Classic cars on Amelia Island

By Andrew Court

The guy with the goatee rocked back and forth in his sockless Ferragamo loafers. He was visibly nervous as the Panama hat and blue blazer-attired judges approached him and his prewar Mercedes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars probably went into this moment of truth.

He jumped the gun. Before a question was asked he blurted out, “It’s all original,” and “It was owned by the French Ambassador.” The gray haired arbiters of automotive perfection shot a gaze that clearly said they were the one’s asking the questions. Quietly, they made marks on their clipboards. Mr. Goatee sweated under his unseasonably wooly newsboy.

It’s the final day at the Amelia Island Concours, one of the top classic car shows in the United States. This isn’t about Instagram points or curb appeal; it’s about pedigree and originality, as well as anal obsession with detail. The show is held annually in Florida on a resort island close to the Georgia border. Established in 1996, it fittingly takes place on the golf course of the Ritz Carlton. In the United States it’s second only to Pebble Beach.

Jay Gatsby is famous for saying “of course you can repeat the past,” and the judges here are likely to agree. Many of the cars would have looked at home in the fictional character’s Long Island driveway with their showroom fresh paint. On the western side of the fairway are swooping, theatrical Bugattis and Rolls Royces, alongside Duesenbergs and wood-paneled Chryslers. Preppy older women sit in the passenger’s seats to avoid the sun and later the rain, patiently waiting for their first lunch cocktail. I can’t imagine the 2024 show is that different from the 2004 edition.

The stakes are high. A win can significantly increase a car’s value and reputation. Also, big money is changing hands at the auctions. In 2023 the total sales were around $178 million. While fun is possible, it’s not a fun event. Competitors were there to win, get a good deal, and protect generational wealth.

The previous evening had been decidedly more relaxed. The Hangar is an ancillary event aimed literally at the jet set with a private plane charter company as the sponsor. A live band played and cocktails shaked, providing the rhythm for car viewing. The selection of vehicles was more approachable, anchored by McLarens and modern Rolls you might be able to lease with with a hefty bonus check. All in all, this was a welcome injection of frivolity into the proceedings.

I had the chance to speak to the two founders, who brought the event down from their home in the Hamptons. Jeffery Einhorn, a Manhattan Lawyer who has become a central figure in the East Coast car scene, seemed to be the serious enthusiast. Contemplating the show, he said “you really need to go get lost and speak to a few owners to find some stories, have a drink and a good time.”

Entering the airfield hangar, a rat-rodded Gullwing Mercedes set the more casual tone. After writing about the Carrera Panamericana, I was excited to see a Porsche 356 back fresh from the competition. The drivers told anyone who would listen that they drove the car from Charlotte to the starting line in Guadalajara, and back again.

The Hangar, self-described as an afternoon aperitivo, was more of a lifestyle than a strictly car event. In that context, I was left wondering about their competition at Moda Miami. The Miami upstart had been scheduled in Coral Gables for exactly the same weekend, going head-to-head with the venerable Amelia event.

When asked about the competition, Shamin Abas, the Hangar’s cofounder, after a pregnant pause, answered, “They are wonderful people.” The PR maven turned car girl also went on to say that Amelia has “a real core community of people who wouldn’t miss this for the world” and they “are looking for real authenticity.” The last comment I took as a dig against the parvenue Moda in MIA, but maybe my social antenna is a little too finely tuned.

Back at the primary Amelia show, the mood was decidedly genteel. This year North Carolina car dealer and NASCAR owner Rick Hendrick was being honored. He took the opportunity to bring his A collection. Crowds swarmed his Shelby Mustangs, Cobras, and stock cars reminiscent of America’s bootlegger past.

Objectively, the single most prestigious car was the 1962 Ferrari GTO brought by WeatherTech Founder and CEO David MacNeil. Among the car’s racing achievements was a fourth overall in the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans, and outright victory in the 1964 Tour de France race. MacNeil had recently had his ankle replaced and was finally able to push in the clutch. I’m not sure how much time I would spend driving a car that’s worth over 70 million dollars, but hey, that’s just me. 

The 250 GTO, unsurprisingly, went on to win best in show.

My favorite cars tended to be classic’s that had been lived in a bit, not super high-dollar trailer queens. A Ferrari 250 Lusso GT caught my eye. It was a production era sibling of the MacNeil GTO but it was designed for road tripping. The owners had clearly put it to work, with pictures of family trips and track days sitting in front of the grill. The interior had the smell of oil and memories, exactly what we’ll miss most in the electric car revolution.

Driving back home, it was hard to know what to make of the event. I was used to the more crypto-bro-friendly Miami scene, but this had an aura of genteel southern hospitality. To be honest, a bit more excitement would have done the proceedings some good. It all felt a bit stiff and I could see this event being a turn off for younger collectors. Cruising around Fernandina Beach, the closest town, you would have no idea the event was even happening.

We saw a few signs of life as guys from the Porsche Club of America showed up at the bar. At first they tried their hand with the local girls, but apparently discussing the Stuttgart options list is not a great way to rizz 22-year-olds. The young ladies quickly drifted back to their own corners despite the German crested keys dangling like bait at the fishing hole.

Will this establishment show continue to draw crowds into the coming years, Who knows? If Hagerty, the event organizers, decide to ask my humble opinion I would lead with a quote from the Italian author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

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