Amelia Island, where the (obscure) heritage of motorsport thrives

The 26th running of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, pushed back from its normal March date, came off swimmingly as a responsibly distanced event that was a little smaller and less frenetic than normal, but still possessed of comparatively mild skies instead of the fiery heat and savage thunderstorms that rake Florida this time of year. The dual Best of Shows, for road and sport, went to an exquisite Hispano-Suiza – one of the event’s featured marques – and to a Shadow Can-Am car with a vibrant history. But the Amelia’s about a lot more than what ends up nose-to-nose in front of the judges’ stand. Historically significant automobiles, racing and otherwise, sometimes enjoy a dense measure of obscurity that makes them all the more charming. This car was being judged on the Amelia show vehicle and we’re thrilled at that, given its background.

What in God’s name is a 1979 American Motors Spirit AMX doing on the same field as Duesenbergs, Ferrari 275 GTBs and a brace of Porsche 935s? Marking its international record of achievement, which we guarantee that 99 percent of the Amelia’s attendees were oblivious about until they read its placard. Like the cars in the background, it was raced by Lyn St. James, the concours’ honored guest for 2021, a veteran of Trans-Am and IMSA GTO competition who became the second woman to drive in the Indianapolis 500. In the late 1970s, AMC had a collaboration with BFGoodrich to run its then-new T/A line of street performance tires in pro-level road racing, the effort led by team boss Amos Johnson of North Carolina, a well-known figure in the world of AMC motorsport. To promote the tires in Europe, BFGoodrich had Johnson prep a pair of Spirit AMXs to run the Nurburgring 24-hour race for production cars. Lyn shared this car with automotive journalist Gary Witzenburg and road racer Jim Downing, who went on to co-invent the HANS device that’s saved so many racers from fatal basilar skull fractures in crashes. Despite being hobbled by mechanical issues, the AMC actually managed to win its class, making it the day that a Rambler ruled the ‘Ring. Remember, this is the car that replaced the AMC Gremlin. We absolutely love this, and wonder if the people at Stellantis, as the former FCA is known since merging with Groupe PSA, are aware of this remarkable achievement by one of its heritage nameplates. In its Nurburgring livery today, the AMC is owned by Michael Weaver of Joppa, Maryland.

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