Amelia Island 2020 – “The Best Ever…”

Celebrating 25 Years of Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance celebrated its 25th Anniversary this year with a stellar show that many attendees, myself included, felt was its best performance ever.

Amelia is always a power-packed weekend, combining several top-flight auctions, over 300 artfully-curated cars on the show field, two exciting driving tours, celebrity-driven racing seminars, scads of books and automobilia for sale, enticing sideshows like the Porsche Club of America “Werks Reunion,” Hagerty’s “Concours d’Lemons,” and much more.

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Amelia Island differs from Pebble Beach and many other Concours, principally because the North Florida event equally celebrates sports and racing cars, as well as luxurious classics – hence there are two recipients of the top prize. The twin best of show winners tell you a lot about the stature of this event.

The honors were shared by Sam Lehrman’s understated yet elegant 1929 Duesenberg J Murphy Town Limousine, formerly owned by George Whittell, a very wealthy and eccentric Nevada playboy who had six Duesenbergs to his credit, all bought new, in the depths of the Depression. The Concours de Sport trophy was won by Rob Kauffman’s 1973 Sunoco Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder, a record-setting 1,500-bhp speedster, that Mark Donohue piloted to six wins in eight starts, while en route to the 1973 Can-Am Championship.

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That Sunoco team was expertly managed by the weekend’s honored guest, the redoubtable Automotive Hall of Famer, Roger Penske. An extraordinary display of more than 30 Penske racecars was highlighted by the appearance of the actual five-foot tall Borg-Warner trophy on the lawn, honoring the drivers of Penske’s 18 Indy 500-winning starts. This Porsche 917 was billed as the most powerful circuit racing car ever built, and it set a record in 1975 at Talladega Speedway, averaging over 221-mph on a closed course with Mark Donohue behind the wheel. Consummate racer and successful businessman, Penske and Bill Warner enthralled the Gala dinner crowd with stories and anecdotes from “The Captain’s” five decades of racing.

But that wasn‘t all. Special classes honored Sergio Scaglietti, whose legendary Carrozzeria in Modena, Italy produced all the stunning Ferrari racecars of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Accordingly, there was a truly extraordinary lineup of competition Ferrari’s, including Richard Workman’s 250GTO, Oscar Davis’ 375MM, Harry Yeaggy’s 250 Testa Rossa and Chris Cox’s 412MI, to name just a few. Scaglietti built three special-bodied Corvettes for Carroll Shelby and Gary Laughlin – they resemble Tour de France Ferrari’s — before Enzo Ferrari sternly ordered him to cease and desist. One of those unicorns was on hand, of course, along with other Italian rarities like a menacingly low, bottle green Bizzarrini Strada from Billy Hibbs. A quartet of cross-flow Webers topped its severely setback small-block Chevy V-8.

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In contrast, a crazy class of “Cute Cars” presented an eccentric three-wheeled Mathis V L 333 from the Tampa Bay Auto Museum. Not to be outdone, Jeff Lane’s wacky Lane Motor Museum presented a 1926 Hanomag 2/10 PS “Kommisbrot,’ named for the small loaf of bread carried by German soldiers. Tiny tot cars like an Isetta and American Bantam and a Crosley Super Sport accentuated the fun factor. The Chief Class Judge was Jay Ward, the lead animator for Pixar, whose brlliant “Cars” Series has enthralled kids and car nuts for years.

Brass era enthusiasts had a shiny class of Loziers to admire. Built in Plattsburgh, NY, Lozier was once one of America’s most expensive cars, and a speedy Lozier racer driven by “Smilin’ Ralph” Mulford nearly won the first Indy 500. Instead, Ray Harroun was credited for the win in a Marmon, a local Indianapolis marque. Indy railbirds still dispute the finish, claiming that Indianapolis partisans wanted a hometown victory and rigged the scoring to achieve it. Curiously, track owner Carl Fisher ordered the lap records destroyed, so we’ll never know…

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You can always count on Amelia Island for unusual cars. This year didn’t disappoint. There was a trio of angular, curious-looking Scimitars from designer Brooks Stevens, including a fresh restoration from the Petersen Automotive Museum. The three Scimitars were built to encourage automakers to use more aluminum in car construction. Sergio Scaglietti’s curvaceous Ferrari’s were also bodied in aluminum alloy – quite a contrast, when seen on the same show field. The General Motors Heritage Center brought a pack of Harley Earl’s concept cars, including the racy Buick Y-Job, arguably the first concept car from a major automaker, and its postwar successor, the impossibly low Le Sabre. And Chevrolet had a big display, with older mid-engine Vette prototypes and at last, the new mid-engine Corvette C8 roadster.

“King of the Kustomizers” George Barris built the fantastic “Golden Sahara” convertible in the 1950’s, and painted it, using lacquer laced with real fish scales for a pearlescent effect. A few years later, it  was restyled and fitted with automated controls by Jim “Street” Skonzakes, who then hid it away for nearly 50 years. Restored from a decrepit hulk, and fitted with glowing orange Goodyear “Neothane Glass Slipper” tires, it dazzled the crowd at last year’s Geneva Auto Show. Bill Warner borrowed it from the Klairmont Kollection in Chicago, and mounted the car on a special raised platform, to everyone’s delight.

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Hot rods were well-represented at Amelia, with a special display of eight “Rolling Bones” cars. Upstate New York builders Ken Schmidt and Keith Cornell started building their own brand of rebellious, heavily patina-ed, down and dirty road rods that eschew shiny paint and chrome for authentic dry lakes and Bonneville good looks. I judged that class with ex-Le Mans Porsche racer Jim Busby (himself a record-setting Bonneville racer) and Florida motorcycle expert J. C. Osteen.It was won by Jon and Jacqueline Sucklin’s ’32 Ford roadster, a car that traveled to Bonneville 10 times. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the great cars on display. Would you believe a class of sleek streamlined Grahams, including a stunning Saoutchik-bodied Sharknose cabriolet, with a supercharged engine?

The auction companies did surprisingly well, totalling just $2 Million less than last year. RM/Sotheby’s had $35.3 million; Gooding & Company tallied $20.8 million and Bonhams racked up $21.2 million, helped by the high sale of the weekend, the late Dean Edmonds’ 1932 Type 55 Bugatti , fitted with a rakish, Jean Bugatti-designed roadster body, which sold for $7.1 million.  And there were “bargains” to be had, like Keith Crane’s majestic Duesenberg J Murphy roadster which went for a tad over $1.1MM.

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