Sunday, June 26, 2011

Art of the Car Concours at the Kansas City Art Institute was not just another car show

Sure, we cover a bunch of different car shows. But the Art of the Car Concours at the Kansas City Art Institute is different. Very different. This is a "by invitation only" affair, where some of the most exclusive cars in the country assemble here in town for a once-a-year, once-in-a-lifetime chance to get close to things that you may only see in pictures.

Yes, it is strange that my '63 Chevy pickup with no paint on the hood didn't receive an invitation. Perhaps it was just an oversight. I'll try and get that rectified for next year, so the people can admire its beauty.

The guy I need to see about that is Kansas City attorney Marshall Miller. The Art of the Car Concours is a passion for him, as he spends countless hours and a great deal of money to make this happen each year. Proceeds are then generously donated to the Kansas City Art Institute scholarship fund.

Before I get to the cars, let me tell you a little about the experience. Now you would think that a picturesque, tree-lined locale like the Art Institute would give you a more relaxing experience than what we're used to at the typical cruise night. You'd be wrong. This show is promoted in the paper; the television news channels do live remotes; it's all over the Internet. Where at a normal car show, most of the spectators own the cars, at this one, there are literally thousands of folks who are strictly there to look. You're lucky if you can park anywhere near the show field.

There are also lots of cameras; big, fancy cameras. Where normally I can zip through a car show and get everything I need for my slideshows in a short amount of time, here you spend much of the day waiting for people to focus and adjust things on their high-end cameras. It is at the Art Institute, so maybe they're art students. I don't know, but they made my little camera seem pretty dopey.

Ironically, the things that attract all these photogs that otherwise do not appear to be particular car show fans are the cars themselves. Sure, there were a few '57 Chevys in the mix (I'm pretty sure that if someone had an all-Mercedes show there would at least be one '57 Chevy), but most of these cars were otherworldly. As the name implies, some of these transcend being mere cars, and find themselves in the category of art.

There were things there that I'm pretty sure I'm not even worthy of looking at. There was a red and blue '29 Duesenberg J129 Dual Cowl Phaeton that I'm certain should have had an electric fence protecting it. I mean it--it might be the most spectacular thing I've ever seen. If you spun around and saw it out of the corner of your eye when you weren't expecting it, it could knock the wind out of you.

And there was a '30 Rolls Royce there that should have been behind glass. This car was ridiculous. I talked to the owner, who told me that it belonged to a Russian princess that had the body custom built in Paris. The back doors had inlaid tile artwork in them that looked like a tropical aborigine hunting with a bow and arrow.

Another one that I couldn't seem to tear myself away from was the 1956 Nash-Rambler Palm Beach. This Pinin Farina-bodied car reminded me of one of the Virgil Exner-designed Chryslers of the same era. But ultimately, this one-off concept car was to be the impetus for a still-born Nash sports car. This car is a heavy-hitter, originally shown at the Paris Auto Show, and later displayed at the exclusive Pebble Beach Concours. It recently made headlines when it sold at the Gooding and Company Scottsdale auction for $528,000. Surprisingly, the current owners do not live in Los Angeles, New York, or Paris, but in unassuming Kearney, Neb.

There was also a 1936 Stout Scarab sitting there. I've never seen one in person, but always wanted to. It's sort of a big, Art Deco minivan. Taken as a whole, it's really pretty ugly. But when you study the details, its beauty grows on you.  It won the coveted People's Choice Award.

I could go on and on about the cars that I found interesting, but I fear I'm probably loosing readers with every word I type. So instead, I'll leave you with something we can all appreciate, a slideshow with 320 pictures from the 2011 Art of the Car Concours. I'll warn you right now, I took them all with a little camera that fits in my pocket, but these cars are so interesting, they're artwork all by themselves. You don't need a fancy camera to see that.


  1. What a great story and even better photos, if that's possible! Your article really captures the flavor of the Concours!

  2. Very good article. One correction though, the KC Star lists the Scarab as a 1936. I believe this is correct because the vehicle was powered by a flat head Ford V8 which didn't exist in 1931.

  3. Thanks, David. You're probably right. I'll look into it.

  4. Great writeup and you're linked in Hemmings for it--congratulations! Nice photos too...

    You asked earlier about my allegiances: Chrysler is my primary brand, but I love just about any old car. Probably have the least passion for GM cars...just because we had hardly any of them in my family.

  5. Thanks! I've been a fan of Hemmings since well back into the Special Interest Autos days, so it is always an honor to be recognized by them!

  6. craig, thanks for covering this in such detail. no one else did that i know of. i couldn't go, so your photos - little dink camera or not - are great! - mike t.