The 2024 Amelia Concours d’Elegance: High and Low

One day last January, Scott George, our Curator of Collections, asked if I’d like to ride along while he drove the 1965 Porsche 356 to the Amelia Concours d’Elegance.

I am sure he must’ve related other pertinent details, such as “working all weekend” andno luggage space” anddetail kit,” but the buzz of excitement drowned out everything else. I was going on a road trip in a beautiful 356C in Bali Blue, a new 1900 cc engine behind me. The trip’s purpose was three-fold: first, the six- or seven-hour drive would serve as final shakedown on the new setup; second, the car would be entered in a class of single-owner Porsches at the Concours; and finally, I would create content about the car and the event for our social media channels. I marked out February 29 to March 3 on my calendar. Not only would it be my first time at The Amelia, it would also be my first major concours.

Photo Courtesy of Hagerty

Founded by Bill Warner in 1996, the Amelia Concours d’Elegance has long been the East Coast’s flagship event for the automotive event season. For over two decades, Revs Institute has brought automobiles to show on the greens. The event was acquired by Hagerty in 2021 but many of the principal elements remain the same. The Ritz-Carlton continues to be the hub for the weekend’s activities and its golf course still serves as the show field. 

Scott and I set out early on Thursday morning, planning to arrive well before dark at our hotel in Fernandina Beach. One hour later, we found ourselves on the side of I-75. An unsettling noise led Scott to pull over immediately. After a quick inspection revealed neither leakage nor fire (but plenty of fire ants), Scott determined our safest course of action was to nurse the 356 to the next exit. My contribution: crossing my fingers and toes until we parked under the overpass at the next off ramp. 

As usual, our wonderful team in the workshop was quick to assist. Scott made a few calls and inspected the car more closely. I was interested to learn that a crucial diagnostic test is… just sort of rocking the car back and forth. [I’m sure there’s a technique to it.] Bill from the shop arrived: another good rocking confirmed that the suspension was fine, no axle was amiss. After several phone calls and many fire ants, Scott and the team determined it would be best to send the 356 back home. Big Pete from our shop kindly drove up to meet us in Scott’s car so Scott and I could journey onwards. 

On the one hand, we were disappointed to not have an entry for the 2024 Concours. On the other hand, the forecast called for rain across Amelia Island all weekend. Perhaps the Porsche, which has always driven beautifully, simply decided that it would rather stay dry. 

We arrived on the island around dinner time. The weekend is as much for networking and relationships as it is for cars. While Scott headed to the Annual Porsche Winemaker’s Dinner, I made my way to downtown Fernandina Beach for a minigolf tournament hosted by Dave Kinney and Phil Neff (Hagerty Price Guide). Scott was very apologetic about leaving me ‘by myself’ on my first night. Joke’s on him: I doubt that the Porsche dinner had pigs in a blanket, beer on tap, and 18 holes of pirate-themed putt-putt. Best of all, the friends I made that night helped me fish my ball from many a water feature and flower bed.  

Friday morning, we checked in at the Ritz-Carlton to obtain our credentials. Scott explained to the Hagerty staff that our entry car did not arrive (I could not convince him to drive his late-model SUV onto the show field as ‘fun surprise for the judges,’ alas). I also got a media badge because, these days, a social media channel is as much of an outlet as a magazine. Sure, we didn’t have the 356 to share, but there was plenty else to do. In fact, the packed schedule meant we had to pick and choose.   

Scott and I decided to head to the Gooding & Company auction at the nearby Omni Resort. David Gooding serves on Revs Institute’s Advisory Board and was kind enough to arrange seats near the front. ‘Auction’ seems like too simple a word to describe it: the mood was convivial, the bidding theatrical, and the entire production was absolutely flawless. Even on a rainy day, the huge marquees felt light and bright. Friday’s lots included selections from the Mullin Collection. The star of the show, however, was the 1903 Mercedes-Simplex with Roi des Belges coachwork. During the preview that morning, we were greeted by Cam Luther, a McPherson grad and former Revs Institute intern who now works for Gooding & Company. He took us point-by-point through the incredible automobile. It sold for 11 million dollars on the block. 

From one end of the island and the automotive world — to the other, Scott and I next headed to the Concours d’Lemons at a nearby public park. Billed as “the concours of the un-best” and jointly sponsored by Hagerty and Classic Motorsports Magazine, this show celebrates the odd, the off-beat, and the downright gauche of the automotive world. There were Pintos a-plenty, a PT Cruiser-turned-stretch limo, and a canoe with a go-kart motor. Oh, and a Trabant (winner, Soviet class). Running concurrently was a more traditional classic car show with its fair share of MGs and Jags. We were happy to see Tom Cotter and his unrestored Cunningham in attendance: I truly love seeing the absolute heck used out of a car.

Saturday found us back at the Ritz, beginning with the Broad Arrow preview. I wish I could say that I calmly walked around, observing in a detached manner… but I am sure I left some drool all over the Delahayes. As the preview cars were moved toward the auction block, I moved out to the show field. The official concours is held on Sunday, but on Saturday the show field hosts Cars & Community. Over 375 cars were entered by people from all walks of life. Scott met a couple who had driven down from Atlanta for that event alone – they weren’t even planning to stay for the Concours. 

There is much discussion in the world of car collecting about the dearth of new blood, the absence of the next generation. Well, I can tell you exactly where they all are: they’re at RADwood, Hagerty’s show for cars 1980-1999, held on another part of golf course. My personal selections: the Subaru Brat (complete with a Honda motorcycle in the back), a Chevy Lumina APV (often known as the ‘Dust Buster van’), and a collection of Buick Reattas in pristine condition. 

Sunday dawned grey and wet. We heard that a few entrants withdrew during the night, unwilling to subject their prized cars to the rain and mud. [Tom Cotter’s Cunningham scoffs in the face of such conditions. In fact, the whole class of unrestored barn finds looked packed.] There was still a terrific mix of cars on display, 285 in total. Tagging along with Scott, an experienced concours judge himself, I learned about the judging process. Judges have a limited window of time in which to inspect the cars in their class and put questions to the entrants – in large classes, this means each car must be evaluated in a matter of minutes. Rules vary among Concours, but generally only the recipients of Best in Class awards are eligible for the Best in Show title. Judges and concours leadership also make determinations about ‘specialty’ awards that recognize particular excellence outside of typical concours considerations. There are two schools of concours judging: the ‘French style,’ which focuses more on the car’s style and elegance; and points-based judging, in which judges fill out the event-issued rubric and deduct points for blemishes, nonworking parts, and the like. Both have their advocates and their critics. Under Warner’s leadership, the Concours entrants were judged in the French style. Hagerty has now adopted a points system.  

Courtesy of Hagerty

A midday deluge sent cars and people under cover for an hour or two. As the sun came out and the covers came off, I took a closer look at a few of my own personal favorites. In no particular order: Michele Mouton’s Audi Quattro from her 1985 win at Pikes Peak; the Best in Class winner from the Indy Legends, the 1964 Lotus 34 no. 1 Sheraton Thomason Special; a 1955 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser the color of a Creamsicle (which won the specialty Amelia Island Award for the most elegant formal sedan or town car); a 1971 Ferrari Dino in Metallic Violet (another class winner); and a 1989 Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1 (recognized with a class award). This year’s honoree at The Amelia, Rick Hendrick, brought quite a few special cars; I was most excited to see the Garage 56 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that was prepared for last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

Courtesy of Hagerty

The soggy greens meant only the two Best in Show winners took the stage: the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta, Scaglietti/Pininfarina of David MacNeil (Concours de Sport) and the 1947 Delahaye 135 MS Narwal 2-Door Cabriolet, Figoni & Falaschi of Dana & Patti Mecum (Concours d’Elegance). Based on the chatter of those in attendance, it would seem the GTO’s win was assured the moment it rolled onto the field. [For any readers who are not ‘car people,’ imagine if Beyonce or Elvis suddenly showed up. Even if you’re not a fan, you’re in awe.] The Delahaye seems to have been rather a divisive choice. It’s called a ‘Narwal’ because of its protuberance just over the grille. Myself, I love a good schnoz on a person, so why not a Delahaye? 

What I appreciated most about my first time at The Amelia was the mix of high and low. Yes, the crown jewel of the weekend is the Concours with its priceless cars. I appreciate how the Concours creates the opportunity to discuss what’s important to maintain about a car, a marque, or a style. But just as wonderful are the shows, activities, and previews happening all weekend long and appealing to all types of car lovers. The people, too, come from many sorts of backgrounds and have diverse interests. What binds everyone together—and creates a warm atmosphere that permeates the whole town—is a genuine love for the automobile.