Turn the old barb about grandparents and grandchildren on its head, and you have the story of Dave and Ryan Duncan, grandfather and grandson. Rather than being brought closer by a common enemy, the pair simply found themselves captivated by the same car. Happily, that delicious modern classic belongs to Mr. Duncan, Senior.
The car is the elder Duncan’s 1955 Chevy Nomad, a rare beast – a two-door station wagon, a limited production GM number – that has developed a large and dedicated following. It was the grandfather’s automotive passions that brought him closer to his grandson and propelled both to join the volunteer roster of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
The 20th anniversary Amelia Concours will be Dave Duncan’s 14th Concours as a Class Host. It will be the third for Ryan, who began his tenure in his grandfather’s footsteps as an Amelia Class Host while he was still a freshman in high school. They work together hosting the American Classics Class.
An Amelia Class Host must be unequal parts diplomat, den mother, traffic cop, concierge, surveyor, arbitrator and quiz show host. If the concours were a race, the class hosts would be the pit crews, the guys wearing fireproof clothing and helmets in the middle of the action. It’s the Concours’ ultimate volunteer position for a hard-core, 100-proof car guy. And that’s a fine description of the Duncan Boys.
“I like the American Classics – Duesenberg, Cadillac, Lincoln,” says Dave. It’s where the bulk of Amelia’s Best of Show and Concours d’Elegance winners come from and the cars most people picture in their imagination when the word “concours” is spoken aloud.
Dave and Ryan opted for the Amelia’s “dawn patrol”: the 6:00 a.m. to noon shift as the cars enter the field. Though Duncan Senior has the work ethic of a steam engine, it’s not the “early bird catches the worm” spirit that drives the Duncans onto Amelia’s field so early on a spring Sunday morning.
“That gives us the afternoon to see the whole field,” says Dave. A practical choice, considering Class Host volunteer badges tend to function like back stage passes on Concours Sunday afternoon.
Grandfathers handle things rather differently than fathers. Advice, questions or suggestions from Granddad are absent the imperative of a parental interrogation or command. Dave Duncan’s 13 years as an Amelia Class Host have burnished his style and invested his advice to his grandson with a broad and deep appreciation of the car hobby and what it means to be part of it.
That investment has paid off. Ryan followed his grandfather’s path when he got his first car last summer. It is no surprise that it’s a Chevy; an uncle’s 1967 Camaro convertible that will require learning the basics of the car restoration arts.
Next summer that education will expand when the pair takes Dave’s ’55 Nomad on a good, old-fashioned, V-8, American road trip, back to the Duncan’s ancestral home in Kentucky. The two will make a bonus pit stop at a supplier of proper and correct restoration parts for elderly Chevys.
“When I told Ryan about my plans for the trip he explained to me that he was going,” Dave says with undisguised pride in his grandson’s instant enthusiasm and directness.
Like their days together with Amelia’s American Classics, next summer’s road trip will likely be equal parts entertainment and education. According to Dave, Ryan is at the perfect age to learn about the restoration, care and feeding of old cars. But perhaps the most important lesson Dave can offer Ryan is his personal and straightforward (and very American) life philosophy. After three attempts over the last decade, Dave has found traditional retirement elusive. A series of self-assigned and designed jobs beyond Amelia’s field have kept him moving.
“I believe once you become inactive (long pause)…it’s over,” says Dave. Keeping to that philosophy has been easy for the senior Duncan. Cars have been a big part of that equation, and so has Ryan with his burgeoning enthusiasms.
“I’m trying to help him learn these things,” says Dave who seemed to be talking about a lot more than the art of Chevy restoration.