I've just returned from a sensory overload collector car experience in the Sunshine State.

Somewhere between RM's BMW 600 "limousine," Gooding's Alfa 2000 spider, Sam and Emily Mann's Mercedes 540K Special roadster, and the Collier ex-Martini Porsche 917, ten days of March have disappeared in a collector car blur. Between auctions, seminars, meetings, and television shooting, a relentless frenzy stole all the minutes and hours of every day.

It all started in Naples. Every other year, Miles Collier hosts a symposium on Connoisseurship and the Collectible Car at his museum there. I've attended for ten years, and have had the honor of being on the faculty for the past eight.

The symposium is a whirlwind of collector car activities, including seminars like Flying High, Riding Low: Differences Between Aircraft and Automobile Conservation, which was presented by Malcolm Collum, Chief Conservator of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

SCM Contributor and collector car expert Simon Kidston joined me, along with financial analyst Anthony Werley from JP Morgan Private Bank, for a roundtable discussion, The European Market: Where We've Been, Where We're Headed and Charting a Course. When we asked the 30 participants which cars they thought represented the best value at the present time, their nearly evenly divided picks were the 300SL Gullwing and, on the affordable side, 356 Coupes. I suggest you rush out and buy one of each tomorrow.

Next stop, Fernandina Beach

Discovery HD Theater has given the green light for 13 episodes of my new television show, "What's My Car Worth," which meant I had to get from the final seminar at the symposium (5 pm in Naples) to an 8 pm meeting with Roger Williams, head of the company creating the shows, in downtown Fernandina Beach. It's a seven-hour-drive in the best of conditions.

Joe Molina, of public relations firm JMPR, came through with a seat on a new $7.2m Piaggio P.180 Avanti II turbo-prop. Piero Ferrari is the chairman of Piaggio Aero, which has led to their planes being known as the "Ferraris of the air." The plane has a distinctive front canard, resulting-according to SCMer Bruce McCaw-in another nickname: "the catfish."

In just 55 minutes, cruising stylishly and remarkably quietly at 375 knots at 25,000 feet, I arrived at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport. I made my dinner meeting with time to spare.

Our television show starts airing on Tuesday nights in mid April, just before Wayne Carini's "Chasing Classic Cars." Co-host Bill Stephens and I examine a car coming up for sale at auction (in this case we were at both RM and Gooding), evaluate its condition, and then I predict what price it will bring when it crosses the block. Sometimes I manage to get it spot on, and other times I'm sadly wrong, as was the case with the 1961 Porsche RS61 sold by Gooding to Sir Stirling Moss for $1.7m. I managed to be low to the tune of $600,000. At least I won't be shot for my mistakes.

All day Thursday and Friday were spent shooting, and then I spent Saturday in a blizzard of meetings, as is always the case at Amelia, where everyone in the collector car world seems to come together.

The end result of one meeting was SCM's dramatically enhanced classifieds section, beginning with this issue of the magazine. Our most recent online reader survey indicated that more "cars for sale" would be highly appreciated, so we have added eight pages of "SCM Select" classifieds to this issue.
Saturday night, we enjoyed an interview conducted by Speed's Mike Joy with Richard Petty at the Mercedes-Benz dinner at the Ritz. Petty has 200 career victories and many more tales to his credit, and he's certainly earned his moniker, "The King."

Dawn Patrol at Amelia

Early Sunday, my wife Wendie and I went on our regular five-mile run along the beach, stopping to watch the "Dawn Patrol," the procession of concours cars driving onto the lawn in the near-darkness. One of the Collier 917s provided bursts of noisy illumination as it spat flames from its exhausts.

At the concours, long-time Mercedes enthusiast EB Pearce headed our judging team, which included legendary Mercedes PR man and author Leo Levine, for the pre-war Mercedes and Gullwing classes. It was a visual automotive feast and we didn't have to hand out any fright pig awards. After all, if you're entering a 540K or an alloy Gullwing at Amelia, chances are you didn't buy it on Craigslist with food stamps.

Best of Class, pre-war, went to SCMers Sam and Emily Mann's 1937 540K Special roadster, and that car went on to win the coveted Concours d'Elegance Best of Show award. In the Gullwing class, McCaw's striking 1952 W194 racing Gullwing achieved the Most Significant Vintage Mercedes award from Mercedes-Benz. Michael Cantanucci's freshly restored 1955 alloy Gullwing won the class, with SCMers Curt and Carole Ziegler's 1956 steel Gullwing an excruciatingly close second.

2600s are still trucks

Our evening wound down with a fine dinner at the Beach Street Grill with longtime friend and SCM Contributor Donald Osborne, and his partner Frank Garofolo. I first met Donald about five million years ago at the Alfa Romeo National Convention in Maryland, where I was filming "The Alfa Romeo Spotter's Guide," which for reasons unknown has yet to become a classic.

He had just read my description of the Alfa 2600 as being "the best truck Alfa ever built," and as he owned three of them (a peculiar affliction, in my opinion), Osborne was determined to set me straight. We agreed to disagree, and have been doing so, in good nature, ever since.

On Friday, David Gooding brought in $16.1m at his first Amelia auction, while Saturday RM sold $19.1m, up from just $12.5m last year. In light of this, Osborne and I ruminated about the state of the collector car hobby, and we came to the conclusion that things seem on a positive track right now. At the very high end of the collector car market, there is a definite sense of confidence that was missing a year ago. Important cars are moving up the food chain of collectibility and will continue to bring breathtaking amounts. Which is exactly what happened with the $1.65m GTB/4 at RM and the $2.75m Voisin at Gooding. (We'll have complete results in the next issue.)

Meanwhile, common cars continue to bring common prices, so the world of affordable classics is secure. You needn't worry about chrome-bumper MG Bs suddenly zooming to $50,000 each.

In all, it was a grand ten days, a total immersion in the world of the people, cars, and events that make up the collector car world. My sadness at having to leave it all was surpassed only by my joy in knowing I was coming home to my next-gen collector, nearly-three-year-old Bradley. We had left him polishing his pedal car in anticipation of his own first trip onto the green, not so many years down the road.

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