This past weekend marked the 2014 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and the BMW brand was represented with some very important models. The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, nestled just south of the Georgia-Florida state line and just north of Jacksonville, has become one of the premier events in the U.S., along with Pebble Beach, for car auctions and car shows allowing patrons to see anything from a McLaren P1 to a 1950’s Chrysler concept car to a Porsche 956 all the way back to a turn of the century Packard – all under an elegant, picturesque setting of the front green of the Ritz Carlton hotel flanked by both the sandy dunes of the Atlantic and moss-laden oak trees and marsh.
For 2014, BMW made a big splash both on their turn out and their own display as well as privately held collections. The Gooding auction kicked off Friday with a 1958 BMW 507 going under the gavel for a hair over $1.8 million while a BMW M1 closed out for nearly $400,000. As day turned to night, I was lucky enough to attend a dinner comprised of an audience far more capable behind the wheel than I. A quick scan of the room revealed the likes of racing greats such as Bobby Rahal, Brian Redman, Derek Bell, Sam Posey, Jochen Mass, and the affable, hilarious David Hobbs. BMW threw a terrific dinner in the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton honoring Hobbs and his time with BMW. By way of an interview conducted by Sam Posey, Hobbs took the audience back to the Golden Era of racing with his stories piloting 320i Turbos and M1’s – doing so many times with outrageous humor and wonderful story-telling.
The following morning, I scoured the grounds of the Ritz, along with a few thousand other people. Most notably, walking towards the front entrance of the hotel I noticed a low slung, electric blue wedge. Sure enough, an i8 in Protonic Blue was lounging underneath a handful of palm trees in the company of an Austin Yellow M4 and Hellrot E30 M3 – quite the legacy to measure up to – but the i8 certainly looks to be up to the task. Certainly it was no accident that the i8 was parted adjacent to a 1978 M1!
Moving onto the golf course, BMW was represented on Saturday morning by a decade-spanning field. The BMW contingent was comprised of a flock of E9’s (some CSLs and some CSI’s) all of the group speckled in colors like Fjord Blue, Polaris Silver and Chamonix White. A trio of racing CSL’s led the pack with winners of the 1975 12 Hours of Sebring and 1976 24 Hours of Daytona best representing the brand’s racing legacy. Tucked away in the pack were other gems such as a mint 850CSi, an E21 320i presented by BMW Classic, and a mashup of numerous M cars.
Sunday was show day and BMW did not disappoint. Beyond the handful of racing CSL’s spanning the early to mid-1970’s and the 1977 David Hobbs’ 320i Turbo, BMW of North America brought out a jewel in the crown of Bavarian classics, the original BMW Art Car: The Alexander Calder CSL.
The amalgam of red, blue, yellow and white strafing the CSL’s body was commissioned just a year or so prior to Calder’s death though the car would go on to compete in the 1975 24 Hours of Le Mans, piloted by two Frenchmen Poulain and Guichet along with the great American racer and writer Sam Posey. Though the car would not finish the race, the flashy CSL would launch a fleet of Art Car projects by BMW that stretched another four decades. Lucky for me, after a 39 year journey, I was able to view the very first. Today, ensconced in a glass cage, it sat on the green of the Amelia Island Ritz Carlton – presenting itself to the world again and looking none worse for the wear. It’s certainly a rarity for car enthusiasts to celebrate both fine art and fine automobiles in a single form.
Beyond the Calder CSL, a relative Mona Lisa of the show, the flock of racing CSL’s crossed the show grounds for judging. Interestingly, the 3.5L factory CSL with driving of duo Brian Redman and Ronnie Peterson took home first in its class – proudly sporting a blue ribbon on the driver’s front quarter panel as it glided through the droves of onlookers. The BMW-powered McLaren F1 GTR? Sadly, it didn’t receive the same warm welcome.
While relatively young in the car world, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance has managed to successfully merge both old and new world automobiles under a canopy of blue skies and mossy oak trees. It’s great to see that BMW as a brand have committed so heavily to providing its own spin on an already stellar field of classics and performance cars. If you have not had a chance to make it to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance then do it next year. The thousands of people who continue to set record attendance for the event demand it!
Special thanks to BMW of North America for the invitation to Friday’s dinner and the terrific time had listening to the stories of racing legends.