Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance – on the cheap!

At the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, millionaires drive six-figure cars to gawk at seven-figure cars. Those who don’t fly there in eight-figure private jets, anyway.

The event, hosted by the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, offers “patron” ground passes for $120 each. Five hundred dollar-plus box tickets including food and beverage can be purchased.

At many of the numerous car auctions held on the Island during Concours week, you have to pay two or three hundred dollars simply to register to bid – the only way you can attend.

Concours ain’t the Nassau County Fair.

The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance may be the finest antique car show in the world. It is unquestionably such on the East Coast. If you have any even passing interest in fine automobiles it is a must-see spectacle you owe it to yourself to attend once in your life, regardless of the cost.

Kristi and I did attend the Concours once previously – when tickets were under $100 – and probably will again, but we simply don’t appreciate cars enough to drop $240 every year to look at Dusenberg’s from the 1920s, Jaguars from the 1930s, and Ferrari’s, Corvette’s and Porsche’s that have turned laps at Le Mans – no matter how breathtaking they are, and they are.

Jaguar at Amelia Island Concours d"Elegance
Jaguar at Amelia Island Concours d”Elegance. (Photo Credit KRISTI DOSH / travelingwithoutkids.com)

Still, we like cars, we enjoy the spectacle, the event is held two miles from our kitchen and we’ve mastered the art of – shall we say – “Concours on the cheap.” If you want to experience Concours without attending the actual event and save some money in the process, here’s how you do it.

Start your Concours weekend Friday in downtown Fernandina Beach where the Eight Flags Road Tour concludes with a public display of dozens of classic, antique and unusual cars. Meet the owners, peer under the hood, and take pictures free of charge while enjoying Fernandina’s lovely Victorian downtown.

RM Sotheby’s holds one of its most prestigious automotive auctions of the year during Concours weekend. While you don’t have to buy or bid on anything, you can look. The auction preview at the Ritz is held Friday afternoon and evening with the auction Saturday night – weather permitting. If rain is forecast for Sunday, all Concours events are pushed up.

If you’ve never attended an auction before, this is a good one to start with. Dress nice – business casual at least – and act like you belong. Let the energy captivate you. Be sure to acquire an auction catalogue – generally, you can find one lying around – so you can follow along with the action, bidding estimates, and information on the lots (cars).

RM Sotheby's auction at Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island
RM Sotheby’s auction at Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. (Photo Credit KRISTI DOSH / travelingwithoutkids.com)

The Ritz-Carlton is the hub of Concours weekend and you’ll want to be sure to pay it a visit. Grab a drink in the lobby bar. Check out the vendors and their high-priced baubles set up for display in the hallways. Near the entrance to the auction are automotive-focused retailers with higher-end signs, artwork and memorabilia.

Outside the Ritz all weekend are complimentary test-drives offered by automakers like Jaguar and Alfa-Romeo.

If you find auctions to be your thing, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation features additional free auctions from Hollywood Wheels – like you see on TV. Check for specific times on Friday and Saturday afternoon.
Speaking of the Omni, this resort property annually hosts a “Festivals of Speed” event where entry is a more manageable $20.00 general admission. “Festivals of Speed” puts a greater emphasis on late model exotics and supercars – think Lamborghini – and while no comparison to the actual Concours, does put you nose-to-fender with an impressive selection of supercars you’d likely never otherwise see – all at a great price.

As events can change slightly year-to-year, be sure to visit the official Concours webpage as well as partner event sites for specific times.

Saturday morning opposite the “field” where the Concours is held you’ll find the free “Cars and Coffee” event running all day at the Golf Club of Amelia Island. Park for free on Fletcher Blvd. north of the Ritz and make the short walk to the course. Again, while no comparison to the actual Concours, or “Festivals of Speed” for that matter, there are always dozens of classic Porsches, Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros and Mercedes-Benz to look at – up close – and photograph. Kristi and I attend this event every year and find it perfectly sufficient to satisfy our admittedly small craving cars.

Perhaps my favorite way to experience the spirit of Concours weekend on Amelia Island is to simply drive around that week. It’s one thing to see a Ferrari or Lambo standing still, it’s another thing entirely to see it in movement – even if it’s only moving 45-miles-per-hour in traffic. You see this, regularly, during Concours week and I get a huge kick out of it. It’s like seeing animals in the wild instead of the zoo.

These year during Concours week, I saw both a vintage Plymouth Superbird and late-model Rolls-Royce Wraith (I think) just tooling around the Island looking for all the world like they were simply running errands – as I was. That’s awesome.

At the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, you can spend as much money as you’d like – and you should treat yourself at least once – but you don’t have to go broke to enjoy the spectacle.

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