• .TopSpeed.com Goes to the Amelia Island Concours

This week-end brings one of the premier concours d’elegance events to one of the most idyllic settings of any concours: the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance at the Ritz-Carleton resort, located on a barrier island off the coast of Northeast Florida.

.TopSpeed.com Goes to the Amelia Island Concours
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And, TopSpeed.com – thanks to an invitation extended by General Motors – will be there. Ed Welburn, GM’s director of design – the guy that sits in Harley Earl’s magnificent office – will be there, too. He’s one of the judges.

Only two other events can be compared to the Amelia Island Concours: Pebble Beach, held on the golf course of the same name in California, and Meadow Brook, held at the historic Dodge mansion near Detroit.

No concours, however, exceeds the elegance and style of Amelia Island, from the luxurious setting on the grounds of one of the most lavish resort hotels in America to the selection of cars exhibited, by invitation only.

(more after the jump)

The honorary chairman of this year’s event is none other than Parnelli Jones, the legendary driver who won the 1963 Indianapolis 500 – but is, perhaps, best remembered for the 1967 race, when he dominated the race in a turbine-powered car, only to break with a mere three laps remaining. Inducted into over twenty motorsports halls of fame, Jones is one of the icons of American racing.

But it is the cars which are the real attraction, an assemblage of the best of the best classics that is so prestigious that merely being invited is an honor. Winning gives lasting fame.

This year, a special class will be devoted to the cars of Parnelli Jones. In addition, there will be a class for Corvette race cars, rare Camaros, and Austin-Healey Sprites (the car with the bug-eyes). Rolls-Royce gets a special class limited to the Silver Ghost and Mercedes-Benz gets a special class limited to pre-War cars. Ferrari gets a class for its GT cars and Ford gets a class for the Model T. Duesenberg, in its own class even when new, gets it’s own class at Amelia. There’s even a class for “cars you never knew existed.”

But the core attraction at Amelia is always the classics: three classes devoted to American classics (divided by year of manufacture), two classes devoted to European classics of the same era, and one class devoted exclusively to French custom coachwork.

And, there is one other class, too – which explains why GM invited us:
“100 Years of General Motors.” Yes, GM is actually celebrating its centennial this year, and the exhibit at Amelia Island is part of that celebration. It provides a special opportunity to see the many historic vehicles which are part of the GM collection – a collection which it houses in its Heritage Center near Detroit, but does not open to the general public.

The reader is entitled to be envious – but you should be aware that there are certain downsides to this. First, of course, there’s the part where you have to leave the Ritz-Carleton. The Ritz-Carleton at Amelia Island is one of the highest ranked five star resorts in the United States. One of those places where the specialize in anticipating what you want before you realize you want it.

Then there are the cars. That one is going to be really, really tough.

Several years ago, I was privileged to visit the Nethercutt Collection in San Sylmar, California. The late Mr. Nethercutt created the most sumptuous collection of classic cars in the world (he won Best of Show at Pebble Beach a record six times), and funded it so that it would remain intact even after his death. Built with the money that came from a cosmetics empire and the wisdom that came from an inherent sense of good taste, Nethercutt insisted that his cars be perfect – right down to ensuring that every one is roadworthy, all of the time.

But, a strange thing happened as I walked past the rows and rows of classics. I barely paused in front of cars which, were it not for the setting, would have arrested my attention for an entire day. There were so many, all so magnificent, all so perfect – it was sensory overload.

So, I’m preparing myself. I want to take it all in, and I’ll do my best to relate it on this blog, right down to the stories behind the radiators.

Ralph Kalal
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