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After 10 years, KC’s Art of the Car Concours summer event has had its last ride

Art of the Car Concours, started in 2007 and held on the grounds of the Kansas City Art Institute as a scholarship fundraiser, will not be returning. Over 10 years, the event raised $1.1 million.
Art of the Car Concours, started in 2007 and held on the grounds of the Kansas City Art Institute as a scholarship fundraiser, will not be returning. Over 10 years, the event raised $1.1 million. Kansas City Star file photo

Each June for a decade, cars such as these gleamed like polished sculptures on the lawn of the Kansas City Art Institute:

The deep burgundy 1939 Delage D8 120 Cabriolet; the foam green 1932 REO Royale, the white 1960 Dodge Matador with sharp tail fins like a rocket’s. All in red: a 1965 Ferrari 250 LM.

Now the Art of Car Concours event — which each year at the end of June showcased scores of vintage cars, trucks and motorcycles in Kansas City as a fundraiser for student scholarships at the Kansas City Art Institute — is itself a thing of the past.

Started in 2007, the collector car event has come to an end of its road. It will not be taking place this summer.

Over 10 years, it raised more than $1.1 million for students scholarships.

“All good things must come to an end,” said attorney Marshall Miller, who originated the fundraiser as an outgrowth of his and his late wife’s support of the art institute melded with his passion for vintage cars.

Miller owns 17 collector cars. Janet Miller was a decades-long supporter of the art institute, serving on its board and as its board chairwoman. She died of cancer in May 2013.

When Miller began The Art of the Cars Concours, he did so with the idea of emulating some of the premier and most-established collector car shows in the United States, such as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida and Concours d’Elegance of America at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Mich., just west of Detroit.

He is proud of what the event achieved. In many of the years, the show displayed about 220 collector vehicles from 15 states, the polished vehicles tucked among the trees and on the grass of the campus at 4415 Warwick Blvd., although the event’s beginnings were much more humble.

“My recollection is that we had about 50 cars exhibited” in 2007, Miller said. “And, quite, frankly, a decent percentage of them were mine.”

Attendance averaged about 5,000 visitors, starting at about 1,000 in 2007 and rising in good weather to 7,000.

Ticket prices purposefully remained modest at $15, and free for younger children, in contrast to the other established car shows, where general admission generally begins at $35. General admission at the Pebble Beach show is $350. Miller said he wanted to keep prices reasonable to make both the cars and the campus of the art institute accessible to a broader audience.

In the end, Miller said, he thought that the event had a great run and discontinuing it became a matter of measuring the effort and hours spent against the funds actually raised by the event, which each year he also underwrote with his own financial donations.

“There is a reason why other cities don’t have this,” Miller said. “It is very hard to do. …The amount of time it took, not just for me, but for others, was crazy.”

Whereas other collector car shows use professional staff, the Art of the Car Concours has since the beginning been a volunteer passion project, spearheaded by Miller and joined over the years by 200 volunteers and 40 unpaid managers.

“Unfortunately,” Miller wrote in a statement on the Art of the Car Concours website, “I cannot continue the personal and financial commitment that the Art of the Car has required.”

The last four years have been particularly stressful, he said, given the death of his wife. In 2015, Jonathan, one of Miller’s two adult sons, also suffered a quadriplegic injury from a fall on a ski slope in California.

Jonathan Miller spent a long time in a rehabilitation hospital in Colorado and is now back at work in California, mobile, using an electric wheelchair and doing well in the face of a sudden disability, his father said.

At 71, Miller said he needed to assess where and how and wanted to continue to spend much of his time.

“I’ll miss it. I’m a car guy,” said Tony Jones, who in 2015 became the president of the art institute. “Marshall marshaled half of Kansas City to help him do it. …That scholarship fund made the difference in people going here.”

Those funds are expected to be made up through other events and commitments.

Miller said he fell in love with cars and became a collector because of his dad. When his father was 80, Miller found and bought him the same kind of Model T Ford his dad had driven as a young man. “He loved that car. He drove it until he was 93,” Miller said.

His dedication to the Art of the Car Concours came from his wife’s commitment to the art institute and his own connection with this sons, Jonathan and Daniel. In the end, it’s the whole sense of family that he will take away from the event.

“I think that the sense that I enjoyed the most is when I stood there watching multiple generations of families walk in,” Miller said. “There was the grandparents, the parents and the kids, and each would be pointing to talking and pointing at something about a particular car. And a grandparent would say, ‘I had a car like that.’ 

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler

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