Tim and I have known each other since 2016 when I bought an MG TC from his dealership Motorland. This turned into me being made their insurance agent as well as being heavily involved with the launch of the museum on the same site as the dealership. I wrote most of the description cards for the museum cars, helped acquire cars for the museum at auction and, thru private party sales, have been an unofficial part of the team ever since.
Tim called because they were planning to enter their 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 SS Berlinetta by Touring in The Amelia Concours. I knew the car well knew and while at present it was not perfect, I felt that I was able to get it into concours shape for the show.
Since I spend around 50 percent of my life talking about cars professionally, serve as a judge at many top Concours events, and am excellent telling a car’s story, Tim asked me if I would present the car for the museum at The Amelia.
I said yes of course as the opportunity to present a car as magnificent as this 1939 Alfa is does not come around every day, and since The Amelia is my very favorite concours, it seemed like a great adventure.
But all that was just the beginning of a journey. Later that week, and armed with various concours judging sheets, I took a 3 ½ hour drive to Maine to evaluate the car and to put together a plan for getting it ready for the concours.
On arriving at the museum, and wearing my concours judging hat, I did a complete evaluation just as I would if I were judging it on the show field, taking many pictures as I looked at various parts of the car. I noticed a quite a few details that were incorrect, everything from horrible Excelsior radial tires and modern hose clamps to incorrect engine hardware and modern rubber plug leads. I also took note of the condition of the paint and chrome as well as the interior. I documented everything and came up with a general idea as to where the car would be ranked at a top-tier concours like The Amelia, where in its present condition it would likely score somewhere in the high 70s to low 80s on a 100-point scale.
This score would not put it in the running for an award so I made two lists, one of the most critical items and the other for other things that would need attention before the trip to Florida.
After meeting with the car’s owner Miles Prentice and discussing my plan of action, I returned home and started on two separate missions, one to ascertain what parts I needed to make the Alfa correct, along with where to get the parts, and secondly to find out as much of the story about the car’s history as I could. This involved hundreds of internet searches, emails and phone calls to the various experts on pre-war Alfas. I received a tremendous amount of info about the car, some of it correct and come incorrect.
One of the experts I contacted said that the interior of the car was completely incorrect for the model. This bothered me. I wondered why would someone restoring this stunning car wouldn’t make the interior correct. That person pointed out various interior details he said were completely wrong. Since I did not have time to redo the entire interior, I filed this information for later investigation.
The majority of the parts needed were engine hardware. After speaking with my friend and fellow collector and expert Keith Duly, I made a call to Jim Stokes Workshops, a pre-war Alfa restoration expert business in the UK. I emailed parts manager Duncan all the detail photos I had taken and we came up with a list of the various parts to get the engine compartment back to what it was when the car was new. I cannot thank Duncan Lawler the Stores Controller and the rest of the staff at Jim Stokes Workshops enough for the guidance and assistance they happily provided during this project.
One of the interior details that I knew was not original was the steering wheel. I went to see a few similar pre-war Alfas, including one that was exactly the same year, model, and Coachbuilder as the museum’s 1939 6C, and all had black-finished, pre-war and very plain steering wheels. I asked a friend if I could possibly borrow a steering wheel for the concours and, to my amazement, he agreed. This just goes to show how kind the people in our hobby are.
A week later I was at the Barrett-Jackson auction during Arizona Auction Week and dropped by the Coker Tire booth. I had looked for the tires I needed on the Coker website before I left and had found none. I figured why not ask and see if the company could help out; if not, I’d have to have them shipped from the UK. As it turned out, Coker had a set of Michelin bias ply tires in the exact size needed and for a price that was much less than the vendors in the UK. They only had a single set of these tires in stock, so I ordered them on the spot and had them shipped to Maine.
After returning from Arizona, I went back to work on the project as we only had a little over a month left to get the car not only ready but delivered to Florida. I made one of my most important calls during this entire process, to Tim McNair, the owner of Grand Prix Concours and the star of the new Hagerty video series Behind the Details. I sent him an extensive number of pictures of the car as it was and engaged his services to make the car concours ready once everything was in place.
Over the next two weeks I dug into finding more information about chassis 915.005, researching in books about Alfas of the era and making countless phone calls to previous owners of the car. I got a little more information with each and started to discover the history of this specific car. John Kruse of Worldwide Auctioneers, where the car had been purchased, was quite helpful, but I still had a lot of holes in the cars story.
What I learned was fascinating. This 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Berlinetta by Touring began construction in 1938 and was completed in 1939. But beyond that there is a big hole in the 915.005’s story. As it turned out, the car was imported from Italy into Canada at the end of WW2 by a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot named Elmer Leigh. He owned the car for decades, eventually moving himself and his Alfa to Colorado in the 1960s. Leigh’s grandson inherited the car in 1986, after which 915.005 was offered for sale. The car was offered on consignment by racer and restorer Steven Tillack. A 1987 advertisement for the car in Classic & Sports Car magazine placed by Tiillack&Company had the car listed with an asking price of $75,000.
Tillack sold the Alfa to the Deventer Car Museum in Holland and from there it went to noted Alfa collector Raoul San Giorgi.
The car had been partially restored in 1992, using all its original body panels, chassis, engine, gearbox, and rear end, but mark red paint and lacking its bumpers. It next sold in Holland, where pictures show 915.005 its bumpers, but still painted dark red and lacking its slotted wheel skirts.
In 2006 the owner submitted the car for a total restoration by none other than the people who had originally built its coachwork, Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera S.r.l., in Milan, Italy. During that work, the bare “under restoration” body shell was exhibited at first edition of Milano Autoclassica in February 2012.
Following completion of the restoration, the car was displayed by Touring in February 2013 at the Retromobile show in Paris, with the body painted and fully finished and with the glass, lights, bumpers, and brightwork all fitted.
The car was bought by the museum in Maine in 2019.
The research it took to create this history was staggering. I originally thought it might take no more than 50 hours, which in hindsight was absolutely crazy.
In addition to the research and cosmetic work the car needed, we had a number of mechanical issues to attend to. These were handled by Motorland America. Ralph and his team did a great job on dealing with brake issues, mounting the new tires, as well as countless other tasks.
The week before The Amelia, Tim McNair and I headed up to Maine to get the car in true concours readiness. Tim did 95 percent of the work, but I was able to help out with a number of little jobs such as detailing tires and wheels. By the time Tim finished, it was as if there was a newly restored Alfa 6C in front of us. The cloudy look of all the alloy trim was gone, the look of the paint was at a completely new level, and even the plexiglass side windows were completely clear for the first time in years. The engine compartment and chassis were just as clean as the paint and the car was as ready as it could possibly be for the show field.
The car left the museum that Saturday and made its way to Amelia, set to arrive on Wednesday.
I flew into Jacksonville on Wednesday morning, carrying my original and loaner steering wheel on board with me. On arrival, I met my friend John Saccameno, an Alfa expert and owner of Sport and Specialty Restorations shop in Illinois.
We took delivery of the car at The Ritz Carlton and immediately had a major issue. The car would not start.
Since we needed to get the car out from in front of the Ritz valet parking area where it was blocking everyone, the entire valet team helped us push the car into the valet parking garage. The Ritz valet team were simply amazing and proved to be a great help for the entire weekend.
John and I immediately went to work. The car would turn over, but just refused to fire. After many hours of diagnosis, we decided at around 7 p.m. to call it a day start fresh Thursday morning. We also needed to buy or borrow some tools to better work on the car as our tool kit was lacking many tools we needed.
Early Thursday morning, we headed to Auto Zone to pick up tools and other items we might need. This eventually turned into three trips to Auto Zone as the day went on. Finally, after 3 hours of work, John noticed while trying to prime the three Weber carbs with their manual priming levers that there was no longer any fuel in the fuel filter. I was told that the electric fuel pump was triggered by the ignition, so I did not know what the issue could be.
I called another friend, Lars Mapstead, who has a vast collection of classic hot rods with modern electric fuel pumps, and he told me he’d bet that there was a hidden fuel pump switch. After fumbling around everywhere in the interior, I found the switch behind the dash. I pulled the switch, waited a bit for the pump to prime the carbs, and the car fired and ran.
After it warmed up, John and I took the car out to celebrate and to ascertain if it was good enough to drive in the tour the next day. After about a 6-mile drive in the car we decided for a number of reasons to pass on the Amelia tour. You see if the car had any issues during the tour which would prevent it from running on the show field Sunday then according to the rules the car could be exclude from receiving an award. Better to have an award than to go on a road tour.
Even on Friday, I was still trying to find information about the interior specification. I had no pictures of the car when it was still in original spec and was concerned about the details regarding the seats and the door cards of our car. In addition I still needed to swap out the steering wheel ad still needed to finish my document to present to the judges Sunday. I was definitely in high stress mode.
I had made a call to Manny Dragone a few days earlier as he at one time had 915.005 on consignment at his dealership. He called me Saturday afternoon and we discussed the car’s interior and how it had been when original. He asked if I had the photos of the car prior to its first restoration when it was still completely original? My reaction was photos? What photos?
He sent along a set of photos, one of which showed 915.005’s interior in the early 1970s when it was still owned by the Canadian pilot. The interior, which was quite worn, was obviously completely original, including the restored door panels, seats, braided door pulls, and even the wood accessory steering wheel which was still on our car. This was one of the most important data points I received as I felt that the other person who told me it was wrong might be incorrect. This enabled me to finish my presentation and be able to discuss the cars interior details with the judges should it come up.
Another nice detail that the photos clearly showed was that the car was originally black and not red as it had been restored to in the past. We knew this because the dash was black in these newly found pictures.
At 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, John and I headed to the Ritz valet parking garage, got in the car and headed for the show field. You see if we placed the car on Saturday, we could pick our spot in the xrow for our class on the show field. We decided this was a good plan as our competition in the class was going to be tough and we wanted every advantage. If we could place the car in a way that would mean it was not blocked from view by other cars, we were going to do so.
We were third in line to drive in and were able to place the car at the beginning of the row of cars in the class. I called Tim McNair and let him know that the car was placed on the field and ready for a final pre-concours wipe down. He came over and did his magic, after which we covered the car with a cloth and two plastic car covers to attempt to combat the dew which would settle over the evening.
I got very little sleep Saturday night. I was showing a big car at Amelia for my first time. Earlier in the day, I had run into Amelia founder Bill Warner and told him what I was showing. His response was that I certainly had gone big with my first car presentation at such an event.
I woke up at 5:15 a.m. Sunday, got into my best suit, including my Alfa Romeo tie and cufflinks, and headed to the field to get the car all sorted out. I ran into my friend, Concours d’ Lemons founder Alan Galbraith, and after the sun came up he and I did a final prep on the car, getting rid of the dew present despite the car being protected with three layers of car covers. I thanked him for his help and told him to show up after the event was over and that we would drive the car to Peters Point to get it loaded back up.
At this point it was all about rehearsing my presentation and waiting. Usually being on the other side of the concours process as a judge, I only got to see the kind of stress involved. Now I was to experience it. My friend and collector Peter Gleason advised me to be professional and to follow the judges lead, and even if I knew them to be respectful and formal unless they indicated otherwise.
During the time before judging people kept coming up to me and engaging in various conversations, none of which I remember. I was not trying to seem distant to any of them but my mind was completely wrapped up into what was to come. I talk about cars all the time, on video, during auction tours, and even on the auction block a few times, and have never been nervous beforehand.
This was a completely different experience. I was the person tasked with giving the best presentation possible about a client’s car at my favorite concours.
Just before the judges arrived at our car, I called my best friend, Jimmy, and he said to remember that we had done our very best and that at the end of the day this was just a car show. This was exactly what I needed to hear.
My Judges were lead judge Ed Welburn, Ken Gross, and Dr. Peter Larsen. Two of our three are old friend and I introduced myself with, “hello Mr. Welburn and Mr. Gross.” Ed replied, “Andy, it’s Ed, tell us about your beautiful car.” This friendly comment removed my nervousness and I was able to discuss 915.005 articulately and completely. Dr. Larsen is a pre-war expert and I was happy to notice that he paid particular attention to every one of the details I had dealt with. He asked about the interior and the accessory steering wheel and I was able to show him the photo in my presentation that Manny had sent me the night before, proving that the car was restored correctly.
The judges thanked the owner, Miles Prentice, and me for bringing the car to The Amelia and then the waiting began. Since all I had eaten all day was the world’s worst doughnut, I went to the VIP area and ate a light lunch with Ed Welburn and my motorcycle friend restorer and builder Paul Tuttle Jr. This was great as it was the first time since Wednesday that I had time to relax. The car had been judged and there was nothing more to do but wait for the results and then get the car to the transporter afterward.
I came back from lunch and about 30 minutes later and met Mark Gessler from the Mille Miglia, who had an award for us. We had been selected to receive a Spirit of the Mille Miglia trophy, which was not only a honor but gave a guaranteed acceptance into this prestigious event. I thanked Mark and we took pictures with him and the car with the award.
I thought that with the competition in our class, we were good just winning that award. One of the Rolls-Royce cars was a Maharaja-owned from new custom cabriolet and I was not hopeful about our chances. People all seemed to love our car, but how would the judges feel?
Around 45 minutes after Mark gave us the Mille Miglia award our judges were back, this time with a red ribbon and a trophy. I was thrilled, stunned, and felt vindicated for all the work it had taken to get to the event. We ended up with an Amelia award. This might not sound like much, but it is essentially second place. We were up against two coachbuilt Rolls Royces, two Delahayes, a coachbuilt Peugeot, and a DuPont. Both the owner and I were thrilled and celebrated with pictures of the entire team with the car and the award.
It was all over. The Amelia concours finally came to an end, we had won an Amelia award and the Mille Miglia award. I was physically and emotionally spent. Regardless of how I felt it was time to pack up our chairs and other stuff and head to the car transport area. Alan and I loaded the car with all our stuff, we drove off of the field heading toward the Peters Point drop off area.
As we turned the corner leaving the field, the service road ahead was lined with tons of people waiting to see cars to drive off. They waved and cheered as we drove past. This is something many people will never see unless you drive your car to the load out area yourself and it was simply overwhelming to the point that both Alan and I, who were documenting the trip off the field with video, were speechless — and if you know us this is not a normal condition for either of us. After everyone’s hard work, we had won at the concours with our beautiful Alfa and all of these people had been waiting for cars like ours to drive by so they could continue to celebrate and get one last look at the cars. I never knew that people did this at Amelia, much like dawn patrol in reverse. It was the perfect cap to this amazing event.