I heard it coming before I saw it, rattling like constant but irregular machine gun fire. I primed my camera, and the 1954 Troutman and Barnes Special steamrolled around the corner. It looked too small for the sound it made. Just a two-seat race car, it could have fit inside a Mazda Miata. But that sound…
We’d been told to arrive early to the 2014 Art of the Car Concours at the Kansas City Art Institute. The public wouldn’t be admitted until 10, but they began placing the cars at 6:30, with one per minute until 9:30. That meant getting up at shortly after 5 on a Sunday, but I wasn’t tired. Getting tired would have been impossible.
We covered the Concours last year, but only a chunk in the middle. Seeing and hearing those cars rumble, whirr, and sputter into the field offered a whole new perspective, and brought a ton of respect, as the only thing I saw come in on a trailer was a 1955 Ford 560 Open Seat Tractor.
There was a certain aroma to these masterpieces, and it wasn’t just the clouds of white smoke several of them billowed. It was aged leather tinged with burning oil and old velvet. Staring at them parked, with their info plaques resting against flower pots before them, reminds you of the best kind of museum. But experiencing them as they rounded that curve reminded me of actual points in time, decades I’d never experienced.
Three post-war, real wood-paneled Buick station wagons, (one of which, the owner later showed me, also had a teak wooden headliner), sailed up to the entrance at once, causing the coolest traffic jam I’ve ever seen. Stuck behind them was a 1910 Oakland Model M Gentlemen’s Roadster, a 1972 Fiat 850 Sport Spyder, and a 1961 Aston Martin DB4 Series 2.
The Oakland’s driver, entirely decked out in period garb, leaned over and said, “I hope they know I can only idle so long.”
The Oakland certainly wasn’t the newest car there. 1978 seemed to be the cutoff, the vintage of a Unimog, a Porsche 930 Turbo, and a Bill Blass Lincoln Mark V. But it wasn’t the oldest, either. There was also a 1910 Maytag-Mason Model A Touring, with its engine appropriately in the middle.
The oldest car title, though, went to the 1905 Fiat 60 Touring, which was probably the star of the show. Dr. Gerald Perschbacher walked us through the details, from the fender shellac right down to the water cooled brakes. At 60 hp, the Touring was one of the fastest cars in the world in 1905. When the German Kaiser Wilhelm recommended that Augustus Busch buy this car, he tried to sell him on the car’s top speed of 80 mph. Busch complained that there weren’t roads in America that could handle that speed. Dave told us that if you took the fenders off, the Touring could hit 100.
The owners were offered $1.8 million for it a few years ago, but since it’s only one of three remaining, they knew it was worth much more and declined.
But not everything was so pedestaled. Each year, the Art of the Car Concours highlights a specific realm of the autoverse. I believe last year’s was sports car racing, based on the Maserati Birdcage and several other excellent examples. This year, they featured the American Hot Rod.
At first, rides like Norm Grabowski’s “Kookie II” 1929 Ford, with its flames and skulls and ‘60s show-rod psychosis, seemed a little out of place on the same field with vintage Rolls Royce limousines. But as I perused the rows of open-wheel, aero-engined madness, I began to understand that the true hot rod is a piece of American culture. It’s the grandfather of all American custom performance. It needs to be celebrated and remembered just as well as a streamlined Jaguar. The Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance has hosted a hot rod class since 1997.
Nor did the Art of the Car allow just anyone with a T-Bucket kit through the gates. Each of the hot rods featured represented a significant step in the movement. Bruce Meyer’s Doane Spencer ‘32 Ford, for example, was so influential that it won that ‘97 hot rod title at Pebble Beach. Kenneth Schmidt’s ‘34 Ford Three Window represented the true chop top. And Mark Hermann’s ‘34 Chevy pickup was the quintessential hot rod truck, complete with a wood-paneled bed and open hood slats.
Plenty of later American muscle stood out, as well. I loved Mike Mulcahy’s ‘67 Shelby Group II Trans Am racer. It was up there with the ‘69 Yenko Camaro and the ‘69 AMC AMX. Also standing out were a ‘69 Mach 1 and a pair of ‘65 Mustangs, each celebrating a 50th birthday.
There’s a difference between a modern luxury car, which you drive, and a vintage luxury car, in which you were driven. The 1921 Daniels D-19 Landau Brougham, one of my top picks from last year, was back. There were also three pristine Pierce-Arrows and a ‘32 Buick 67S Sedan. But what caught my eye was the 1925 Jordan 7-Passenger Limousine. Jordan is one of America’s great forgotten carbuilders, still famous for their ads. (They went out of business in 1931, and we studied the copywriting in their magazine ads when I was in college in 2006.)
I should have asked the owner just how big the massive straight 8 was, but we were too busy talking about the car’s details. And it was full of them: the little oil bottle on the firewall, the etching on the brass window levers, and the logo on the glass taillight, which the owner told me was exceedingly rare.
But my favorite by far were the race cars. The Shelby-powered ‘53 Allard was surprisingly a different Allard from the one I saw last year. I loved the track-weathered ‘51 Frazer-Nash/BMW with an AC engine and drivetrain, affectionately monikered Toad. The single-seat ‘33 Plymouth Roadster was road legal. Mike, who brought the awesome Trans Am Mustang, also brought a ‘64 Jim Davis Junior Fuel Front Engine Dragster, which was almost terrifying to see up close. And the ‘33 Studebaker that ran the Indy 500 had a seat for the mechanic.
And then, in a little corner of the field, I found the Jaguar XJ13 Le Mans Prototype replica and the car it came in with: the 1954 Troutman and Barnes Special. Nothing took me back to my experience at the Greenwood Revival like seeing that small, roofless, dedicated road course car. No headlights, no interior, no concern for your opinion. Beneath the pinned hood (to which the windshield was attached) beat a 347 V8, worth 335 hp, from a Thunderbird. It was raced successfully from 1955-1957. And it’s the only one.
What more could be said about the Art of the Car concours? So much. I could talk about the Cord 810 Beverly, the ‘63 and ‘65 Buick Rivieras, the ‘66 Alfa Romeo GTV 1750 Coupe Quadrifoglio, the Morgan 3-wheeler, or the countless early British sports cars. I didn’t even mention the dozens of priceless motorcycles.
But there’s no time to say it all. And even if I could, I couldn’t convey what it was like to be there. Instead, I think it’s better that you just go. Find a concours in your area. Parking lot car shows are awesome, and they always will be. But a concours is a whole different experience.
Have you ever been to a concours? What did you see there?
Check out our full gallery from the event on Flickr! We took hundreds of shots, so we’ll post more up as we sift through them.
And subscribe to our Youtube channel as we post videos of the roll-in and interviews with auto historians about the cars!
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.