Of the classic car events held during the year, my all-time favorite is the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Since attending The Amelia for the first time 19 years ago, I have returned every year, with each successive visit reflecting the growth and change that has made it better and better thanks to a fine selection of cars, seminars and amazing invited guests.
As such, it has long been a dream to show a car at Amelia. Last year, I had the opportunity to do so in my capacity as the Collection Manager of the Maine Classic Car Museum, which I covered in a story last year. I will say that it was an interesting experience, and I was proud that we ended up winning an Amelia award for our Alfa Romeo 6C in our first outing.
For 2023, we brought a car again, one that is quite special: a 1949 Ferrari 166 Inter cabriolet with coachwork by Stabilimenti Farina. The car is chassis number 033S, which makes it the 16th Ferrari road car ever built. If that is not enough, it was also originally owned by one of Ferrari’s most famous customers, Dottore Enrico Wax, who also happened to be the importer of Johnny Walker whiskey in Italy. Over the years, Wax would own some of Ferrari’s most spectacular cars.
Compared to the Alfa Romeo I brought to The Amelia in 2022, the Ferrari was absolutely perfect. I had the entire ownership history from new. A report from Marcel Massini showed no gaps in its ownership. If that was not enough, our exact car was featured in two definitive books on early Ferrari road cars, which included period photos of the vehicle. It also was restored by Heinrich Kampfer, the Swiss-based expert on early Ferrari road cars. Compared to previous concours events we have attended; we were better prepared for The Amelia and in the running for a best of class award than I have ever been.
Three weeks before The Amelia, I had my friend Tim McNair (owner of Grand Prix Concours preparation services) come up to the Maine Classic Car Museum in Arundel to prepare the Ferrari for the event. After spending three days with the car, Tim deemed it ready to go and, a week later, the Ferrari was on a Passport Transport truck on its way to Florida.
I flew into Jacksonville from Hartford and met my friend John Saccameno, who had flown in to assist with anything that the Ferrari might need, especially with mechanical issues that could pop up. We drove to The Amelia, dropped our rental car at the Ritz Carlton and walked over to the Peters Point drop-off location to reconnect with our car. It was already off the truck and, after priming the single Weber carburetor, the Ferrari started easily and warmed up with a perfect idle.
John and I jumped in and headed over to the parking garage at the Ritz. We actually ended up getting the same parking space we had the year before with the Alfa. As we exited the Ferrari, a red 275 GTS parked right next to us, giving our car a younger friend to spend the week with while waiting for Sunday’s big event.
The next morning, I went to the garage and fired up the Ferrari for a short drive. This car has very few miles on it, so I thought it would probably be best to stretch its legs while at the same time test its systems to be sure everything was working correctly. The engine of the 166 is amazing, revving freely and easily spinning up during acceleration. The gearbox is another story, however, as it is a non-synchronized five-speed crashbox and very finicky. The key is to skip second gear until the car is thoroughly warmed up, something not unusual with most early Ferrari road cars but even worse with the crude five-speed in the 166. The chassis is also not the greatest, with very little suspension travel and rather truck-like steering. Despite this, the car attracted plenty of attention as no one around had ever seen a Ferrari like it. This was truly the case as The Amelia was the car’s American debut.
After about a six-mile jaunt, we made our way back to the Ritz, parked in the garage, raised the top and headed to pick up our registration packet and other credentials. Again, the car ran well with no issues, which would prove to be the case over the entire weekend.
Saturday saw me up very early in order to be on time to judge the Concours d’Lemons, which is a concours event filled with cars that were either terrible or unloved when new — think AMC Pacer and Gremlin, Pontiac Aztec, weird French and Italian cars, and the like. My classes were French, Italian, British, Other American and Swedish. The best of all, the Italian class consisted of what has to be the world’s nicest and most original Lancia Beta Coupe, with the other being the world’s nicest Fiat 131 Mirafiori Special. The fact that both these cars showed up under their own power and were so clean made picking the winner for that class quite difficult. We ended up choosing the Fiat 131 as the owners had an identical car in the same yellow color 30 years ago and bought this original car to replace their former one. The fact that they were able to find one of these rare cars at all, let alone in the same color, was nothing less than a miracle.
After helping to hand out the awards for Lemons with founder Alan Galbraith and Le Mans-winning driver and pal Justin Bell, I headed back to meet the team from the museum for lunch. Afterwards, we toured the offerings at the Broad Arrow Amelia Island auction and narrowed our interest to three cars: a 1947 Chrysler Town and Country convertible, a stunning 1938 BMW 327 cabriolet and, my personal favorite, a 1967 Series 1 Iso Grifo. All were bought for fair prices and the owner of the Maine Classic Car Museum was thrilled with the news.
At 3 p.m., John Saccameno drove the Ferrari onto the field and parked it for the next day’s main event. Tim McNair met us and went through the final preparations. John and I then raced to our room to change for the Amelia Gala. We spent time meeting and greeting friends, plus managed to see an interview with Jeff Gordon by his former crew chief and best buddy Ray Evernham. Like the previous year, The Amelia has the best gala dinner event I have ever attended.
After a late night, I rose promptly at 6 a.m. on Sunday to get the Ferrari ready for judging. I met my friend Joe Murphy and we worked to give the car the final touches to give us a chance at an award with this amazing and historic one-of-a-kind Ferrari.
The judging team arrived at our car at 8:15, upon which we explained the car’s history, the fact that it was the 16th Ferrari road car ever built, and the celebrity ownership story, then we showed them how the sympathetic and correct restoration was performed. That marked the end of the hard part — now it was time for the waiting game.
After waiting and waiting, the 12:30 awards were given out and, to my surprise, we did not win a single award — not even 3rd in class or a special award. I left the car and wandered around the show field, running into several judges who suggested I should go back to the car as they were sure a special award was due to what the car was and how well it was presented. After running back and forth numerous times, I finally gave up looking for ribbons that would never appear and began to check out the truly spectacular cars on the field. My three favorites were the 1951 Lancia B20 Carrera Panamericana competition car, the 1931 Bucciali and my single favorite car in the world, XKD501, which is the 1955 Jaguar D-Type that won the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Finally, at the end of the day, the well-deserved Best of Show winners were announced: the 1935 Voisin Aerodyne of Merle and Peter Mullin and the 1964 Ferrari 250 LM of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. The winner in our class were our friends with a 1950 Ferrari 166 coupe by Ghia.
The show was over, and Joe and I loaded our chairs in the little Ferrari and drove to the transporter. Just like last year, we waved at the people waiting on Peters Point to watch the drive-off.
So why didn’t our car win anything? This remains a mystery to me. I haven’t presented a better prepared or documented car at a concours event, let alone the 16th Ferrari road car ever built. I also have never judged a car as well documented and prepared as our car was. I guess sometimes you just roll the dice and take your chances, and we did not score a winning roll. That being said, just being able to show our car at The Amelia is a win in itself, and the hundreds of people who came over to ask questions and learn about our car was a great prize as well. Concours showing is both expensive and competitive, but we will roll the dice once again and return next year with another amazing car from the Maine Classic Car Museum.