Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The new Kansas City Automotive Museum puts KC on the classic car map

If you’re a regular here, you know that I’ve taken you to major automotive museums from California to Michigan. But in 28 years of living in Kansas City, I was never able to show you a public car museum that wasn’t in business to sell cars. That changes right now, with the opening of the Kansas City Automotive Museum in Olathe. This isn’t a huge museum, but it has some high-quality cars and interesting Kansas City automotive history. And as nice as this place is, it’s just a start. They’ll continue to refine and improve this location until they move into a larger facility sometime in the near future.

Many of the cars and displays are expected to change frequently, and when I was there they had an Indy pace car collection to go along with Memorial Day weekend and the Indianapolis 500. My favorite was this ’67 Camaro SS convertible. These days, you kind of take it for granted that they’ll use a Camaro for the pace car at the Brickyard, and that all started in 1967 with the very first one. I also like it because you don’t see many of them. There are a lot of white-and-orange ’69 Camaro pace cars out there, but a nice one of these is hard to find.

My dad found this 1931 Cadillac Series 452 Roadster to be the most impressive car in the museum. It’s not hard to see why—just look at it. The dashboard has two different kinds of machine-turned metal. The chrome plating bill on all of the wheels, including the spares, probably cost more than my entire car. Even the flying goddess radiator mascot is classy. Oh, and is that a V16 under the chrome-vented hood? Why yes, yes it is. The thing that strikes you about this car is how indulgent it is. It’s long, tall, and huge, and it has that giant engine. But it actually has a very small cockpit; just enough for a couple of people. This thing is fabulous wretched excess.

I like this 1960 Buick LeSabre convertible. With their sweeping lines and simple trim, ’60 Buicks were some of the best looking cars of their time. And they have one of the most handsome convertible top profiles in history. LeSabres didn’t have the fanciest interiors in the Buick lineup, but they were obviously durable based on how well this one held up. The production LeSabre debuted in 1959, and was named after Harley Earl’s famous 1951 dream car. They came with a 250-hp, 364-c.i. V8, which was the standard engine in their day. This one claimed to be an unrestored original, and I would pretty much agree with that assessment.

1957 Chrysler 300Cs had pretty nice lines too. They were the perfect combination of brash tailfins and grille, paired with clean slab sides and minimal chrome. They only made 1,918 of these “Forward Look” 300s in ’57, and this was a good one. These were available with a Hemi: 392-c.i. with two four-barrels. The buttery Buckskin leather was rich and high-quality, and that roofline is perfection. This car was designed to have four headlights. That was a new phenomenon in 1957, but it was illegal in some states until 1958. So sometimes, you’ll run across one of these with a factory-installed two headlight system. They’re rarer, but they look goofy compared to this one.

Most of the cars in the museum were stock, but here’s one to represent the custom car lovers in the crowd. This ’55 Buick Super turns up at car cruises around KC pretty frequently. It’s definitely hard to miss, with that Candy Apple Red ‘60s Kustom vibe. It has Lakes pipes, lights in the portholes, Frenched ’56 Buick taillight lenses, and ’61 Dodge Polara wheel covers. ‘50s Buicks often don’t make the best looking customs, but this one really seems to work. I’m surprised the owner loaned it to the museum, though. It must be driving him crazy not to be able to take it to some local car shows.

In addition to the cars, the Kansas City Automotive Museum promises to be interactive. They have activities for the kids, racing simulators, and lots of great Kansas City historical information all over the walls. They’ve spent some time making this more than just a bunch of cars parked in a building. They’re also working on a ride-along program where people will be able to come to the museum and go for a ride around the block in someone’s vintage car. That’s a picture of my dad sitting in a ’55 Oldsmobile Starfire convertible life-sized cutout. Look at him go.

If you’re in Kansas City and you like automotive history, make sure you pay a visit to the Kansas City automotive museum. You can check them out at But if you can’t make it right this second, I’ve got you covered in pictures. Check them out in the slideshow below, or click this link for a nicer version.


  1. Can't tell for sure but it looks very mundane next to the Peterson Museum in Grandview.

    1. You're thinking of the private Armacost collection, which is not open to the public and cannot really be classified as a museum. All things start out small. Keep in mind the Kansas City Automotive Museum is new has been developed from the ground up. Additionally, it does not have the immense financial resources that those multi-millionaires in Grandview possess. The Armacost collection has an unlimited budget, so of course it is impressive, but that doesn't really matter, since almost no one can get in to see it. At least this museum is open to the general public. If you think it's "very mundane,” the share your resources by becoming a member and help this new museum grow.