concours - Corvette SS

The Thomas Crown affair

The cars of the movies class brought together some of the most famous “stars” of the cinema. These included the two cars that featured in “The Thomas Crown Affair”, the 1968 action movie starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. One of these, a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 alloy NART Spyder (chassis #09437), was the first of only ten built, and one of the only two to be bodied in aluminum. Painted in pale yellow, it was shipped to the USA just in time to be raced by famous racer and writer Denise McCluggage, teamed with Pinkie Rollo, in the 12 Hours of Sebring, where it came second in class.

Amelia Island Concours with original Ferrari of Thomas Crown Affair

After the competition the car was repainted in brown and delivered to the movie set, where it was driven by Faye Dunaway. Steve McQueen, who just after working on “The Thomas Crown Affair” bought an identical car, always admitted that it was during the making of this movie that he fell in love with this model. After filming, the car was used by Road & Track magazine for a cover feature, thus becoming the world’s most famous Spider NART. For years now, it has been part of the Fratelli Auriana collection of Stamford, CT, where it has been painstakingly restored to its original condition.

The Best in Show

It was late in the afternoon, definitely later than planned, when the two Best in Show awards were announced, and the winning cars paraded together to the stage. As the finest representative of the luxury cars, the 2017 Amelia Island Concours judges chose a 1935 Duesenberg SJ-582 owned by Terence Adderley of Bloomfields Hills, MI, and restored by Brian Joseph of Classic and Exotic of Troy, MI. Built from 1929 to 1937, the SJ-582 model was equipped with a DOHC 420 C.I., both in supercharged and normally aspirated versions; each chassis sold received custom coachwork, built to suit the whims of the owner, at a cost ranging from 13,000 to 25,000 USD. Five Torpedoes were built, to a design by Gordon Buehrig, and the winning car (chassis #2608) is one of the last two Torpedo Phaetons built by the A.J. Walker Company. It was originally delivered in Wisconsin as J-558 on chassis #2558, but following a complaint from the owner, Duesenberg agreed to replace both the engine and the chassis and have the original body re-installed.

Amelia Island Concours - the winning Duesenberg and Alfa Romeo

Among the sports cars, the car that stood out for the Amelia Island judges was a 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Lungo spider with a Touring open body, owned by the A. Dano Davis Collection of Jacksonville, FL. This 8C, one of the only about 32 built in total, and also one of the only 12 long chassis versions equipped with a Touring Milano body, has a long competition history which starts in 1949, the year it was raced in São Paulo (BRA) by an amateur driver, who won the competition both that year and in 1950. After these two successes, the car disappeared from view, only to be rediscovered years later with a Corvette engine and a modified chassis. The original body, detached from the rolling chassis in the late 1950s, was returned to the car in the early 1990s, after which it underwent a full restoration.

All photos courtesy of the author, © Massimo Delbò.

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