The Concours d’Lemons: Where Paint is But a Memory

AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA—It started at Pebble Beach, a custard pie in the face of the most prestigious car event in the world. The Concours d’Lemons, a/k/a the 24 Hours of Le Mons, should be sponsored by Car Talk, but nobody at Car Talk Plaza wanted to spend any money, so Hagerty took it on.

Described as “an ugly oil stain on the Pebble Beach Auto Week,” the celebration of everything rusty, banged up and ignored by the snobs at the auto shows has made the transition to Florida and a location out near the dumpsters. Actually, I didn’t see any dumpsters, but it was far enough away from the Amelia Island event that its stink didn’t waft onto the Ritz-Carlton golf course.

I got there early, and met the very first entrant, an amiable fellow with an early Morris Mini. It didn’t really qualify as a lemon, but its owner, John Greenwood, explained to me that he “didn’t want to pay the $35 to get into the big show.”

Greenwood started with a lemon, a rusty hulk, and built his car from the ground up, with even a new body. British Motor Heritage will actually sell you one of those. You can then buy an engine, suspension, an interior, and build an entirely new 1961 car. If that’s your idea of a good time! He said he had it finished in a few months. I sat in it, but could never drive a car with such tiny pedals—at least with shoes on.

Parked next to the Mini was a true junker, what was left of a 1994 F-150 pickup after it had acquired 310,975 miles. The owner, Scott Inglis, a  Fernandina Beach resident, wore a top hat and seemed to have a sense of humor. To “check road conditions,” all he has to do is look down through the huge hole in the driver’s floor. The car lacked a dash fascia, a working fuel gauge, and air conditioning for the Florida heat, but it did have “special rear seating”—a couch in the bed.

Lisa, Inglis’ female companion and a roller derby aficionado, told me of trips in the F-150 with just one cassette tape, by Aerosmith. That was better than a previous vehicle, which had an eight-track player with only two tracks. “We could listen to two and a half songs,” she said.

“I bought it from my buddy,” Inglis said. “I’m the proud second owner.” The truck was filthy, rusty and just right for Lemons, but Inglis got worried when an AMC Eagle wagon pulled in. Arguably the first modern 4X4 SUV, the Eagle (1980-1987) was a passenger car with mechanicals from the Jeep division, and a more ungainly vehicle was never issued by a major American automaker. It was based on the much-loved Concord! The worst-looking ones had fake wood.

To make it even more competitive, the Eagle was dirty and missing most of its paint, though it did get to the event under its own steam.

Brent Hughes, a teacher from Cocoa, Florida, caught the spirit of the event. He arrived in a 1975 Argosy motor home that was built by Airstream but not badged as such because, well, maybe they were ashamed of it. Hanging off the back was an incredibly rusty 1981 Yamaha 250-cc motorcycle that I first mistook for a Harley. “When are you going to get that running?” I asked Hughes. “What do you mean?” he replied. “It runs. I’m riding it at Bike Week tomorrow.”

Worthy of an award was a 1970 VW Microbus Camper belonging to Chris McComas of Fernandina Beach. Even hippies would be ashamed to be seen it. The few surfaces that weren’t rusty had accident damage, and it was so dirty that the windows were almost opaque. But McComas did go to the trouble of making a headliner entirely out of wine corks.

Just a few miles ago were rows of boringly perfect Porsches, including many one-of-a-kind cars. But Johan Classen of Fernandina Beach brought a totally clapped-out 944S. The paint was a memory, as was most of the driver’s seat.

Other fine entrants were a Subaru Justy (we called them “Subaru Rustys” back in the day), not one but two Saturns, and a drivable chassis that appeared to belong to a Citroen 2CV.

The event was free, which was “just about what it’s worth.” Isn’t that in the Car Talk tradition?

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