Lemons, Radwood, and Cars & Caffeine prove three’s company at Amelia

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Jack Thomas’ 1994 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon at Concours d’Lemons. Jeff Peek

Jack Thomas and Art Shuster drove a 1994 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon nearly 1200 miles—1000 of it on the “Amelia Island or Bust Tour”—to enter Thomas’ faux wood-paneled beauty into The Amelia’s Concours d’Lemons on Saturday. Although the longtime friends didn’t receive an award for their effort (maybe that’s a good thing?), the experience, as always, was worth the drive.

“I bought this thing for $5000,” says Thomas, who lives in Salisbury, Maryland, “and it’s given me $50,000 worth of fun.”

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AMC Gremlin at Concours d’Lemons. Jeff Peek

That could have described a lot of the cars and drivers at The Amelia’s new Cars & Community gathering on the golf course at the Ritz-Carleton. The event, held the day before the annual Amelia Concours d’Elegance on Sunday, is “new” in that it brings three family car events together in one place for the first time: the tongue-in-cheek Concours d’Lemons, which “celebrates the oddball, mundane, and truly awful of the automotive world;” RADwood, a toast to 1980s and ’90s automotive lifestyle; and Cars & Caffeine, a huge, wide-ranging car show on the same fairway as the concours will be held 24 hours later.

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Worst in Show boat truck at Concours d’Lemons. Jeff Peek

Lemons, the anything-goes counterpoint to the meticulously maintained automobiles that will grace the lawn on Sunday, attracted its usual band of misfits, from dilapidated Volkswagens to underappreciated Gremlins to oddballs and custom jobs. “Worst in Show” was awarded to Nathan Renstrom’s Frankenstein boat truck, which was created by combining a 1986 Ford F150 with a 1983 Ski Nautique.

“We saw one on the internet, so we decided to build one,” says Renstrom, who traveled from nearby Jacksonville. “Every man needs a boat truck, and we figured this was a good place to bring it. We thought we’d class the place up a bit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t float.”

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Pete Engel and his 1988 Honda Accord LXi at RADwood. Jeff Peek

Just steps away, Pete Engel, of White Post, Virginia, was showing his 1988 Honda Accord LXi in RADwood. The Accord, a survivor with 83,000 miles on the clock, appeared in Hulu’s Dopesick series, which was set in the 1990s. That wasn’t the first time one of Engel’s cars was used onscreen; he has 10 listed on a picture car website, and his vehicles have been in 14 different productions around Washington, D.C. The list includes Talk to Me, a 2007 movie starring Don Cheadle; What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali on HBO; and Impeachment: American Crime Story, on FX, about the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal.

“All background cars,” Engel says, “but still pretty fun.”

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Jeff Peek

After driving his Mercedes-Benz on every previous Amelia Island or Bust Tour, Engel decided to hit the road with the Accord this time and enter it into Amelia’s first RADwood.

“The reason it looks so good is because it sat on display in a Honda showroom in Owings Mills, Virginia, for 15 years,” he says. “The guy that I bought it from walked in and said, ‘I’ve got to have that car,’ and they said, ‘It isn’t for sale.’ Apparently he made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.”

Among the Honda’s features are brown, crushed-velour seats, air conditioning, cruise control, automatic transmission, and—for the last time in an Accord—a hatchback.

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Jeff Peek

Engel says he loves that the three community car events are being held in the same place on the same day, so people can enjoy them all, and he especially likes the laid-back vibe of RADwood and Lemons. “Look at how they’re parked,” he says, pointing to the indiscriminate assortment of vehicles around him. “It’s a much fresher attitude, young people are into it, and nobody cares if you have dust on your hubcaps. It’s a celebration more than a show.”

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An enthusiast takes a closer look at Chris Hullinger’s 1964 Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier Deluxe at Cars & Caffeine. Jeff Peek

Meanwhile, over on the 18th fairway, two other Amelia Island or Bust vehicles—Chris Hullinger’s 1964 Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier Deluxe and David Geisinger and Aimee Cardwell’s 1975 Porsche 911 Safari RS—were getting plenty of attention at Cars & Caffeine, and rightly so. Both vehicles received plenty of attention from the thousands of spectators who wandered the grounds.

“People really seem to smile when they see it,” Hullinger says of his Greenbrier van. “I feel like a celebrity whenever I drive it.”

So do his children. Well, mostly.

“I have four kids, so for me to enjoy the hobby they have to be part of it,” he says. “That’s why I wanted one of these, so I can take them to school and we can enjoy it together. They’re always pretty excited to ride in it—or they were. Now my 16-year-old daughter hides her face when she rides in it; she doesn’t want to be seen in it.”

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Jeff Peek

Hullinger, of Wilmington, Delaware, searched the web and found the van for sale 550 miles away in Niagara Falls. The listing didn’t have any photos, but he called the owner, 85-year-old “Mr. Peacock,” who gave positive answers to every question he asked. So Hullinger decided to take the family on a road trip.

“Cosmetically, it looks exactly as it did when I first saw it,” Hullinger says, “so I immediately said, ‘Sold!’ Mechanically, I had to nurse it home a bit, but I did a mechanical restoration and now it runs great.”

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Jeff Peek

Hullinger enjoys the Greenbrier so much that his other cars don’t get out as much as they should. “That’s the problem,” he says. “I have eight cars, and I’ve now made a commitment to myself to sell some. I’ll be keeping the van, of course, but when your cars just sit in the garage, it’s time to move ’em.”

Geisinger and Cardwell’s 911 Safari conversion is a lot like many of their other cars—one of a kind. “I’ve always loved livery-based cars and always like things that are unique,” Geisinger says, “and what’s more unique that an off-road 911?”

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David Geisinger and Aimee Cardwell’s 1975 Porsche 911 Safari RS at Cars & Caffeine. Jeff Peek

Geisinger says he bought the car last September and then handed it off to Kelly-Moss Road and Race in Madison, Wisconsin, one of the first companies to build safari cars. About a year later, it was finished. The list of changes includes a new 3.0-liter engine, suspension, gearbox, seats, and steering wheel, and the Porsche was lifted a couple of inches, its wheel arches were cut, and a rollbar was added. It also received fabricated front and rear bumpers, custom skid plates, four custom lights up front, and a custom roof rack built by Resolute Motorsports, and it now wears all-terrain BF Goodrich tires.

“It’s a practical car, and we use it as intended,” Geisinger says. “We live outside Boston, so it’s been in snow and mud—this is probably the cleanest it’s been. We tried to find some mud to run around in before we got here, but it’s too dry.”

That’s actually a good thing. From Lemons to RADwood to Cars & Caffeine, nothing could have rained on this parade. Not this year anyway.

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