The annual Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance honors some of the country's top collector vehicles and typically draws a veritable who's who of the automotive world. Held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Golf Resort in Amelia Island, Florida, it offers the perfect venue to inspect some of the rare street and racing machines--including Corvettes--that have contributed to the design of today's cars. Each year Concours founder and chairman Bill Warner selects an appropriate celebrity to serve as the show's Grand Marshal. This year he chose "Quick" Vic Elford, a former factory Porsche racing driver who accumulated many victories during his career. Of note to Corvette fans, Elford piloted the amazing Vette-powered Chaparral 2J "Sucker" car during the 1970 season.
Thanks to GM, we drove a red '12 Grand Sport convertible to this year's event. Even we were surprised by how many people approached us to ask about the car. Seven years into its production run, the C6 Corvette continues to draw plenty of admiring looks and positive comments.
On Sunday we found a large number of significant racing Corvettes arrayed upon the resort's immaculate golf course. Our first stop was Zora Arkus-Duntov's Corvette SS. This rare prototype made its racing debut at the 1957 Sebring 12-hour race. Two were built--a test mule and this SS race car. The mule was later converted into the Sting Ray Racer and campaigned by GM designer Bill Mitchell. The race car was driven by John Fitch and Piero Taruffi, and it completed 23 laps before being withdrawn due to a mechanical failure. Shortly after the race, GM banned factory racing and the SS never saw action again.
Fortunately, Duntov's racing passion was not diminished by the ban. He secretly worked behind the scenes with many race teams to provide the parts needed to beat the competition.
Jim Hall, a Texas oilman, was a big beneficiary of Duntov's help when he was developing his Chaparral race cars. The Chaparrals featured state-of-the-art construction and aerodynamics that turned them into world-beaters. Many of these design ideas came from deep inside GM engineering.
On display at Amelia were the Chaparral 2D and 2J. The 2D was Corvette powered and featured a modified two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. This car won 16 races in 1965 and captured the overall victory at the 1965 12 Hours of Sebring. Sitting nearby was the 2J "sucker car," which employed two snow-blower motors mounted at the rear to help suck the car to the ground. The 2J was banned for using unfair technology after its first racing season.
Continuing on, we spotted noted Corvette restorer Kevin Mackay standing next to the Leldon Blackwell L88 race car, which he'd recently returned to as-raced condition for current owner John Sloane. The Blackwell Vette is yet another example of a vehicle Duntov managed to support even while GM's motorsports ban was in place. Thanks in part to his efforts, this big-block monster won numerous races around the globe.
Sitting close by was an '01 C5-R that was driven by Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell. It has been carefully maintained and is currently part of the GM Heritage Center collection.
A special section was set aside for factory "styling" cars, and a number of noteworthy Corvettes were featured there. These included the '61 Mako Shark, the '68 Astro II, and the CERV III, all of which were on loan from the Heritage Center. Sprinkled among these historic Vettes were a number of lesser-known--though no less impressive--styling C2 coupes and convertibles, along with one C3 that was built for Bill Mitchell before he retired.
As in previous years, the event offered an exceptional cross section of important cars from around the globe and throughout history. And while it's not strictly a Corvette show, the collection of Corvettes on hand at Amelia is invariably impressive. Factor in the natural beauty Florida's northeast coast, and it's easy to see why many consider the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance to be among the year's most compelling events.