2011 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

Anyone convinced that the popularity of American cars is on the decline would surely have been given pause by the events that transpired at Amelia Island, Florida on Sunday, March 13.  OK, admittedly, it’s not like the new Ford Focus or Chevy Cruze won anyone’s car of the year.  But the historical component of American automobile design received a resounding thumbs-up when two pre-war Duesenbergs shared top honors at the annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

Now in its 16th year, the Amelia Island show has grown to become one of America’s most prestigious concours d’elegance, trailing only Pebble Beach in exclusivity and overall cachet.  Truth be told, many collectors and enthusiasts actually prefer the Amelia Island event, as it has not yet been overwhelmed by the mass of spectators that have hampered Pebble in recent years with long lines, challenging parking, and a sometimes unpleasantly crowded field.  Boasting an unprecedented attendance of roughly 20,000 visitors and displaying almost 300 top-quality collectible automobiles from a variety of countries and eras, the 2011 Amelia Island Concours highlighted the marques of Duesenberg, Allard and Kurtis.

With the Best in Show awards divided between a luxury category and a sports car category, the 1935 Duesenberg SJ Speedster (pictured above) owned by Harry Yeaggy of Cincinnati, Ohio took the prize for Best in Show, Concours de Sport.  The highly unusual and distinctive one-off special, also known as the Mormon Meteor, has frequently made collector car news headlines over the last decade, selling for a record high $4.45 million at Gooding & Company’s 2004 Pebble Beach auction, and taking home a Best in Show from the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance three years later.  In addition to its unforgettable appearance, the Mormon Meteor is equally renowned for its landspeed record, established in 1935 when owner and racer Ab Jenkins averaged over 135 mph over a 24-hour period on the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah.  Jenkins cut such a unique profile in the state with his Duesenberg that he was elected mayor of Salt Lake City in 1939 without even campaigning.  The Mormon Meteor moniker, obviously a reference to the car’s onetime Utah residence, was actually selected through a 1936 reader contest conducted by the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper.

Best in Class Concours d’Elegance, the luxury contingent of the top award, went to the 1933 Duesenberg SJN Arlington Torpedo Sedan (pictured below) owned by the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California.  Nicknamed the “20 Grand” for its exorbitant $20,000 retail price as a brand new car, the Arlington Torpedo was originally built for the Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Exhibition, and went on to win Best of Show at Pebble Beach in 1980.