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Leftlane tours the Ocean Reef Vintage Weekend

by Mark Elias

Come with us as we check out some classic cars, boats and airplanes.

Depending on who you talk to, the Ocean Reef Vintage Weekend, held the first weekend in December, is the end of the classic car season for the year, or a warm-up ahead of all the Pebble Beach, Amelia Islands, Hilton Head and St. John's-like Concours events for the coming year. Regardless, it's a time to display some recent heavy metal winners from the past season and a chance for collectors to literally thaw out in the South Florida sun.

Except Ocean Reef is not just about cars. They add to the panache by tossing in a complement of antique aircraft and classic yachts and powerboats from days gone by. It is a sensory overload for the eyes. And the ears.

The 2014 meet coincided with the 20th anniversary of Vintage Weekend, which originally started as a boat show to augment the water-based vibe of the Ocean Reef Club. Eventually planes were added using the ORC's private airport, followed by cars, which numbered over 80 this year. Collector vehicles now hold sway over the event and feature a relaxed, easy-going way for aficionados to get close to some prime examples of classics as well as quite a few Pebble Beach and Amelia Island participants that happened to be Best in Class or Best in Show winners.

A private club, Ocean Reef opens its doors to non-members during the first weekend in December. During that time, participants take part in a road rally to world-famous dive bar "Alabama Jack's," an air show over the club's Buccaneer Island, and tours through priceless yachts at the club's marina.

Owning a classic is not an undertaking for the faint of heart- or wallet. Such high-priced objects of desire included the 1931 Bentley 6.5-litre "Blue Train" replica of Orin Smith that was built in tribute to the famous race where a Bentley managed to beat one of England's quickest express trains. Featuring a fabric-covered Mulliner coachwork, it was resplendent in blue and black.

Charles Letts brought his 1929 Murphy-bodied Duesenberg model J to Ocean Reef. Still driven, it was originally built for S.L. "Roxy" Rothafel, of Roxy Theater and Radio City Music Hall fame. Owned by the Letts family since 1954, it was the first of three Murphy-bodied Duesies built in 1929. Restored by RM Auto Restorations in 2005, it was scheduled for showing in that year's Pebble Beach Concours but just 48 hours before being transported to California for the show, was involved in an injury accident where another driver blew a stop sign crashing into the classic. Restored five years later, in 2010, it was awarded third in class at Pebble.

We are suckers for the Gullwing, so naturally were excited to see Lyn and Chuck Schwager's 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Looking totally relaxed with original leather and matching fitted luggage, it shows that in order to look ahead, as in the case of a Mercedes SLS, you sometimes must first look back.

Keeping with the German theme, different generations of Porsche 356s, ranging from a trio of mid-1960's coupes and a 1955 Speedster belonging to Lynda Bodin made up a Teutonic quartet on the red carpet during the final day's parade of power.

Brits were well represented at Vintage weekend with examples including a 1947 Bentley MK VI coupe with a body by French coachbuilders Figoni et Falaschi. Famed for their work on such masterpieces as the Talbot Lago, they pioneered the process of fluid aerodynamic design that carries on to this day. Rounding out the displays from the Kingdom included such niceties as a 1926 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Piccadilly Roadster, a 1938 Jaguar SS100 3.5L, a 1954 Jaguar XK120M, a 1956 Jaguar XKSS, a 1960 Aston Martin DB4 Series II and a 1966 Sunbeam Alpine Tiger.

Oddball of the day, but one of the cutest, along with the 1962 Fiat Abarth 850 Nurburgring, was Donnie Gould's 1948 Crosley Ice Cream Truck, complete with ice cream bars in the back. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the imposing presence of Joseph Cassini's 1930 Minerva AL Three-position Cabriolet earned it the title of Best in Show.

For more classic cars from Ocean Reef Vintage Weekend, please see the photo gallery.

Shoes on the dock
Many unusual boats made the scene, including show favorite "the Cigarette" which is known as the first of Don Aronow's fabled "go-fast" boats bearing the same name. Aronow was also known for his Magnum Marine, Donzi, and Formula boat lines.

The 1912 English-built African Queen, used in the movie of the same name plied the canals around the marina. Thirty feet in length, it is known as the centerpiece of the movie, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.

As is customary on many boat displays, showgoers traditionally remove their shoes before going aboard to tour a watercraft. Vintage Weekend is no exception and a preponderance of footwear usually indicates a crowd favorite.

Such was the case with the 72-foot Broward Yacht, Jonathan III from Savannah, GA. It managed to scarf away the "shoes on the dock award" for Best in Show.

Up in the sky!
Spectators took in the air show from Ocean Reef's beach where they watched WWII and Vietnam era ex-military aircraft including Vincent Tirado's 1944 North American AT-6 Texan advanced trainer through its paces. It was followed by Joe Masessa's ugly, but well-hung, Grumman OV-1 Mohawk and the aerobatics of John Black's American Champion Super Decathlon, who seemingly pushed his high-winged two-seater beyond the normal capabilities of most aircraft.

Back on the ground, aircraft fans toured such planes as Joe Anderson's 1942 ex-US Army Air Force DC-3, now known as the Spirit of Benovia, after Benovia Winery in Santa Barbara, CA. With an illustrious career that took it to outposts including Kirachi and Dhub, India, to Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as employ by the CIA through its Air America operations, it now lives a rather cushy life as a showpiece for the winery and is outfitted as nicely as some contemporary Gulfstream jets. Oh, and it was good enough to be voted by attendees as Best in Show in the airplane category.

Photos by Mark Elias