Desert Concorso: A piece of Monterey, but modified for a different environment

There will be diversity in the desert
Cars line up for Desert Concorso preview at Shadow Mountain resort| Desert Concoro photo
Cars line up for Desert Concorso preview at Shadow Mountain resort| Desert Concoro photos

In the early 1980s, the Maserati Club International held a concours and awards dinner at the Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley. A few years later, the club invited the Lamborghini Club to what had become Concorso Italiano, a “celebration of Italian style.”

Soon, other marques joined the party, including the Ferrari Club, and by 2003 the event had outgrown its venue and moved across the Monterey Peninsula to the Bayonet Black Horse golf course. Other venues have followed, though this summer the event returns to the Black Horse site.

But before that gathering in August, organizers of Concorso Italiano will make their first venture outside the Monterey Peninsula when they stage the inaugural Desert Concorso on March 30 at the Shadow Mountain resort in Palm Desert, just southeast of Palm Springs.

“Concorso Italiano at Monterey is so popular,” said Concorso president Tom McDowell. “And we were seeing some strong growth in what I call the upper end of the Italian and exotic car market. We thought, ‘We’ve captured a bit of magic in Monterey, is there a way to bring that magic to other regions?’


We’ve captured a bit of magic in Monterey, is there a way to bring that magic to other regions?”
— Tom McDowell


[/pullquote]“Southern California is mecca for the automobile world on all levels and certainly in the exotic car market,” he added. “We looked around. Where do we do it. We decided on the Coachella Valley, which is picturesque and affluent, as well as growing 95 percent of the American date crop.

McDowell said that while Concorso organizers were launching a second event, they also saw an opportunity to do things a little differently.

“We’re opening it up to European cars, and we even have some American and Japanese cars that are special,” he said. “This first year or two will be heavily weighted toward the Italian car world, but as word spreads among the German and British car communities, we’ll become a little more diversified, maybe a lot more diversified.”

There will be diversity in the desert
There will be diversity in the desert

Actually, there will be some interesting diversity right from the start. The event will include a class for 1932 Ford roadster hot rods as well as classes for Chevrolet Corvettes of various vintages. There also will be classes for purpose-built racing cars, early BMW racers, DeLoreans, and a group of Renault 5 Turbos.

For the most part, cars on display will be built before 1970, “except for Italian cars, we accept them regardless of age,” McDowell said, adding that there also is an exemption for ultra-exotic contemporary cars such as the Swedish-built Koenigsegg, and there will be a rainbow-colored display of Bentley GTs, and a group of Aston Martins.

“We don’t want this to be just a new car display,” McDowell said, “but we want very special cars that stand out.”

Cars will be judged and prizes awarded, though judging rules are more relaxed than those at a formal concours d’elegance. For examples, prizes will be given for “Best V12,” “Best Vintage Ferrari,” etc.

In addition to exotic sports car from various nations, Desert Concorso will be a celebration of Italian (and European) lifestyle with fashion, food, music and more.

While the Desert Concorso is the first spinoff of Concorso Italiano, it likely won’t be the last, though McDowell said the organizing committee will be move carefully.

“There’s only so much we want to bite off,” he said.

“We’re launching our first second event. We want to be sure we pull it off properly.”

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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