In Year 25, the racing heart of the Amelia Island Concours still beats strong

Bill Warner’s annual Florida festival celebrates motorsports — the cars and the people

amelia 2020
Racing cars -- and not just Roger Penske's -- were prominent at Amelia Island during the 2020 concours d'elegance | Kevin A. Wilson photos

It’s the sound of racing engines that makes the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance distinct from many other such events. Founder and chairman Bill Warner’s background, contacts, and circles of friends all orbit the world of motorsports, and so has his event, which for each of its 25 outings has named an “honoree,” all of them racers. 

Bill Warner

This year, that person was Roger Penske, and there was a reunion, of sorts, for many of the past honorees. In only a few minutes, we’d spotted Derek Bell, Hurley Haywood, Brian Redman, and David Hobbs.

The Penske-centric classes (three — for cars he’d driven, cars his team has owned, and for some of his cars that won the Indy 500) were all made up of race cars, of course, and there were classes for other racers from before WW1, between the world wars, and several to cover the eras since WW2. 

Racing heritage was also evident in the classes for Duesenbergs, Loziers, and a group of called Porsche Firsts to mark the 50th anniversary of that firm’s first victory at Le Mans. 

It’s not that the show is just about racing, it’s just that it tilts more strongly in that direction than do, say, the concours at Pebble Beach, St. John’s near Detroit, or Hilton Head. And that makes it sound awesome when the cars fire up and pass in review to collect their awards, crackling and spitting and snorting like thoroughbreds. 

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The field also had a large display centered around the new Corvette C8, a class of cars designed by Sergio Scaglietti to recognize the 100th anniversary of his birth, and another of cars designed by GM Design chief Harley Earl. 

There was a class for tiny cars called “That’s Cute” and another for American cars wearing bodywork from Europe, ensuring plenty of variety for the crowd.

Cars of the Penske class
AMC’s Trans Am series racing effort was going nowhere until the company convinced Penske to switch from Camaros and Mark Donohue claimed the 1971 championship
Collecting an award is the first Trans Am racing Camaro campaigned by Roger Penske’s team, a 1967 model. The team was barely a year old
Penske Indy winner driven by Mark Donohue

Speaking of the crowd, attendees were advised to take precautions in light of the Covid-19 coronavirus, but organizers decided to go ahead with not only the main event but all the ancillary activities such as auctions, seminars, and a Saturday Cars and Coffee show on the main field. It all looked well-attended and the crowd was packed in pretty tightly inside on Saturday and outdoors on Sunday. 

It may have been the last such automotive gathering in Florida for a while, as prominent activities as soon as the following weekend were being closed to spectators or postponed until later dates.

If you wanted to fill your ears with the sounds of live racing engines and the sight of real racing heroes in Florida, it seems, Amelia Island was your best bet this March.

A class dedicated to Loziers must acknowledge the firm’s entry, driven by Ralph Mumford, in the first Indy 500 of 1911. Corky Coker, of time fame, recreated that race car
Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows, including historic W25 Silver Arrow
Chevrolet’s ‘Corvette GS-II’ prototype, a progenitor of the Chaparral 2, joined the company’s giant display of historic mid-engine Corvettes leading to today’s C8; Amelia Island marked its first public appearance outside the Chaparral Gallery at the Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas
This 1936 Derby Bentley Coupe was built for a prince of the royal family of Thailand to use while studying in England
You’ve got to be careful at Amelia, you might get run over by a Lancia Stratos!
This 1937 Delahaye has been restored to how it looked when the Figoni-designed coachwork was first built
At Amelia Island, cars awaiting the call to receive awards often resemble a race starting grid

First-place winners got trophies like featuring Mark Donohue’s Indy-winning 1972 McLaren/Offy, Penske’s first victory in the 500
Even temperamental race cars like this IMSA GTU Mazda RX-7 are expected to drive through the pass-in-review to accept awards

Kevin A. Wilson is a freelance automotive editor, writer and historian working in the Detroit area. Currently a contributing editor to both Car and Driver and Popular Mechanics, he previously worked at AutoWeek magazine in various roles including Executive Editor, Senior Editor for Special Projects and as a columnist. He has served as a judge at many automotive art shows, car shows and concours, and is chief judge for the annual Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show. He lives in Waterford, MI with his wife Toni in the same home where they raised their three sons.


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