Polished chrome and mirror-finished paint reflects nattily dressed judges famous in the automotive world as well as polite crowds of admirers. Owners, proud and a bit nervous, stand by to point out the uniqueness of their pride and joy and to show the judges that the windshield wipers and the running lights do work.
It’s a Concours d’Elegance, an exhibition of and competition between the finest vehicles wheels ever moved. Engines range from long-ago electric or steam to the purring giants under the hoods of Rolls-Royces and Duesenbergs and the rumbling dares of V-8s powering muscle cars.
At my favorite, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, you’ll also catch the ear-splitting snarls of famous race cars and the rapid putt-a-putt of unusual motorcycles.
Every year on the first Sunday of the second full week in March, the first and 18th fairways of the Golf Club of Amelia at Summer Beach, the circular drive and all available parking spot at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island next door fill with the kings and queens of the automotive world.
Milling around them I spot car collector and actor Edward Herrmann, three-time LeMans endurance winning race driver the ageless Hurley Haywood, Car and Driver editor-at-large Brock Yates and three-time Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser. Herrmann is swapping tales with the concours founder and guiding light Bill Warner, himself a car collector and restorer, race driver, automotive writer and photographer. The other three are chatting with admirers.
It’s that kind of event. The love of fine-tuned machinery and exciting experiences attracts and binds together a crowd of all economic levels and ages.
All it takes is money, honey, and there’s tons of it here, literally. The Saturday before, RM Auctions brought in a whopping $24-plus million during a one-day auction of classic cars. Most of those needed work; the babies on display are about as perfect as it’s possible to be.
The well-dressed, coiffed and indulged are everywhere. Many owners sit or stand by their cars, delighted to tell anyone interested all about finding, restoring and driving their treasures. Others wander about, leaving the help – some of whom could buy and sell the onlookers – in charge.
Naturally, sleekly groomed and attired women are on the prowl, eyes peeled for potential well-heeled date or matrimony prospects. They’d probably do better with a dab of crankcase oil behind their diamond-studded ears than that expensive perfume as, despite wildly inappropriate footwear, they amble along the lines of cars.
Kids frolic, rolling down hillocks designed to give duffers impossible lies. Hoods are up and many heads are down, staring raptly into the recesses of power. Other gazers pose for photos with their favorite cars. Models dressed in period attire stand by the cars they match.
Most concours limit entries to passenger vehicles. Amelia is unique in combining all phases of the culture: all periods of cars, famous racers, street rods, experimental oddities, one-of-a-kind trucks and motorcycles share space on the undulating fairways.
Pebble Beach’s concours is usually ranked as No. 1 in the U. S., but Brian Redman, 3-time Formula 5000 and 24-Hours of Daytona champ, gives Amelia island’s the nod. The cars are as good here but Pebble is a pain to reach, even for VIPs like him. At Amelia all he has to do is take the elevator in his oceanfront room at The Ritz-Carlton and walk down the sidewalk about 100 yards.
Exhibitors love it here; the Fernandina Beach municipal airport is less than two-miles away and becomes a concours of its own this week for personal aircraft. There are two auctions at which even more cars can be bought.
Always popular with the crowds – and me – are the rides of the famous from empresses and emperors to movie stars like Betty Grable, Cary Grant and Clark Gable.
People and dog watching is always good for laughs. Combine it all with wining and dining at the food tents, breezes from the Atlantic Ocean and shopping and you have a memorable Sunday.
Florida has a number of such Concours. Here’s the 2012 schedule. If I’m in the country, I’ll look for you at Amelia.
Celebration Exotic Car Festival, April 12-15, 2012, www.celebrationexoticcars.com
Winter Park Concours D’ Elegance, Nov. 4, 2012 – www.winterparkconcours.com