One of our favorite car events of the year takes place this week just north of Jacksonville, Florida, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Now in its 20th year it has grown to showcase over 300 rare vehicles from collections around the world on The Golf Club of Amelia Island at the Ritz-Carlton.
In addition to immaculately restored classics you’d expect to find at an event of this quality – a 1938 Supercharged Cord Convertible, Sir Stirling Moss’s Jaguar XK120, and a gorgeous white BMW 328 – the organizers have arranged to present a host of one-of-a-kind concept cars for the guests to admire. “Creating a class of orphan concept cars is the kind of thing we just can’t resist,” said Mark Becker, Vice-Chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, “The Orphans Concept Class shows an industry on instruments, changing course, almost overnight, from a wartime economy to a new consumer economy that none could have imagined or predicted.”
Featuring many brilliant expressions of industrial design that set the vision for their respective brands for the future, these concepts are not just gorgeous, but also important markers in automotive history. They range from the futuristic 1954 DeSoto Adventurer II to a concept car that was the hit of this year’s Detroit Auto Show, the Buick Avenir.
Powered by a 276 cubic inch Hemi engine, the DeSoto Adventurer II was designed to set a new direction for the division of Chrysler. Had DeSoto carried on with the project the Adventurer might well have enjoyed performance parity with Chevy’s iconic Corvette. However, Chrysler closed its doors on November 30, 1960.
In 1956, the Packard Predictor was designed and created to reestablish Packards premium position in the 1950s. It was a platform for many features that found its way onto other production cars including swivelling bucket seats, clamshell headlamps and the yolk grill. But, alas, it was not enough to save the brand and in 1959 the last Packard automobile rolled off the assembly line.
After its debut at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show, the Mercury XM-800 was recommended for production by none other than Benson Ford. Features like individual seats, the wrap around windshield and a 270 hp 312 cid V-8 all became part of Mercury’s future design vocabulary. The XM-800 was stopped in its tracks, however, by an executive committee decision to expand Ford’s product line. The new Ford division that halted the gestation of the XM-800 was named Edsel.
The 1963 Pontiac X-400 was different from most GM concept cars of the time. Instead of starting from a clean sheet of paper like the concepts typically shown at GMs Motorama, The Grand Prix-based, supercharged 421 ci V-8 X-400 convertible was conceived and executed as the ultimate Pontiac. It was significant because it clearly set the direction for Pontiac’s potent and legendary GTO, and was an augur for Pontiac’s success in the sixties and seventies.
Buick unveiled the Avenir (French for Future) at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January to much acclaim. A few weeks later, I was able to sit down with Buick’s director of interiors, Liz Wetzel, to get an inside view of the importance of the Avenir to future Buick product. She described the Avenir as harmonious, graceful and balanced, presenting a new look at luxury that feels both light and open. Overall, the effect is both elegant and athletic creating a dynamic shape that we hope finds its way into future Buick cars.
The 20th annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is scheduled for March 13-15, 2015. For more information, visit www.ameliaconcours.org or call 904-636-0027.