Back in March 2023, the 28th Annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance was held on the stunning grounds of the Ritz-Carlton Resort in Florida. This is typically an event that is held to exhibit perfectly restored Dusenbergs, rare Porsches, and many other cars of similar high dollar value. Although this year, amidst the glitz and glamor, was a group of cars with more of a “blue collar” feel. It was an incredible class curated by Ken Gross that showed off Historic ‘50s Customs. This group was made up of The Aztec, The Hirohata Mercury, The Polynesian, The Fred Steele Mercury, The Jade Idol, and The Ina Mae Overman Lincoln. It was a truly diverse class, without a single body modification duplicated between cars (other than the chopped top on the mercs).
Most of the well-known customizers of the golden age were represented; Barris, Winfield, and Valley Custom Shop (Neil Emory). While I felt a bit like a fish out of water with my Fred Steele Mercury that he built mostly himself in his basement, it was an honor to be included in such a prestigious group.
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I made the trek south to Florida from the northeast with my father. Thanks to a string of winter storms, our plans to drive the Mercury south were quickly thwarted. We shipped the car to Florida, and met up with it on Thursday, which is when the fun started. We cruised the island for a few hours, checking out all the spots, and getting the lay of the land. Eventually, we ended up in the Fernandina Historic District where we scored prime parking outside the oldest bar in Florida. We went inside for a couple of cold ones, where we bumped into some of the crew from Galpin Speed Shop. The weather was perfect and the beer was cold. What else could we ask for?
We finally made our way back to our hotel which was conveniently a short walk away from the Sand Bar, a lively beachside bar with live music that would serve as our breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot for the next 4 days. On Friday we made our way over to the auctions, where we watched a few record-breaking sales take place. Saturday was the start of the real fun for us. Nick Hosmer met us at the Hampton Inn with The Aztec, which he was presenting on behalf of Barry Mazza. Together we cruised low and slow over to the golf course at the Ritz-Carlton to prepare for the load-in.
What we didn’t know at the time, is that we would be entering the showgrounds via the skinny and winding cart paths (we only scraped a couple of times). Once we got to the right place, we parked and waited for the other cars in our class to arrive. First, the Polynesian, driven by Myron Vernis, and then the one and only, Hirohata Merc driven by Dave Shuten. Once those four cars were in position, we all spent some time doing a little bench racing before retiring back to the Sand Bar for dinner and drinks. As we were leaving the golf course, we looked back across the grounds to notice something interesting. All of the other cars were covered by 2, sometimes 3 covers to protect them from the inevitable morning Florida dew. Not the customs. Not a cover in sight, and we were proud of that.
The next morning, Tim McMann showed up with his two cars, The Jade Idol and The Ina Mae Overman Lincoln. By 9 am, the dew was gone and the crowd rolled in. It was a great day filled with talking about everything “customs” with the spectators and our fellow class participants. As expected, the Best in Class award went to The Hirohata, while the other two class awards were presented to The Polynesian and The Aztec.
The opportunity to be considered for this class, to me, was an award in itself and it was a weekend I will unlikely ever forget. If I learned anything over that long weekend, it was that custom car culture is alive and well.
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