• Pinterest

We like car shows. We go to as many of them as our gasoline credit card will allow. And we want to help the ones just starting out to get going and become great events. But that said, while there’s no law that says concours must be held only on golf courses or in beautiful parks overlooking the deep blue Pacific, maybe there should be. For instance …

Palm Springs Stadium used to be the spring training camp for the California Angels. A long time ago. Now it’s a nice enough venue for a local baseball team, but would you choose it to host a concours?

Last year, Desert Concorso held its inaugural event at the fabulous, sprawling Shadow Mountain Resort in Palm Desert. There was green grass as far as the eyeball could see, deep blue water hazards masquerading as picturesque lakes and a huge resort hotel right there. This year, the event moved to the somewhat rundown 66-year-old ballpark, fenced in on all sides to give it an air of exclusivity, or maybe the feel of a prison yard.

“For us, Palm Springs Stadium is a unique venue,” said Concorso head Tom McDowell, the same guy who saved Concorso Italiano and now makes it one of the biggest and most enjoyable events of the Monterey Car Week.

He’s right about unique — we can’t think of another Concours held in a baseball stadium. But this is only the second year of the show, and we have faith McDowell will sort things out. Palm Springs in winter is a splendid place and the perfect time for a great car event, and McDowell has big plans for it. We can’t wait to see how he develops the show.

This year, there were many cool cars on hand. Palm Springs’ history as a racing venue was celebrated with a special display of old race cars from 1950-58. There were two Allards, a Cunningham C-3, Jaguar XK140, 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster and even a “Baldwin Special” and a 1950 Mercury Coupe, the latter which represented the class of big American iron that also raced at Palm Springs’ original street circuit. Palm Springs was part of the great circuit of sports-car racing venues all over Southern California that included Paramount Ranch, Torrey Pines, Pomona, Santa Barbara Airport and Willow Springs, to name a few. So there’s plenty of historical precedent for a vintage car event here.

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles brought several cars, including a Scaglietti-bodied Corvette and a 1923 Benz. Several – many – members of the Petersen’s support group the Checkered Flag 200 brought cars, too.

“We just want to support the event,” said Checkered Flag 200 alpha male Bruce Meyer.

The Riverside International Automotive Museum also shared its collection. Classic Assets in San Diego brought an exquisite 1929 Duesenberg Model J with coachwork by LeBaron.

Manufacturers were represented, too. Panoz was a supporting sponsor and brought an entire infield of road and race cars, from the current Esperante Spyder, Coupe and Convertible to the GTR1 race car. Even Dan Panoz himself was there. Lucra brought one of its insanely powerful and loud LC470s. Superformance brought what looked like one of everything it makes, from various Cobras to its GT40. There were even a couple modern-day Fiats parked behind official-looking Fiat flags.

Private owners made up the balance of the field. Harry Rieger brought his 1963 Split-Window Corvette, restored in 1987 and still looking showroom shiny. Roger and Rhonda Groves brought their 1960 Alfa SZ to the delight of Alfistis everywhere in the stadium. Caretaker Alan Taylor brought Paul Emple’s 1930 Isotta Fraschini that had been rebodied with a Flying Star roadster body in the late ’90s. It looked like a giant piece of delicious vanilla wedding cake. Other cool cars we liked included: a 1970 Maserati Ghibli SS, a 1959 Aston Martin MkIII, a Lamborghini 350 GT, a Ferrari 365 GT and John Romano’s “unmolested original survivor” 1971 Datsun 240Z. 

Desert Concorso from the press box

The view from on top of the press box. Ferraris are in center field, Astons in right.

Something that set this show apart, and demonstrated the need to fill out a field at a young show, was the number of more commonplace, fairly unremarkable modern cars. There were couple-year-old Mercedes and BMWs, some older Triumphs and, of course, the requisite handful of Lamborghini Gallardos. But there was also one each of the modern supercar triumvirate of Porsche 918, Ferrari LaFerrari and McLaren P1 at the show. There was variety like you don’t see at other, older, more established and more focused shows.

“Desert Concorso, in only its second year, is developing a unique flavor — kind of a Concorso Italiano for snow birds who like a little English and American seasoning in their Italian car shows,” said co-emcee Keith Martin, publisher of Sports Car Market.

McDowell has a grand vision for Desert Concorso that includes a week’s worth of activities anchored by his show on the first weekend and the McCormick’s Collector Car Auction on the second weekend. In between there would be other events, maybe a rally, maybe other things. This is only the second year. The night before this year’s Desert Concorso, there was a Jet Center Party at Thermal Airport to the east of Palm Springs. We didn’t attend that, but it sounded like fun. There were reports that a Ferrari LaFerrari hit 200 mph on Thermal’s private runway, but we couldn’t confirm that.

“We want to build some more events to fill out the week,” said McDowell. “We’d like to have a rally and some other events.”

We are guessing many car enthusiasts would like that, too. Given its spot on the calendar, its history as a sports-car race venue and the enthusiasm of the city of Palm Springs, there’s no reason this couldn’t grow into a must-do car week to offer a winter counterbalance to Pebble one day. They just have to move it out of the infield.