When Bill Warner decided to put together a world-class concours d’elegance, his goal wasn’t to have it become the world’s most glamourous affair, or the most prestigious event of its kind. His main ambition was to present a venue where motoring enthusiasts from around the world and from all arenas of the hobby ‘ including historians, racing fans, and those involved in the industry ‘ could gather to present, learn, and share, as well as celebrate their passion for the automobile.
Each year since its start, Warner has followed several of the “must-dos” of such an event, such as having an elegant location and saluting specific and important marques, segments of the hobby, designers, and mechanical innovations. But what makes the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance so special is his salute to some of the greatest motorsports figures.
Since his first concours in 1996, he has built a most impressive “Field of Fame,” including Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Don Garlits, Jim Hall, Junior Johnson, and others, who had piloted racing cars ranging from Formula 1, Indy 500, NASCAR, and drag racing. These are the true heroes of American racing fans.
For the 11th Annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, held March 12, 2006, and staged on the grounds of the elegant Ritz-Carlton Resort and Golf Club, Bill Warner added another jewel to the crown of legends by honoring three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford.
Members of the “triple-win” club at the Brickyard are very few, with just six others in this league. In addition to having all three of his Indy-winning cars on display, other cars, ranging from midgets to stock cars, all associated with this champion driver, were exhibited. And what better way for Rutherford to make an entrance than to drive one of his race cars onto the field, which he did at precisely 9:30 in the morning, taking a victory lap of sorts around the field of cars on display in his 1974 race-winning McLaren M16C, now owned by Patrick Ryan from Montgomery, Alabama.
While the Amelia Island Concours has become a gathering spot of some of the greatest living drivers ever, it is also a celebration of automobiles.
One of the special divisions this year promoted alternative fuels, and the event commemorated the 100th anniversary of the world land-speed record set by Fred Marriott, who drove a steam-powered wheeled rocket produced specifically for that purpose by F.E. Stanley. The date was January 26, 1906, and the location was Ormond Beach, Florida, a few miles south of Amelia Island. The speed, 127.659 miles per hour, was a mark that was not to be bested until the start of the second decade of the 20th Century.
To celebrate this event, the original Stanley Rocket, restored to its 1907 configuration and now owned by the city of Ormond Beach, was driven onto the field and displayed. In 1907, Marriott was attempting to best his own record when he lost control, causing the car to roll over numerous times and severely injuring the driver. Discovered in pieces back in the late 1940s, this early streamliner was eventually brought back to life and today looks better than it probably did 100 years ago.
Joining in to help celebrate steam power were another two dozen production steam-powered cars. The vast majority wore the Stanley nameplate, but others also represented Stanhope, Locomobile, and Doble. These steamers were just a small part of the entire field of nearly 300 invited cars, ranging in age from 1899 to 2006.
Without a doubt, the largest single entry ever seen at the Amelia Island Concours was the GM Futurliner, displayed by the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States in Auburn, Indiana. This impressive machine was a dead ringer and former stablemate to the unit sold in January at the Barrett-Jackson auction for $4,320,000.
Complementing this exhibition were four special concept cars from General Motors, including the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville and Parisienne, both from the Joe Bortz Blue Suede Shoes collection, plus the 1954 Buick Landau and 1955 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, both of these unique vehicles from the John O’Quinn collection.
While an amazing support staff helps pull off the Amelia Island Concours, it is really Bill Warner’s baby, and he is on top of every aspect of the event. Selecting the winners falls on the shoulders of more than 60 hand-picked judges, choosing winners in more than 40 categories. One of the most impressive events of the day is the introduction to the audience of the judges by Warner, complete with a brief background for each participant, done completely from memory.
In addition to alternative-fuel vehicles being saluted, the Amelia Island Concours also put the spotlight on the Can-Am series of racing. On the Saturday before the concours, a sell-out crowd was treated to a presentation reviewing this exciting series of powerful race cars and was presented with over a dozen racing legends, including Jim Hall, Hurley Heywood, Brian Redman, Sam Posey, and many more. You could tell by watching this group of former competitors that they enjoyed recalling many of their greatest wins, a few embarrassing losses, and little bits of trivia that the audience applauded.
Also saluted were the racing Jaguars from the 1950s, including the highly prized C-type, D-type, and XK-SS. This was in addition to another special exhibition of mini cars, a favorite with kids, which included Messerschmitts, Isettas, and a few marque names rarely seen, including Peel, Voison, and Velorex. Each year, an American Classic make is also celebrated, and this year saw the famous du Ponts gather on the green presenting one of the most impressive displays of these elegant vehicles ever seen.
In addition to these special classes were exhibits for Porsche, Ferrari, American Classics, wood-bodied cars, and even motorcycles. Everywhere you looked there was another wonder on wheels which made one observer wonder out loud, “Where does Bill Warner find them all?”
After careful judging of these cars, many of them far exceeding perfection, the top award for the 2006 Amelia Island Concours, the Ritz-Carlton Best in Show Award, was presented to the 1931 du Pont Model H Sport Phaeton owned by Richard Riegel. Of nearly equal stature was the Ritz-Carlton Best in Concours d’Sport Award presented to the 1961 Ferrari 250-TR roadster owned by Lee and Joan Herrington.