City staff planning something special to celebrate the 85th birthday of Palm Springs this Saturday had an ace up their sleeves: The organizer of a classic vehicle parade is a long-time resident with decades of experience.
Keith McCormick, founder of McCormick’s Palm Springs Collector Car Auctions, has been working overtime to secure one classic car from each of the city’s more than 80 years in existence.
While a record exists for the most classic cars in one parade – nearly 2,500 – no city has accomplished the feat of having so many cars marking 85 years in one place, according to the city’s website.
Palm Springs was incorporated in 1938, and it’s those early cars that most excite McCormick, a difficult feat for a man who has seen and sold just about every type of classic car in his roughly 50 years of business.
When The Post caught up with him, McCormick and his team had just secured the final three cars to complete the 85 sequential years. It had taken weeks to get to that finish line.
“I thought the whole thing was going to be impossible because I needed cars from the war years,” McCormick said, adding that securing vehicles from 1943 through 1945 is often a difficult task.
After calling several museums who declined to lend him their cars, a local Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient gave him the idea to contact March Air Reserve Base.
“They told me they have the exact three Jeeps I needed, but they don’t run,” said McCormick. Undaunted, McCormick said his crew will be strapping the Jeeps onto trailers and towing them through the parade with the other vehicles.
Acquiring the final three pieces to the parade puzzle capped off four months of planning and coordinating with the owners of each of the other 82 cars. McCormick took on the project after the city invited him to brainstorm a show-stopping idea for the 85th anniversary. “It’s a labor of love,” he said.
To pull it off, McCormick first tapped his 20,000-person contact list. After more than half a century in the car auction business in Palm Springs, his network has a wide reach, but he estimates about 70% of the cars in the parade are owned by locals.
“We started getting hundreds of calls a day from people wanting their cars in the parade,” he said.
It’s not the first time that Palm Springs has tapped McCormick for help. In 1985, while he was on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, city officials wondered if it would be possible to encourage more tourism with a Grand Prix race through the city.
That idea evolved into the city’s first Vintage Grand Prix, which featured 19 Formula One and IndyCar veterans, including Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Stirling Moss and Bob Bondurant, all on the same grid. The 1.2-mile course started on Calle El Segundo, then continued to Amado Road, Avenida Caballeros, Andreas Road, and finally returned to El Segundo.
The city eventually put on four more Grand Prix races with McCormick’s help. “That took us down a road, all of a sudden, where we became quite well-known by Southern California car enthusiasts for putting on these special events,” he said.
That notoriety led McCormick and his wife, Desley, to start doing classic car auctions.
“We had 200 cars during our first auction, and here we are 38 years later, doing two auctions a year with 600 cars each auction,” he said.
The auction is routinely rated as one of the top classic car auctions in the country, and McCormick has helped sell cars owned by famous names like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.
McCormick credits his success to honest business practices.
“The car industry is, unfortunately, tainted with a lot of dubious salesmen and scams,” he said. “So if you pay people on time, and you’re honest and do right by them, word spreads.”
A natural businessman, McCormick remembers buying a toy car as a kid, painting it and then selling it to classmates for a tiny profit. A few years later, when he was 18 and his wife was 16, they saved up their money to buy a car on consignment.
By 25, he had five dealerships in England. But it was a family vacation to Palm Springs in the 1970s that changed his life.
“Palm Springs felt like a little England with sunshine every day,” he said. Realizing they could display their cars outside year-round without worrying about rain, they sold their dealerships, left Blackpool, and moved to Palm Springs in 1981.
Now, their children and grandchildren still live in the Coachella Valley. And having a grandpa with access to classic cars has its perks. “I used to pick the grandkids up from school in a Ferrari,” he said.
The business has also remained a family affair; their son, Jason, works as a manager at the auction headquarters, while grandchildren help bidders register. McCormick and his wife still love Palm Springs just as much as the day they first visited. “This community loves to celebrate anything,” he said.
And this weekend, with the city’s anniversary celebration, will prove to be no different. The all-day party starts with the parade at 11:30 a.m., which will feature dozens of celebrities and luminaries riding in the classic cars, including the celebrity grand marshal Nancy Sinatra.
The cars will gather at the Palm Springs Convention Center and drive straight down Amado Road to the new Downtown Park, where they will stage all 85 cars around the Marilyn Monroe statue.
McCormick envisions parade-goers posing by the car representing their birth year and taking a photo of the iconic cars framing the statue. There will even be something special for the folks who weren’t able to get their own cars in the parade. “I’m telling everyone to come downtown, find a parking spot, and let’s all go cruising like it’s spring break again,” he said.
There will also be a DJ, activities for children, a dog costume contest and an Elton John tribute concert to round out the night.
But just because McCormick has secured all the cars doesn’t mean his job is over. “All week, I’ve been personally calling every single owner to double check that they’ll be there,” he said.
Still, he couldn’t be happier.
“It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever put together,” he said.
More information: The classic car parade is planned for 11:30 a.m., but is only the start of a day of entertainment and activities designed to help celebrate the city’s birthday. Additional details are available online. McCormick, along with parade grand marshal Nancy Sinatra and philanthropist Harold Matzner will be presented keys to the city.