By Richard Truesdell
Although there was an ominous threat of bad weather--snow fell in parts of Los Angeles on Saturday night--Mother Nature cooperated with clear skies for the fourth annual Desert Classic Concours d'Elegance. More than 200 vehicles made their way to the concours show field at the La Quinta Resort in La Quinta, California, just east of the mecca of mid-century design, Palm Springs.
For the second year in a row, the best-of-show trophy went home with Aaron and Valerie Weiss. They followed up their 2010 win with their 1930 Cadillac Fleetwood with a trip to this year's winner's circle with their equally stunning 1929 Auburn 8-120.
The People's Choice winner was a one-off mid-engined coupe designed by Tom Tjaarda and Peter Giacobbi, who still owns the car. It was dubbed Sinthesis for its incorporation of so many Italian styling cues of the late Sixties. This should come as no surprise, given that Tjaarda penned such cars as the Fiat 124 Spider and the De Tomaso Pantera, possibly his best-known design.
The theme of this year's show was 100 years of racing at Indianapolis, and the show field was crowded with significant Indy race cars leading up to the late Seventies. My favorite was this 1966 Gurney Eagle brought by the expanding Riverside International Raceway Museum, located about an hour west, not far from the spot where Riverside International Raceway once stood.
There was plenty of exotica to go around, but with the impending arrival of Fiat's new 500, it was easy to focus on the Fiat-powered cars and truck. Yes, there was a Fiat truck on display, a one-of-five 1950 500C Topliner pickup owned by Mike and Barbara Malamut of Thousand Oaks, California. The couple also displayed a one-of-100 500C Topliner woody station wagon, complete with surfboard, photos of which are available in the Automotive Traveler/Fotki Image Gallery.
From the same era were two additional small-displacement Fiat sports coupes. The first was a Zagato-bodied 1949 Fiat 750 Zagato Mille Miglia displayed by Scott Gauthier of Scottsdale, Arizona.
The second Fiat coupe was this 1953 Fiat Stanguellini Berlinetta displayed by Joseph Ventura of San Diego. Featuring a unique hatchback, this car, like the Mille Miglia, bristled with wonderful detailing that had much in common with the coachwork found on Ferrari and Maserati bodies of the immediate post-war era.
One of my personal favorites, with its nautical theme, was the 1958 Fiat Eden Roc, an open sportster that looked like a cross between a car and a hot tub. It was originally commissioned by Gianni Agnelli, a scion of the family that still controls Fiat. Brought by William Cord of Costa Mesa, this unusual car was a true crowd pleaser from every angle.
And finally, there was this 1960 Fiat Lusso, owned by Bob Lucurelle of nearby Rancho Mirage. At first glance, it might be mistaken for an American-inspired Opel, Holden, or possibly an English Ford. This little four-door proved that good things come in small packages. In this case, just about the same size as the new Fiat 500.
Staying with an Italian theme, Don Murray of Laguna Beach brought his recently purchased 1947 Ferrari 166 coupe with coachwork by Touring. Not only did Don display his car at the concours, he drove it on Saturday's tour from La Quinta past the Salton Sea and back to Palm Desert where it was displayed at Culstot's Restaurant.
While there were many fine British entrants on the show field, one that stood out among all the Rolls Royces and Bentleys was the comparatively small 1961 Jaguar Mk II sedan brought by Tom Krefetz of Oceanside, California. Instead of being finished in traditional British Racing Green, this car sported a light-green exterior with a contrasting biscuit interior.
Representing the German marques was Murray Fowler's remarkable 1969 BMW 2800 CS coupe. Fowler, who hails from Costa Mesa, has driven his coupe an incredible 417,000 miles and was recently featured on BMW's unscripted short film series. He was showcased in the preservation class of unrestored cars.
From France was a brace of Facel Vega coupes. While some featured a Facel Vega-designed engine, most were noted for their big-block Chrysler V8 engines. Among the five Facel Vegas on display was a 1955 Facel Vega FV 1 powered by a 4.5-liter De Soto Hemi, brought by John Bacardo of Palm Springs.
And from Spain, looking like a cross between a mid-Fifties Ferrari and an Aston Martin coupe was this stunning 1956 Pegaso Z 102 Touring coupe, always a big draw, brought by Jack Vopal of Simi Valley.
While there was a large cross section of first- and second-generation Corvettes on display, as expected, it took Michael Thomas from Palm Springs to stand out among the two-seaters with his 1959 Chevrolet Fleetside 4X4 pickup. His award as top commercial vehicle was very well received by the crowd.
While we hope you enjoyed the full-screen images showcased here, be sure to visit the Automotive Traveler/Fotki Image Gallery, where you can check out more than 500 images from the 2011 Desert Classic. Details of the 2012 event are at the concours website.