A few miles north of my home in Jacksonville lies one of the best car events in North America. Every year, the old, moss-laden oaks seem to bow a little more to honor the hundreds of millions worth of cars that sputter up the back roads to a singular destination: The Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton. Home to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance for a 22nd consecutive year; the hotel is a golf and beach resort nestled between picturesque the reed-covered dunes of the Atlantic and troves of bent, old oaks and palm trees made crooked by the sea breeze. At its center along the front greens of its award-winning golf course sits row upon row of classic cars from every era, country, or marque imaginable. Within the resort you’ll quickly find celebrities of the automotive world. A casual elevator encounter with legendary racer Derek Bell solidified, for me, the people you’ll find on the quaint island over the weekend. Just beyond the elevators and a hedge sat Derek’s Porsche 917k which he raced at Spa Francorchamp not far from the original DB5 from Goldfinger. Spectacular!
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My weekend on Amelia Island started, not surprisingly, late with a mad dash from Jacksonville up to Amelia Island Friday night to make a dinner hosted by BMW honoring famed racer Brian Redman. Arriving to the Talbot Room the dinner crowd was comprised of both media, BMW executives and legends like Sam Posey, David Hobbs, and, of course, Brian Redman, looking very on-point for someone who just recently celebrated his 80th birthday. After a short dinner we were treated to a Q&A session with Mr. Redman were he spoke candidly about his time racing with BMW Motorsport in its early days in North America and claiming a win at Daytona in the alluring white and BMW Motorsport-livery CSL – conveniently located just ahead of my table. As Brian spoke, he managed to captivate the entire room for nearly 2 hours telling of how he was nearly killed in a Formula 5000 accident in Canada and that David Hobbs was the only driver to visit him. Other stories included what it felt like to be at the notoriously rowdy parties at the infield of the 12 Hours of Sebring and some of the horrific injuries he endured during a career that spanned one of the deadliest periods of motorsport. Reflecting on his conversation with the audience revealed what should be obvious – the man is the embodiment of the golden era of racing.
My next morning started not unlike that of Jessica Walter in the film Grand Prix. Sleeping off a decidedly poor decision to mix wine and bourbon from the night at the makeshift club in the lobby, I awoke to the noise of a high-revving V12 6 floors beneath my room. Hangover be damned I grabbed my cameras and headed into the crisp morning air to the show green to see all that would be on display for the main event. Predictably, I made a quick path directly to BMW’s.
On hand for the show, BMW brought 3 prominent M3’s as a gasoline-filled pint glass toast to the M3 celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017. Fittingly, the cars on hand were the 2011-2012 M3 GT campaigned by BMW Team RLL successfully to a GTLM championship win, the Daytona 24 and championship-winning E36 M3, and the grandfather of them all: an E30 M3 DTM car.
Walking across nearly 30 years of racecars was revealed the E30 M3 to be almost basic within the cabin. A roll cage, seat, gear lever and steering wheel with a large windscreen to see which Mercedes-Benz 190E it intended to pick off next. Nothing to distract the driver. Juxtaposed to this the E92 M3 GT was equipped with a sequential gearbox, digital rev-counter and massive aero enhancements front and rear; if the E92 is digital then the E30 is most certainly the analog. Both were beautiful in their execution but represented book-ends for how far the M3 has come as both a racecar and road car. Speaking of road cars, later that same day, the already cherished BMW M2 won AUTOMOBILE Magazine’s All-Star Award for reasons that should be obvious to EVERYONE!
Moving thru the BMW Classic tent revealed more gems from Munich’s collection. Front and center was the famous “Elvis 507” – a white 507 Roadster owned by the King of Rock n Roll during his stint in the army that stationed him in Germany. The priceless car (it is rumored that BMW once shot down Jerry Seinfeld’s request to use the 507 for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee) was flanked by period 503 sedans – all meticulously kept and so pristine it looked as though they’d just come from a Munich assembly line. Fittingly, a gentleman in lederhosen accompanied these beauties for much of the day.
Stepping into the Classic tent was like stepping into a BMW showroom from the late 1970’s or 80’s with a Dolphin Gray E30 325is sitting opposite a Hellrot Z1 roadster and Alpina-tuned 3.0Si sedan wearing beautiful Ronal-made Alpina Classic wheels. Just to the 325’s left sat a very clean E28 M5 showing no signs of slowing down at the ripe age of 29. While muted compared to last year’s 100th anniversary of the marque, the display captured many of the facets that have made and continue to make BMW such a compelling company to drive. Stepping over to McLaren’s display of a Papaya Orange McLaren F1 LM sporting a BMW Motorsport S70 V12 further grounded that point.
The BMW Classic tent was a display of prowess in decades of building engaging and beautiful machines.
By day’s end, we found ourselves back at the Classic tent as the sun began to set; painting the classic bimmers in a beautiful orange glow. As the sun slipped behind the mossy oaks and BMW Classic began to pack up these cars with the same care given to a museum exhibit, I suddenly remembered all the reasons why I love this brand.
To my left sat the cars of BMW Motorsport, hugely successful around the world and to my right a litany of classics spanning a 60 year timeframe. – all of them equally impressive and standouts in the car world from their respective eras. I do love this brand and when it comes time to put cash down for a new one the link to that wonderful heritage always makes that letting go of that money even easier. If that weren’t enough then just remember BMW’s were good enough for the King of Rock n Roll!