Dan Scanlan blogs about racing great and Concours honoree Jeff Gordon, and THE AMELIA 2023, formerly known as the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. What hasn’t changed is the sensory overload triggered by an incredible field of diverse and iconic vehicles.
One of NASCAR’s most iconic drivers walked over to the seven cars being arranged on the grass outside of the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, and got a bit amazed. Placed at the back of a Golf Course at Amelia Island fairway were a NASCAR Chevrolet Lumina and Monte Carlo that the now-51-year-old Jeff Gordon, above, had won championships in. Filling in the display were some of his early USAC Sprint cars and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype car that he co-drove to victory in the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona. And amid them, Juan Pablo Montoya’s BMW Williams F1 FW24 car that he did high-speed laps in 2003 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
There was also the No. 67 Outback Steakhouse Pontiac he ran in his first Busch race at 1990’s AC-Delco 200 at North Carolina Motor Speedway (39th-place finish). Calling this a “once in a lifetime” moment, he was amazed – all this for the honoree for the 28th iteration of The Amelia Concours d’Elegance.
“I got to be involved in some of the cars that were selected from Hendrick and from my midget sprint car days, and even the Cadillac prototype that we won the Rolex 24 in,” Gordon said. “But the Outback Steakhouse car – that was the first stock car I ever drove. And the Williams BMW that I did the swap with Juan Pablo Montoya! It is the big highlight in my career. Even though I didn’t get to race that car, just driving it was spectacular. So just having that here is a big surprise.”
The youngest champion in NASCAR’s modern era spent the weekend hanging with fans, including a packed crowd at a March 4 seminar on his career with another NASCAR Hall of Famer – former crew chief, Ray Evernham. Now vice-chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon has four championships, 93 victories, and three Daytona 500 wins from 1993 to 2015. But the rainbow warrior’s cars were not all that 16,000 fans saw at THE AMELIA 2023 Sunday outing next to the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. There were 260 steel, aluminum, carbon fiber and wood creations, among them two Best in Shows.
Best in Show/Concours d’Elegance went to an aircraft-inspired 1935 Avions-Voisin C25 owned by the Mullin Automotive Museum in California. Gabriel and Charles Voisin began building airplanes in 1906. Gabriel focused on military models, then later built cars between 1919 and 1939, among them the Type C25 Aerodyne models in the 1930s. Only four are known to survive, including the museum’s – chassis no. 50010 – the subject of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BivUGez8Xrs
Its two-tone alloy Art Deco bodywork includes aircraft-style struts between shapely round front fenders and the bonnet, its roof curved so it can slide back over its fastback tail. Inside, wildly patterned cloth seats face an aircraft-style dashboard. After its wild winged radiator mascot led the way to the award area, Merle Mullin accepted it for husband Peter Mullin, who was a bit under the weather back home.
Nose to nose with the Avions-Voisin was the Best in Show/Concours de Sport – a red 1965 250 LM owned by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the last Ferrari to outright win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.That epic day-long endurance race was one that Ford and Ferrari factory teams had a shot at winning, and the Italian marque was doing well as night fell. But by the end, the fairly petite (94.4-inch wheelbase) 320-horsepower 250 LM of the privateer North American Racing Team won by five laps. It was driven by Masten Gregory, Jochen Rindt and Ed Hugus. For Jason Vansickle, Speedway Museum vehicle curator, it is special to see the Ferrari that won, then win The Amelia.
“It is pretty phenomenal, being the last Ferrari to win outright at Le Mans in 1965,” Vansickle said. “The car was not in contention, and Jochen Rindt was about to leave and go back to Paris. It is very special. This is just one of many prestigious automobiles at the Speedway Museum.”
The weekend-long concours event was begun in 1996 by Jacksonville businessman, car collector and magazine photographer Bill Warner. The Hagerty Group acquired the event, now known simply as The Amelia, in mid-2021. Warner remains chairman emeritus as the event continues to annually honor a famous racer and his cars as it also showcases classic marques, antiques and musclecars.McKeel Hagerty said they had record numbers of fans at The Amelia, including 10,000 at its Saturday Cars and Caffeine, RADwood and Concours de LeMons car shows, then many more at Sunday’s concours. “It was incredible with 260 cars, I think the best that have ever been gathered here,” he said. “The two best of show winners – the Ferrari 250 LM and Avions-Voisin – the Avions is one of the most elegant cars ever built. I am just so proud. I’m happy, and the car world is alive and well.”
Fans walking into THE AMELIA 2023 saw 32 classes of cars on display, some honoring the 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France as well as the 120th anniversary of Buick. There were displays of Porsche Fiberglass Racing Spyders, LeMans Corvettes, the Porsche 959, Historic 1950’s Customs and Pre-War European Custom Coachwork.One was a shapely Art Deco classic – famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart’s 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton Convertible. Just added to the National Historic Vehicle registry, she bought the Palm Beach Tan two-door just a few months before leaving on her ill-fated attempt to fly around the world. In fact, she was photographed with it in front of her Lockheed Electra in September 1936. The Cord is the 33rd vehicle added to the list, kept by the Library of Congress in collaboration with the Hagerty Drivers Foundation, and joining the 1963 Chrysler Turbine Car, the Ford Mustang from the film Bullitt and an infamous street-racing Dodge Challenger known as the Black Ghost.
Parked among the Fiberglass Dreams, which included a 1953 Bosley GT Mark 1 and a 1957 Victress C2 Coupe, was the never-before-seen 1954 Chevrolet Corvette design concept, above. A styling exercise done by General Motors to see what could be done to fire up moribund sales of the fiberglass sports car introduced a year earlier, designers added a new grill, hood scoop, redesigned tail and different kinds of fender vents and logos on the green ragtop’s left and right side. Owner Billy Jay Espich said the car basically disappeared for decades after none of these designs were approved by management.
“It was to give them an option – do you like it here; do you like it there,” he said. “People kind of say, ‘I’ve never seen this car.’ But in almost every coffee table book on Corvettes, there’s black and white studio images dated March 1954, when they debuted it to management.”
Parked in the European Coachwork class was a French-built Ford – The Marano Collection’s 1939 Matford Victoria. The result of a joint venture between Ford and Mathis S.A, an Alsace-based automaker that build cars from 1910 to 1950, the sleek landaulet has a familiar sweeping Ford grille like those designed by its chief designer, ET “Bob” Gregorie. But from its sleek V-8 hood emblem that clicks sideways to open the bonnet to its vibrant red alligator leather interior, owner Ralph Marano said it is the only one in the world.
“It was bodied by Antem in Paris and we found it in Hershey in the car corral in 2010, just a mess. It was all there, though,” Murano said. “It’s got the 60-horsepower Flathead V-8 in there. We just did the whole car. It has Marchal lights. And the strange part about this car, and I’ve never seen it, and I have been in cars my whole life – it has idiot lights on the dashboard for oil and water, in 1930.”
The Amelia had an amazing class of Volkswagen Transporters from a 1962 Halftrack Fox from Germany to the “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” 1967 Type 2, from the film, backed up by the new VW ID Buzz electric van. Right in front of the Buzz was Baltimore muralist Robert “Dr. Bob” Hieronimus and a psychedelic 1963 Volkswagen Microbus.
Painted by “Dr. Bob” when he was 26, it was commissioned by Bob Grimm, a musician in the rock group Light for their trip to the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair. It became a home-away-from-home for many rock stars before being donated to a commune, where it is believed to be long gone. But Canadian documentary filmmaker John Wesley Chisholm had it recreated, part of the work done in St. Augustine, and showed the VW at Woodstock’s 50th anniversary in 2019.
“What’s been fascinating to me is when we explain the meaning of the bus, that’s when the people respond,” Hieronimus said at The Amelia, talking about what the designs meant. “It is about prayer, meditation, and this is the most important —service to others, helping other people and not looking forward to making money off of them.”
Lined up in front of the General Motors exhibit, which included the Lyriq and Hummer EVs, were some of Chevrolet’s mightiest 24 Hours of Le Mans Corvette race cars, including the 1994 Callaway and 2001 C5.R.
Nearby, the 120th anniversary of Buick included a 1908 Model 10, a rare 1950 Buick Century with three-speed transmission from the Nicola Bulgari Collection, and the head-turning 1951 LeSabre Concept.
Denzel roadsters lined another part of the show field, tiny roadsters built from 1948 to 1959 by Austrian race driver and engineer Wolfgang Denzel and based on Volkswagen components. Nearby, prewar race cars included a 1937 Miller Gulf Special, one of the legendary race car company’s first four-cylinder, front-engined models with elegant radiator tubing wrapped around its nose. The sleek race cars also used a Coffman Combustion Starter – a large shotgun-style shell filled with the explosive cordite. Clicked into a breech forward in the cockpit, the exploding shell’s high-pressure gas was designed to hit an engine piston and begin rotation so it fired!Curving up and over a golf course knoll were a multi-colored row of 1950s California customs including the iconic 1951 Hirohata Mercury coupe, below, a golden red 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air and a wild green Gene Winfield-customized 1956 Mercury “Jade Idol” built for Leroy Kemmerer.
THE AMELIA 2023 included Hagerty’s expanded Cars & Caffeine cruise-in, a RADwood display of exotics and sports cars of the 1980s and 1990s and a tongue-in-cheek Concours d’Lemons filled with oddball vehicles. The concours’ annual charity donations continued over the weekend, $142,000 pledged to local charities.
Photos: Dan Scanlan
For more information about THE AMELIA 2023 and details about the 2024 Concours, please visit https://www.ameliaconcours.com/