Classic car insurance company Hagerty announced Wednesday it acquired the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, held each March on tiny Amelia Island, off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. The shows founder, Bill Warner, 78, will remain as Chairman Emeritus. Warner founded the show in 1996, and it’s evolved into a must-attend event for car enthusiasts.
“Our objective is to knit the enthusiast community together in a way that supports and protects the future of car culture,” said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty, in a statement. “We are incredibly proud to have the opportunity to build upon and scale Bill’s vision.”
A growing portfolio
Hagerty’s move adds to their growing portfolio of top-notch automotive events. The company now owns some of the premiere automotive concours in the country, including Concours d’Elegance of America, the California Mille, and the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance.
It also hosts Hagerty’s Festival of the Unexceptional in the United Kingdom, with the next show slated to occur July 31. In addition, the company takes part in more than 2,500 automotive events annually.
Warner had been looking to bring in someone to take over the show for several years, but to little avail. Rumors have been circulating for weeks that a sale was imminent, but word did not leak out until Wednesday, with the issuing of a press release and a letter to the judging staff.
A legacy in the collector car community
Warner founded the vent looking to infuse the staid world of the concours with the passion of motorsports. That dual passion could be seen in Warner’s insistence that a Best in Show award be given to one production car and one race car, as Warner felt that race cars always got slighted at concours. The innovation has been copied by other American automotive events.
The most recent show, held May 23, Best in Show, Concours d’Elegance awarded to a 926 Hispano-Suiza H6B Cabriolet, while Best in Show, Concours de Sport went to a 1974 Shadow DN4.
Held on the grounds of the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island for the past 26 years, the event has raised more than $3.75 million for charity.
But the show reflects its location, held on an island that’s home to the show’s venue, the Ritz-Carlton, as well as funky, thanks to Fernandina Beach, a low-key Southern town with an eclectic main street and home to Florida’s oldest continuously operating bar.
The show is very much a reflection of Warner, and his passion for anything automotive. Warner, a Jacksonville native, spent years photographing races at Sebring and Daytona for Road & Track and Sports Car Graphic.
While the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, founded in 1950 and America’s first, considers itself the most important collector car show, many collectors prefer Amelia, which has quickly risen to challenge its hidebound rival. It’s hard to imagine the stuffy California show fielding Chevrolet Corvairs or yellow Italian sports cars or beach cars. To Warner, it’s all about pushing the envelope on what’s expected at a concours.
“Those two fairways are my canvas, and the cars are my oils,” Warner told the Tribune News Service of his show field at the Ritz Carlton in 2015. “Everyone has the same canvas; everyone has the same oils. You just have to have the creativity to come up with something special.”
That, and a healthy dose of Warner’s Southern charm, has endeared the show to many, including automakers such as General Motors, McLaren, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, as well as some the top race car drivers, car designers and industry executives.
In the same Tribune News Service story, Warner also knew his time with the show might coming to a close. “I think the hardest thing for me to pass on is my demented automotive mind. You have to understand the feng shui of the show. It’s not just about lining cars up.”
An old tradition
A modern-day concours d’elegance is little more than a 21st century update of a 19th century tradition, where wealthy carriage owners would meet and compete to see who had the best carriage. Owners were asked to compete by invitation only, you couldn’t pay to compete, a tradition that continues today. The name concours d’elegance is a French term meaning “a competition of elegance,” and only the finest, rarest cars are asked to compete.
The concours season starts in Florida in March with the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, hits a crescendo with California’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and wraps up with the South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance in November.