Amelia: The world’s greatest old car show

This year's Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance was automotive nirvana.


For all you car lovers out there with hi-test cascading through your veins, I have a date for your calendar: March 15, 2020. Write it down now.

This is will be the landmark 25th running of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, quite possibly the world’s greatest old-car show. You won’t want to miss it.

I’ve just come back from this year’s ‘Amelia’ – I was at the first, yikes, 24 years ago – and it was simply the best one yet, blessed with glorious sunshine, a passionate crowd and close to 400 of the most breathtaking, most diverse, most downright fascinating cars assembled in one spot.

To walk on to the grassy fairways next to the oceanfront Ritz-Carlton on North Florida’s Amelia Island, and take-in this breathtaking display of rolling sculpture, your jaw is guaranteed to drop to the ground.

Yet to come-up with a list of showstoppers is futile. Here was everything from priceless Ferraris, to coachbuilt VW Beetles, from thundering Porsche Le Mans racecars to a 1954 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing found last year in a Ponte Vedra storage unit, untouched for over 40 years.

That said, one of the true must-sees of the show was the ‘Cars of the Rock Stars’ display put together by music legend and car junkie, John Oates, of Hall & Oates fame.

He’d managed to pull-in Janis Joplin’s old ’64 Porsche 356 with its hippy-dippy psychedelic paint job.  Close by was the Corvette that Elvis drove in the cheesy 1967 movie ‘Clambake’. Next to that was the mighty 1928 Bentley owned by AC/DC rocker Brian Johnson.

And John Oates himself was there with his own 1960 Porsche 356 Emory ‘Outlaw’, spending most of the day leaning on this exquisite car, happy to talk automobiles, show-off his Porsche and pose for selfies.

Then there was the remarkable display entitled ‘The Cars of Kings and Queens, Presidents, Popes and a Dictator’. One not to miss  was the huge 1956 Cadillac Presidential Limousine used by ‘Ike’ Eisenhower in 1956, and the car behind Kennedy’s Lincoln on that fateful day in 1963.

Each year, the Amelia Concours honors a legend of motorsport, and this year it was the turn of Belgian ace Jacky Ickx. The six-time Le Mans 24-Hour winner and Formula 1 star was there with a magical display of some of the greatest cars he’d driven during his storied career. My favorite; the Ford GT40 he piloted to victory in the 1969 Le Mans race.

It was at the start of the 24-hour marathon when Ickx silently protested against the dangerous tradition of drivers sprinting across the track, jumping into their cars and driving away unbuckled. The Belgian simply strolled across to his car, climbed in, buckled-up and went on to win the race after starting last. The following year, the tradition ended.

Want to feel your ears bleed? At 12.30pm precisely, a line-up of classic dragsters, including the legendary Swamp Rat 13 owned by ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits, fired-up for the first-ever ‘cacklefest’. The noise was insane; after standing too close, I couldn’t hear a thing for an hour afterwards.

Yet to come to Amelia for one day is missing half of the fun. While the main concours d’elegance is on the Sunday, Saturday plays host to a vast Cars ‘N Coffee gathering, a Festival of Speed supercar show, an exciting RM Sotheby’s auction – this year’s big-money lot was a 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB that sold for $2.2 million – and a glitzy gala dinner courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.

Of course the highlight of Sunday’s Amelia is the ‘Best in Show’ presentations. The Concours de Sport award went to an achingly beautiful, blood-red 1957 Ferrari 335 S that had raced everywhere from Sebring to Le Mans to the Mille Miglia.

The Best in Show Concours d’Elegance award was rightly presented to the all-black-and-chrome 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn-Kurier. Designed to take advantage of Germany’s then-new high-speed autobahn, it was the Mercedes-AMG of its time.

March 15 next year is definitely in my calendar. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. You shouldn’t either.

Photos: and Howard Walker











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