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HomeEventsThe Casual Concours presents a celebration of mid-century modernism

The Casual Concours presents a celebration of mid-century modernism

Palm Springs provides the setting for a delightfully different sort of concours

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Know your audience

It really doesn’t matter if you are delivering a speech or staging a car show, give the people what they want. The Casual Concours, part of the Modernism Week Fall Preview in the greater Palm Springs, California area, understands this and delivers the goods.

Every generation yearns for the touchstones of its youth, often the toys they owned or longed for. Think of Citizen Kane and Rosebud. Today, most of those closing in on becoming a senior citizen (a large segment of the Coachella Valley) look fondly back at the automobiles that defined who they were or who they wanted to be.

Mid-century modern is alive

Palm Springs, The Casual Concours presents a celebration of mid-century modernism, ClassicCars.com Journal

The 2021 Casual Concours is the 12th iteration of what started as a humble car show, Chrome and Color, back in West Hollywood. With each passing show, it has gathered momentum and increased its standing on the “must-see” list. Of course, this only happens due to the ongoing efforts of dedicated individuals including Steven Aaron, John Burge, Tom Dolle, Jeff Stork and others, and with financial support from sponsors including Porsche Palm Springs, The Agency Real Estate and The Whelan-Prescott Foundation.

Modernism Week is rolling with the punches from the ongoing bout with the pandemic. The four-day, Fall-Preview October celebration of Mid-Century Modern design, a scaled-down version of the February main event, exemplifies the motto of “The Show Must Go On.” However, some aspects were scaled back or postponed until it’s safer, hopefully next year.

Numerous events, like the clever “The Best of Mod with A Twist” at the historic Desert Star Apartments, were held outdoors. At Best of Mod, the retrospective reminded guests that not all was sleek and polished in the middle of the last century, unlike the television show Mad Men. Yes, some of the advertising was quirky, truly exaggerated, and even racist and sexist. The kitschy Tiki/Hawaiian themes were based on fiction, the glamorous depiction of cowboys out in the local desert were far from that. And, coincidentally, not all the cars from the era were as cool as we’d like to think they were.

The swingin’ ‘60s and stylish ‘70s

Palm Springs, The Casual Concours presents a celebration of mid-century modernism, ClassicCars.com Journal

It’s the Casual Concours, dubbed Motor City Glamour, that brings out pristine examples of cars from the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and more, which highlight what we now perceive as stylish. On the other hand, there are a few cars that might be considered ugly ducklings. However, even those are clean examples of what life was really like in the years that those rolled off the assembly line.

Just glancing at the field of vintage transportation, one gets a sense of what life was like decades ago. Currently, it seems cars only come in one of three colors – white, black, or silver. However, this event showcases a vast selection of paint choices. Those of a certain age probably have fond memories of cars motoring the highways in shades of green, or brown, or orange. Consumer tastes definitely change over time.


Similar to other concourses, the Casual Concours has a larger, humanitarian purpose as a fundraiser. Over the prior 11 events that have been organized by Great Autos Southern California, all manner of non-profits has benefited, from the Desert AIDS Project to the Palm Springs Animal Shelter. This year the charity is Sanctuary – a transitional housing and foster care program.

A different yet familiar car show

Palm Springs, The Casual Concours presents a celebration of mid-century modernism, ClassicCars.com Journal
Palm Springs, The Casual Concours presents a celebration of mid-century modernism, ClassicCars.com Journal

What you find at the Casual Concours is groupings by decades, not unlike a typical concours. There’s also a wonderful green beltway normally reserved for golfing. However, that nearly hit a bump in the road as Burge explains, “The (Desert Princess Country Club golf) course received the wrong grass seed late and wanted to push our event back a couple of weeks.” 

Fortunately, all the pieces of the puzzle came together. The vistas are well-worth soaking up, along with fountains, palm trees galore, and local mountains that frame the picture. What you won’t see is million-dollar cars and uptight aristocrats. Hence the name, Casual Concours. Perhaps that’s the reason why “People flew in from Chicago, Washington DC, Kansas, Seattle, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas just to see our show,” says Burge.

This doesn’t have the rarified air and displays of Pebble Beach and the lot. But this is far more democratized where the rich and those of lesser means look the same and can find common ground on their automotive passion. True, there are a few Bentleys and Rolls-Royces on the lawn, in the same vein as the 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud presented by Fred Ross and Gary Hiatt, but for the most part, these are not the kind of cars you’ll need to sell off vital bodily organs in order to obtain. Yet, a go-fund-me account couldn’t hurt.

And truly, what’s not to love at this event? After all, one can lust over any number of Cadillacs and Lincolns. As an example, the 1962 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible of Gary Carr seems a perfect fit for the desert. The long, taut lines coupled with the lower and wider body make this yacht-like, luxury machine appear even bigger. The flair the cars from this era exude only gives another reason as to why so many vintage cars reside out in the Palm Springs vicinity. Plus, ample roadways with few curves makes this place ideal for these rides.

Perhaps something German is more to one’s liking? There’s a fine selection of Porsches and Mercedes-Benz. The 1973 Mercedes Benz 450 SL owned by Jeff Sandstrom looks clean and inviting. But then, so does the gleaming 1982 Porsche 928 just a few yards away presented by Steve Blake and Jim Reed. At the other end of the spectrum sits a red, 1968 Volkswagen Beetle owned by Jim Sheya. Sure, it’s not as speedy as the Porsche, but at least it’s a convertible. And it too is fit for a concours.  

The stately and the strange

Palm Springs, The Casual Concours presents a celebration of mid-century modernism, ClassicCars.com Journal

To offset the obvious beauty of most on the lawn, the quirkiness of AMC is showcased. The displayed Rambler Ambassador convertible and the AMC Pacer are two fine examples. However, the 1972 Gremlin of the Vickroy Collection takes the cake. A little weird is a good thing.

This would not be the desert without having the Ford Thunderbird represented. After all, the Thunderbird name comes from the local country club of the same name, as legend has it. Certainly, the 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible of Michael Dossett has the wow factor the designers intended it to have. Then again, it’s hard to argue with the 1957 T-Bird of Candace Brown, which captures the flavor of the late 50s with style that rivaled the Corvette of the time.

It would be easy to have the local community flood the concours with every year Chevrolet Corvette manufactured. But, in this case, less is more. The 1958 Corvette in red with white coves does provide a striking counterpoint to the Ford products. This also captures the thrill of the emerging sports car market found in the late fifties. 

There’s even a smattering of unique cars. A concours-ready 1993 Cadillac Allante convertible certainly fits that description. The ’67 Ghia 450 SS of Mike and Sally Kerns also comes to mind. Definitely far beyond the normal is Mike Parente’s 1990 Toyota Sera with butterfly doors. And there are various examples of brands that have come and gone. Avanti, Kaiser, La Salle, Mercury, Packard, Pontiac, and others. 

The desert delivers

Palm Springs, The Casual Concours presents a celebration of mid-century modernism, ClassicCars.com Journal

Perhaps the one thing the Casual Concours embraces that no other concours has is the city of Palm Springs. There’s a certain magic for days-gone-bye that lingers in the air and ties in with the history of the mid-century modern movement. And, as any good real estate professional will tell you, there are three important points you should always remember. Location, location, and location. 

Of course, anyone at the show would probably also add a fourth point to that – some cool cars.

Palm Springs, The Casual Concours presents a celebration of mid-century modernism, ClassicCars.com Journal
John Grafman
John has spent a decade modeling concept-cars and two decades in the automotive media, and he’s not insane. He got his hands dirty in the design studios of BMW/Designworks, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Metalcrafters (Chrysler, Dodge, Mercedes-Benz), Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Wings West, Five-Axis, and more. John continues as the Executive Editor at AutoDesignO. His editorials and images cover everything from Avanti to Rolls-Royce. Styling gets him excited, but that’s only part of the story.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Curious to know if there were any 1960 Buick s there: one of the most sculpted cars ever produced and especially the convertible looks ready for take off at any time

  2. Thank you John Grafman for your enjoyable article. Your words bring us to the event. I love good writing as much as cars and you have brought us both.

  3. @josephdemeyer there are 1960 Buicks owned by Great Autos club members and a1959 Buick station wagon owned by Tim Taylor and Ken Zander was a real showstopper at Casual Concours.

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