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Home / News / Travel / La Jolla Concours d’Elegance offers a spectacular and unforgettable coastal getaway

La Jolla Concours d’Elegance offers a spectacular and unforgettable coastal getaway

by May Ruiz
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Located about 120 miles south of Pasadena, La Jolla is a wealthy seaside community with a population of approximately 50,000 or close to a third of Pasadena’s. It occupies seven miles of coastline and is home to several venerable educational foundations, including the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and University of California San Diego; historic buildings like the La Jolla Woman’s Club and La Jolla Recreational Center; renowned sports venues such as Torrey Pines Golf course and La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.     

It is also the breathtaking setting for the Annual La Jolla Concours d’Elegance, which will be held this year from April 19 to 21. Presented by LPL Financial and major sponsors Panerai, Mercedes Benz, and Sotheby’s, among others, it will showcase classic automobiles from the Roaring ’20s and Glamorous ’30s. Celebrating its 18th year, it is recognized as the premier automotive lifestyle event.

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Concours d’Elegance

Speaking by phone, event chair Michael Dorvillier talks about the event’s humble beginnings and how it evolved into one of the most prestigious classic automobile showcases in the country. He relates, “It was created 20 years ago as the La Jolla Motor Cars Classic by a group of community leaders and merchants with the primary objective of bringing business into La Jolla in the month of January when things are usually really, really quiet. Then sometime in 2011 or 2012 the original founders handed ownership of the show to the La Jolla Historical Society.”

“Incidentally, the historical society’s executive director at the time was a friend of mine and didn’t know anything about cars,” adds Dorvillier. “The founding group knew I was a car collector – I would always go to the show because it was in my own backyard. I put in a car once; it was always a fun thing for me to do. They also knew I was passionate about the community and I had relationships in the car world. I was asked to step in and be part of the committee that oversaw the event. I was at a point in my professional career when I was financially stable and I wanted to find something I could donate time and money to.”

A wealth manager offering financial services, Dorvillier has lived in La Jolla for the past 35 years. It was where he raised his kids and established his business. Buying and collecting old cars, tinkering with them and showing them, became a lifelong hobby when he bought his first car – his dad’s 1969 Camaro – which he retrofitted with fancy wheels and a modern motor.

Dorvillier continues, “I joined the committee the first year to observe and soak up as much information as I could about this event as it stood then and what its future could look like. And I realized very quickly they had this really great little car show, but it was on a concours venue at this amazing location – Ellen Browning Scripps Park. No other organization can have that entire  park for a weekend to themselves, but the show had been there long enough that they kind of had that in their back pocket. However, I wasn’t going to put in my time and energy for a local car show held once a year on a Sunday; I wanted to do a proper concours. Thus, in 2013, the three-day weekend getaway called La Jolla Concours d’Elegance was born.”

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Concours d’Elegance

“When we converted it to a concours, we needed to have judges. Today we have 75 volunteer judges who are from different parts of the U.S., and six or seven of them come from overseas. They’re all specialists in the cars they judge and they want to have La Jolla on their resumé. There are, in fact, quite a few high-end concours around the world. You can go to many different ones around the globe and see world-class cars that travel from concours to concours. But what makes us stand out and garner global attention is the experience we offer. Our tagline is ‘world-class cars, world-class experience.’    

And La Jolla Concours d’Elegance has certainly lived up to that claim. Dorvillier remarks, “Last year, we had 21 Duesenbergs on display. Most of them were 1 of 1 – meaning they only ever made one of them. Every single screw, wire, and leather seat was exactly what it would have been when the car was built new. The first five or six Duesenbergs in the line-up were probably worth $100-M. These are pieces of art! They’re very rare, beautiful automobiles. You don’t have to like cars to come to our show and love it and want to come back. You’re looking at art and history.”

The three-day getaway experience has an impressive array of activities with every amenity imaginable. Much thought and planning have gone into this year’s event, starting with the cover art for the posters, programs, tickets, banners, and other promotional materials. Official La Jolla Concours artist Scott Jacobs, prominent for his incredible photorealistic paintings of motorcycles and automobiles, will continue to astound as he paints the 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III from the Aaron Wiess collection.

The 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III epitomizes the luxury and engineering prowess of pre-war Rolls-Royce. This model, replacing the Phantom II, is distinguished as the only V12 Rolls-Royce until 1998’s Silver Seraph. Among the 721 V12 Phantom III chassis built from 1936 to 1939, this particular vehicle is a testament to the era’s peak in automotive luxury and design. Its heart, an aluminum-alloy V12 7.32-liter engine, is a marvel of its time, featuring a dual ignition system with two distributors and 24 spark plugs. Enhanced by Ace wheel discs for aesthetics and practicality, the car also boasts advanced features like on-board jacking and the Bijour lubrication system. Scott Jacobs’s portrayal of this iconic vehicle in his artwork not only captures its elegance and sophistication, but also serves as a tribute to the artistry and grandeur of the automotive and artistic crafts of the era.    

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Concours d’Elegance

Instead of featuring a single marque, the 2024 Concours celebrates a vast range of makes and models from the transformative era of the 1920s and 1930s, including Bugatti, Duesenberg, Packard, Bentley, Rolls Royce, and more. From sleek Art Deco designs to the powerful engines found within, these vehicles will transport spectators back to a time of innovation, luxury, and boundless enthusiasm for automotive craftsmanship.

An exquisite collection of automobiles will also be on display including:

  • 1932 Chrysler CP8 (Robert Schlesier): A marvel of engineering with only 5 surviving examples of the original 251 built. Debuting at the La Jolla Concours after extensive restoration, this car boasts a unique transmission.
  • 1930 Ruxton (The Nethercutt Museum): Of the 96 produced, fewer than 20 survive. The Ruxton’s distinctive striped paint job highlighted its low profile.
  • 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III V-12 (Thrupp & Maberly): Originally commissioned by Sir Kameshwar, Maharajah of Bahadur, this vehicle was a highlight at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours.
  • 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia SS (Mark Angotta): A rarity in black, among the 1,400 built, this model stands out for its stunning livery.
  • 1955 Jaguar D-Type: Once owned by Hollywood comedian and writer Jack Douglas, this is one of only 71 ever made.
  • 1973 250 cc Husqvarna Trials Bike: A rare find in the USA, with only 200 initially imported.
  • Aston Martin DB5: Celebrated as the “Most Famous Car in the World,” renowned for its iconic role in the James Bond film ‘Goldfinger.’
  • Fiat 1500 GT by Ghia (Kipland Howard): An extremely rare model, with only 36 imported to the USA and fewer than 50 known to survive worldwide. Its appearance at the La Jolla Concours marks its American debut.
  • 1962 Triumph Italia 2000 Vignale (Kurt & Sharon Oblinger): Designed by Giovani Michelotti and built by Vignale, this is one of the only 328 ever produced.
Photo courtesy of La Jolla Concours d’Elegance

The world-class experience begins on Friday, April 19, with a VIP Party from 6 to 10 pm at Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Guests will immerse themselves in live music, savor artistically crafted cocktails from a hosted bar, relish gourmet delights from 20 of San Diego’s top restaurants, and participate in an exciting live auction featuring unique items.

On Saturday, April 20, guests will take part in an intimate and exclusive experience from 7 am to 2 pm. They will start the day by visiting remarkable car collections followed by a driving tour of the dramatic scenery of San Diego. A sumptuous lunch awaits them at the private venue.

Later that day, “Porsches on Prospect” goes on from 5 to 9 pm. Guests will witness 75 magnificent Porsches lining Prospect Street, and enjoy the village’s vibrant atmosphere, featuring live music, exclusive retail offers, gallery openings, restaurant specials, and much more.

On Sunday, April 21, from 9 am to 4 pm, guests will get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to view over 200 spectacular and rare vehicles that will be displayed at Ellen Browning Scripps Park on the La Jolla Cove lawn along the breathtaking Pacific Coast. They will indulge in the Champagne and Honey Tasting Garden and other unique experiences throughout the day. They will enjoy live music, visit exclusive vendors, and be treated to refreshing beers and cocktails – all while surrounded by an extraordinary display of cars. Moreover, they will watch a vintage flyover along the coast!

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Concours d’Elegance

That the little La Jolla car show has gone on to the become the dazzling and sought-after weekend party is not lost on Dorvillier. He enthuses, “When I took over as chairman, I jokingly said to someone one day ‘Every time I say to my wife let’s go to this car show this weekend, her response is do we really have to go to another one of those?’ It’s usually the last thing a non-car person wants to do. So we purposefully created an experience where if the husband was the car guy and the wife was sick of going to car shows, she was going to be dragging him back next year. And we have succeeded!”

Dorvillier quickly points out that he didn’t accomplish this feat by himself – there are 24 individuals that make up the committee who share the credit. He says, “Laurel McFarlane of McFarlane Promotions is the event coordinator and she’s been involved with this show from Day One. As the event grew, I spread out the responsibilities so there are now two components: the ‘talent,’ which are the cars; and the business aspect, which encompasses fundraising and sponsors, and the parties. While I oversee the entire project, I focus on the business side and my co-chair Bob Kerner runs the talent side. He has a team underneath him that ensures everything that’s related to the cars is perfect and topnotch – finding the cars and judges, for instance. We’re very discerning when it comes to cars, we don’t take any automobile that comes in. The selection team goes through all the cars and makes sure they’re authentic and original, worthy of having on the field. The executive committee, along with the car selection committee and the chief judge, decides on the marque.”

The La Jolla Concours d’Elegance is actually a year-long endeavor. Dorvillier explains, “We start over the minute one show ends. We didn’t hold it during the pandemic, but in October of 2021 we organized a golf tournament that raised the money we needed to pay for our expenses during the two years we were off. There are costs associated with this event and we needed to generate enough revenue while we sat on the sidelines so the Historical Society wouldn’t get adversely affected.”

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Concours d’Elegance

A unique event in this year’s celebration is the Mille Miglia at La Jolla which Dorvillier is excited about. He says, “Hagerty, the largest insurance company in the car industry, owns the California Mille, which is a 1,000-mile race that started in Italy and is still held there to this day. (The iconic car racing event was begun by Counts Aymo Maggi and Franco Mazzotti in 1927). Hagerty has reinvented that race here in the United States and this year they’re starting the Mille Miglia at La Jolla at the Concours. On Monday morning, all those cars participating in that race – I believe there are about a hundred – will take off on their 1,000-mile race over five days through Southern California. All the cars are classic Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Maseratis  from the ’50s and early ’60s era.” 

It has been a little more than a decade since Dorvillier took the reins of what is now La Jolla Concours d’Elegance. And in that time, he has met many wealthy yet unassuming people who are just taking in the joys of seeing the most beautiful cars in one place. He marvels, “My best memories involve the people that I’ve met in the car hobby world. When you come to our event, you’re standing there looking at a Bugatti or a Duesenberg that costs anywhere from $10-M to $20-M and you’re talking to the owner. You have no idea that that person is a billionaire other than the fact that he owns that car. They’re just very down-to-earth people who are truly passionate about their hobby, which is collecting and preserving these pieces of art.”

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Concours d’Elegance

“For a long time, La Jolla was a sleepy town. But the Concours d’Elegance has livened things up for our community,” declares Dorvillier. “It has helped tourism – people usually arrive on a Thursday and stay for the weekend. Last year we were able to fill 800 hotel rooms; visitors dined in participating restaurants, shopped at clothing stores and various retail establishments, and went into museums. (There were 2,500 attendees in the Sunday events but there were several free events during the weekend so the total attendance was much higher) I’m proud to have played a small role in putting La Jolla back on the international map.” 

“That said, I didn’t do this all by myself,” Dorvillier emphasizes. “Indeed it takes a village to make this happen – we have a dedicated team year-round and 250 volunteers on the weekend of the event. And I want to make sure they get the recognition they deserve.”

Dorvillier and his team have stopped at nothing to put on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. What could be more spectacular than driving down to La Jolla on a beautiful Friday morning this spring with clear blue skies above and the pristine waters of the Pacific Ocean on the horizon and then spending the weekend at the La Jolla Concours d’Elegance? It promises to be one weekend affair to remember!            

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