Amelia or Bust: Itching for a spring car tour, we’re hitting the road to Florida

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Kayla Keenan

As winter holds tightly to many of us in northern climes, the siren call for a collector car road trip becomes increasingly more intense. Thankfully, The Amelia is right around the corner, and the Amelia Island or Bust Tour beckons.

Started in 2015 by Hagerty alum Brad Phillips as a way for friends to drive their classic and collector cars from Cape Cod to Florida for the concours, the approximately 1000-mile tour has become a meticulously planned and polished event, without veering from its original purpose as a fun-focused drive on twisty backroads. Included are some fascinating sight-seeing stops along the way, most of which are transportation related, but first and foremost, Amelia Island or Bust is about driving and creating friendships.

This year’s tour began just outside Washington, D.C. (the route changes every year), with nearly 20 automobiles of all shapes and sizes, from European sports cars and roadsters to muscle cars. Among the vehicles in the caravan are four Porches, three Mustangs, two Dodges, two Corvettes, an Alfa Romeo, a Mercedes, a Buick wagon, a tiny Fiat Abarth, a vintage Honda Accord, a classic Corvair Greenbrier van, and a support vehicle. [Editor’s note: A 1976 Lamboghnini Urraco P300 joined the tour on day two.]

Kayla Keenan

Each driver receives a thick route book that leaves nothing to chance. Routemaster Dave Hord reiterates that he has chosen twisty roads “so you can enjoy the driving,” but he also cautions, only half-joking, “Please try to remember that this event is put on by an insurance company whose name is on the side of your car.”

With that said, the first leg of the trip is a short one—just 11 miles to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum / Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Not the one on the National Mall in D.C., but the larger—OK, enormous—facility near Virginia’s Dulles International Airport. Among the most famous aircraft on display are the Discovery space shuttle; the Enola Gay Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan in 1945; and the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a long-range, high-altitude, reconnaissance aircraft that’s known as the fastest in the world. We’re told that at Mach 3+, the Blackbird flew from Los Angeles to D.C., in just over an hour.

Kayla Keenan

Equally as fascinating to those of us who appreciate historic conservation is the museum’s large restoration facility. Among the aircraft in various stages of preservation are a Russian IL-2 Sturmovik ground-attack plane from WWII; a Douglas World Cruiser, the first plane to fly around the world in September 1924; a Lockheed Vega flown across the Atlantic Ocean by Amelia Earhart; and even a huge model of the Hindenburg that was used in the 1975 movie starring George C. Scott.

Perhaps the most fascinating preservation project is the Martin B-26 bomber known as Flak-Bait, named after pilot Jim Farrell’s dog, Flea-Bait. The bomber flew an incredible 207 missions over Europe during WWII and accrued more than 700 flight hours. The plane definitely lived up to its name, as more than 1000 holes were patched while it was on active duty.

“Everything here has a fascinating story,” says Chief Conservator Malcom Collum. “You could spend weeks here.”

Kayla Keenan

Alas, we had only a couple of hours, then it was time to hit the road. While last year’s route included the famous Tail of the Dragon, this year’s route through the Blue Ridge Mountains was just as thrilling, with hairpin turns and elevation to challenge any driver. “It doesn’t get much better than that,” one of them said while enjoying dinner. Hord says there would have been even more smiles if he hadn’t needed to shorten the first day’s route to get everyone to the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel, near Lexington and Roanoke, before dark.

The route offered a fabulous taste of things to come—Hord says the best driving is on the horizon—as we weave our way through Virginia and into North Carolina.

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