The Bulgari name, known worldwide for producing fine jewelry and other luxury goods, can now add Food Lion AutoFair Best of Show champion to its list of accomplishments after a 1961 Buick Electra 225 convertible owned by Nicola Bulgari was awarded the show’s top prize Sunday.

Bulgari is the grandson of Sotirio Voulgaris, who founded BVLGARI in 1884. The company went on to become one of the world’s top jewelry companies and has expanded its offerings to include a wide range of high-end luxury products.

In addition to being a successful businessman, Bulgari is an avid collector of American cars, a passion that stems from his early childhood.

“Growing up as a boy in Rome, Italy, he dreamt of and loved American cars – Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac,” said Keith Flickinger, curator and restorer for Bulgari’s worldwide car. “As he was growing up, he just had an infatuation with these cars.

“So here you have this Italian, wealthy man, could have anything in the world – every Bugatti, Maserati, Gullwing, Alfa Romeo 2.9, and he didn’t want any of them – didn’t even want to look at them. He fell in love with Buick, Cadillac and really GM, where his real heart and soul is, just because of the elegance and the style.”

Over the years, Bulgari added nearly 250 Buicks, Pontiacs, Oldsmobile and Cadillacs, among other American makes, to his collection.

“It’s beyond a passion anymore. It’s an obsession,” said Flickinger. “Mr. Bulgari has been in love with Buicks since he was nine years old. Since that time, time he’s always wanted a ’61 – it had to be ’61 – Electra 225… It’s one of his favorites.”

Bulgari is particularly fond of how the rear quarter panel on the Electra flows into the taillights so seamlessly it almost appears the car has no rear bumper, Flickinger said. But, for Bulgari, it’s not enough that his cars look good. They have to drive well, too.

“When we restore a car, everything has to be redone – every screw, every nut, every washer. Not only for the case of it looking great, but Mr. Bulgari loves driving his cars. That’s what cars are made for,” Flickinger said.

In addition to driving the cars, Flickinger said Bulgari wants to preserve the history that they represent.

“For him, it’s a labor of love, so your great-great-great-great grandchild can see a real one, long after he’s passed away,” Flickinger said. It’s for generations down the road. It’s not about his name. It’s not about who he is. It’s about the history of the automobile that he’s trying to preserve. And for a Roman to do that for America is just awesome for me.”

For winning Best in Show, Flickinger was given a silver cup trophy to share with Bulgari.

For the second year at the Food Lion AutoFair, a first and second runner-up in the Best in Show category was selected. The first runner-up was a 1989 Toyota Supra-turbo owned by Marshall Allen, of Concord, N.C., and second runner-up was a 1973 AMC Javelin owned by Louie and Carol Lanthrip, of Pace, Fla.

The specialty award winners were: Paul Haddock, from Charlotte, N.C., who took home the Bob Laidlein Award (Most Original) with his 1970 Buick Riviera; Robert and Lauren Wallace of Concord, N.C., winner of the Cabarrus Cup Award (Most Creative) for their 1968 Pro Street Chevy; Lexington, S.C. resident Jerry Caulder, winner of the Lion Cup Award (Best Paint) for his 2011 2SS Camaro; and Ron Bales of Richfield, N.C., who captured the Mecklenburg Strelitz Award (Ladies’ Choice) for his 1950 Ford convertible.

Each of the car clubs participating in the Food Lion AutoFair was judged individually, with a Best of Show picked for each club.

The fall 2012 AutoFair takes place Sept. 20-23 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. For details, contact the Charlotte Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.