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First Coast Gears: Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance started with a phone call

9:02 PM, Mar 4, 2013   |    comments
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Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance Founder Bill Warner. Photo by Bill Bortzfield/First Coast News

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance is recognized as one of the top three Concours in the U.S., often mentioned in the same sentence with Pebble Beach in California and Meadow Brook in Michigan. It's come along way since its relatively humble beginning in 1996. Founder Bill Warner said it all started when a public relations lady from the Ritz-Carlton called him one day.

RELATED: 2013 Concours d'Elegance schedule

"For 40 years I had been in the filtration business -- about 35 years in industrial filtration -- but I had always been a car guy. She asked if I would do a Concours d'Elegance at the (Amelia Island) Ritz-Carlton. The goal at that time was to fill rooms at the Ritz-Carlton on Easter Weekend," said Warner.

But the crowd didn't match his expectations.  "At that time we were competing against The Players Championship, the Bausch & Lomb Tennis Championship and we wanted to make sure that we were on a weekend that we had the media. So we moved it to the second week in March in order to be the week before Sebring and after Daytona."

He then focused on the automotive media, bringing in editors from Road & Track, Car and Driver, Automobile Magazine and others. "Then we'd go market it to the manufacturers. It's like any product. You have to have support and our support is with our sponsors. It grew because we worked," said Warner.

Charity has always been at the heart of the Concours. "Our granddaughter was born with spina bifida so we raised funds for spina bifida. Most everyone that works on the Concours is ex-military.  I'm retired air force and air national guard. We give money to the Navy Marine Corps Relief Fund at Mayport. We give money to Nassau County and Fernandina Beach for their cops with shops program for under privileged children."

Warner proudly notes that about 99 percent of the proceeds remain in the North Florida area. Over $1.8 million has been raised for Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, according to ameliaconcours.org.  

When First Coast Gears caught up with Warner, he was busy jumping from spot to spot for media interviews and show preparations. He settled in for our conversation sitting on the wheel of a Chevy-powered speedster at the Concours headquarters garage.

The speedster is steeped in Jacksonville automotive history. "It was built about 1928 by Bert Moyers here in Jacksonville. It ran on the beach in Daytona, in Ormond, and all the beach races ran in Jacksonville Beach when they had races down there shortly after the name changed from Pablo Beach to Jacksonville Beach."

Moyer's daughter-in-law had parked the car in her Jacksonville garage for about 60 years when Warner got a tip about it from a friend in San Diego. "We felt blessed to be able to buy this car and restore it, because it's a piece of Jacksonville history."

For a man running one of the top automotive shows in the world, Warner is remarkably relaxed, happily settling down to talk about chasing after one of his dream cars at age 14.  But that's a story for another day.  to hear it, watch First Coast News at 5:30 on WJXX-ABC 25 or WTLV-NBC 12 on Monday, or check firstcoastgears.com Tuesday.

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