Keep Smiling Classic Car Collectors – It`s Amelia Island

The 23rd Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance apparently wanted to establish a new tradition: holding the show on a Saturday! It is funny that this choice, never made in over two decades, has now been made twice in a row. This year, like last year, Bill Warner’s team was forced to bring the show forward a day, to Saturday March 10th, on account of a poor weather forecast for the Sunday. Whereas last year their decision turned out to be more than justified, this time the Sunday actually turned out to be almost as beautiful as the Saturday. But in any case, judging by the quantity of people on the field, it would seem that practically no one had any problems re-adjusting their schedules.

The 2018 edition will be remembered for the amazing beauty offered by some of the classes: the NART and the Martini racing car classes, and indeed the Made for Hunting one, were so amazing that it will certainly be difficult to forget them. As usual, there were two Best in Show awards, one for the Elegance category and the other for the Sport category, and these were particularly fascinating because the sheer number of potential winners, all legitimate contenders, made the outcome very difficult to forecast. The 2018 show also confirmed another important “tradition”: everybody on the field — entrants, judges, visitors and volunteers — ended the day smiling. This, as always, was one of the great achievements of the Amelia Island Concours and of its founder, Bill Warner.

Amelia Island founder Bill Warner

For once, allow me to start not with the Best in Show, but with a tribute to Mr Bill Warner, the founder and organizer of the Amelia Island Concours, and indeed the very “soul” of the event. For the 23rd consecutive year, Warner, an avid car photographer and writer, a good racer and a true car guy, did an amazing job. This year, however, it was all more difficult than usual due to health problems that forced him to slow down for a while and undergo major surgery. He certainly had all his friends, and there are a lot of us, worried for a while. Therefore, seeing him back “on track”, as energetic, focused and approachable as ever, even if a little shorter of breath from time to time, was, for all of us, the greatest gift we could receive. The concern and affection of the classic car world was wonderfully expressed in “a letter to Bill” read by his dear friend, classic car trader Mark Hyman. It certainly left everyone with moist eyes during a seemingly endless standing ovation. The fact that these health worries now seem to be consigned to the past is probably the best news we can take away from Amelia Island this year.

Best in Shows

Among the 305 cars on the field, the judges’ choice as Best in Show in the Elegance category was a 1929 Duesenberg J/SJ Convertible bodied, in period, in the style of a Murphy Roadster by Bohman & Schwartz of Pasadena, California. They were clearly seduced by its modern lines, in particular its lengthened hood, slotted fenders and very modern bumpers for the period. Early on in its life, this car, now in the collection of Harry Yeaggy (Cincinnati, OH), was owned by Edward Beale McLean, owner of the Hope Diamond, whose family owned The Washington Post, a fact that certainly enriches its history.

Best in Show in the Sport category went to a 1963 Ferrari 250/275P (chassis #0812) from the JSL Motorsports Collection (Redwood City, CA), a car that recorded some amazing results in the course of its glittering racing career. It made its debut as a Ferrari works car driven by Willy Mairesse/Nino Vaccarella/Lorenzo Bandini in the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 23rd 1963, finishing second, after which it won the ADAC Nürburgring 1000 kilometers (driven by John Surtees/Willy Mairesse). After setting on fire during the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans, the car was converted to the 275 P specification and equipped with a 3.3-liter engine. In this configuration, and still as a Ferrari works car, it won the first race of the 1964 season, the 12 Hours of Sebring (Mike Parkes/Umberto Maglioli); subsequently, after a DNF at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was sold to Luigi Chinetti to be raced under the colors of his NART team, winning in its very first outing for NART at Mont Tremblant with Pedro Rodriguez driving. In 1965, it came 2nd in the Sports category and 8th overall at the 12 Hours of Sebring (Umberto Maglioli/Giancarlo Baghetti) before, in the September of that year, ending its career with a DNF at the Double 500 of Bridgehampton, with Mario Andretti at the wheel. In 1968 it was re-bodied for Chinetti by Carrozzeria Michelotti and shown at the New York Car Show. It remained with this new body until 1989 when it was rebodied in the original style.

Celebrated driver

The celebrated driver at the 2018 Amelia Concours was Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, double Formula 1 World Champion and two times Indy 500 winner. As ready as ever to have fun behind a steering wheel, and provide great entertainment, he delighted the onlookers by driving his 1974 McLaren M23 (chassis #009) onto the field and right up to its position on the show ground, where it was parked among some of the vehicles he has raced, such as the 1970 Lotus 72/5 with JPS colors, the 1974 Porsche 911 RSR IROC, and the 1977 Chevrolet IROC Camaro Z28. The McLaren M23, a car also driven by Jochen Mass (a judge at Amelia) and James Hunt, started 25 Grand Prix races and achieved seven podium positions. In particular, it won the 1975 Grand Prix of Argentina and the Silverstone Grand Prix in GB, on both occasions with Fittipaldi at the wheel, and then the 1976 Silverstone Grand Prix and Brands Hatch Grand Prix with James Hunt driving.

The Hunters of Amelia Island 2018

The entrants in the class devoted to cars converted to go hunting, or picnicking in the country, included a magnificent 1926 Rolls-Royce Phantom 1, owned by a Texan collector. It was originally sold in England, where it served in the army during the Second World War. After the conflict, and still with its original owner, it was rebodied as an estate car, using mahogany and oak wood, by the carpenter of the owner’s estate, but it retained its Brewster Green bonnet and black fenders. Still original and well preserved, it now lives on a Ranch in Texas, where longhorns are raised, and, still today, is happily used for family picnics and short journeys. It is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating cars I have ever seen.

1954 Siata Balbo 200 CS

A clear example of a car in long-term ownership, the 1954 Siata Balbo 200 CS (chassis #071), one of the only 11 originally bodied by Carrozzeria Balbo and powered with a Fiat 8V engine, was imported new into the USA where, in 1959, it was found in a used car lot in Queens, New York, by a Dr Julius Eisenstak, who was looking for a used Renault Caravelle for his wife. In choosing to buy the Siata instead, on September 12th, 1959, he was taking a risk, but it was one that clearly paid off, given that the car is still in his family today, now owned by his son Walter. Always very well kept — it has just had a couple of resprays over the years — the car remained almost completely original until June 8th, 2017, when, during a road test after a simple tuning, it was rear ended by a texting driver. During the subsequent restoration, every effort was made to save as much as possible. All that needed replacing was the alloy of the rear right part, while the rest of the car could be fixed, even though this took a long time. During this work the car, repainted red more than five decades ago, was returned to its original shade of blue, discovered under the windshield gasket. At Amelia Island 2018 it was shown for the first time since the completion of the restoration, sporting its original livery.

Enjoy a Martini

The Martini & Rossi class, created to celebrate the many cars that have raced in the livery of the vermouth producer, created a real stir because of the amazing quality of the cars on the field, each one boasting an incredible set of achievements. Porsche brought along its 1971 Porsche 917 K 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, while American collector John Campion showed his rally car collection, which comprises Lancia 037, Delta S4, Group A Delta, and Endurance Lancia racing cars. It is impossible to to list all the successes recorded by Campion’s cars, but they include multiple World Championship victories. A much-admired highlight of this class was a wonderful Fiat 242 van, once used by mechanics to follow the races and provide assistance.

1966 Ferrari 365 P-3 Posti, Pininfarina

The racing 365 P, built by Ferrari to race in the Sport category in the mid-1960s, was characterized technically by its rear mounted 12-cylinder engine delivering 380 HP. After racing at Daytona for Chinetti’s NART team, with Pedro Rodriguez driving, chassis #8971 was given to Pininfarina to be used for a really special project, the creation of a three-seater show car designed by Franco Scaglione. It was displayed at the Paris Motor Show in September 1966 and, in 1967 in the Sports Car Show of Los Angeles. Gianni Agnelli, who was also keen to have a three-seater, copied the car, thus a very similar second car was built. This one was returned to the Chinetti family and it has remained with them ever since. Sold to its new Mexican owner at the end of 2017, this year’s Amelia Island Concours gave it its first outing under the new ownership. It was a delight to see the owner’s family (mother, father and 3-year-old son) driving around in the perfectly shaped, central drive three-seater.

Remembering Dan Gurney

Dan Gurney, who died in January, was one of the most admired drivers of the 1960s and 1970s. A fast and intelligent driver and a charming man, he is also remembered for inventing countless safety devices today in use on roads all over the world, and also for inventing the celebratory “champagne shower” after racetrack victories. Dan Gurney did something else of note too: racing in, and of course winning (on November 15th, 1971), the inaugural Cannonball Run, the illegal race that saw fast cars and fast guys crossing the country, from the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan, New York, to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California.

To compete, Dan Gurney, partnered by Brock Yates, was given a 1971 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona by car dealer Kirk F. White. The car, now in the Bruce McCaw collection (in Seattle, WA), achieved an average speed of 80.8 mph during the 2876-mile “journey”, completing it in just 35 hours and 54 minutes. The Daytona was on the field at Amelia Island, but the spontaneous tribute to Gurney came from Best in Show winner Harry Yeaggy who decided to celebrate “à la Gurney” showering cars, journalist, entrants and Bill Warner himself in champagne! A magical moment to round off a great day.

All photos copyright Massimo Delbò.

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