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Art Institute’s classic car exhibit sure to drive in crowds

Fairway resident Bill Alexander will be showcasing the Riley Imp at the Art of the Car Concours auto expo. The 1935 racer cribs more than a few design and mechanical elements from era’s dominant performance automotive brand, Alfa Romeo. Riley wrought the Imp’s legacy early with a successful showing at the 1934 race in Le Mans, France.
Fairway resident Bill Alexander will be showcasing the Riley Imp at the Art of the Car Concours auto expo. The 1935 racer cribs more than a few design and mechanical elements from era’s dominant performance automotive brand, Alfa Romeo. Riley wrought the Imp’s legacy early with a successful showing at the 1934 race in Le Mans, France.

Chrysler motor company’s dream of a gas turbine-powered car ended when company executives realized the financial and legal liabilities associated with producing a car operating with a jet engine.

So, just shortly after making about 50 Chrysler Turbines, almost all of the concept cars were destroyed.

Only a handful remain, one of which is owned by Jay Leno and another is in the possession of the St. Louis Museum of Transportation. The latter is on loan this weekend at The Art of the Car Concours car show, which kicks off June 27 with a collector’s meet and greet, and opens to the public June 28.

In its ninth year, the automotive expo is hosting more than 200 vehicles from 15 different states at the Kansas City Art Institute campus.

This year’s theme is concept cars, an idea that event creator and car enthusiast Marshall Miller said was spurred by the ambitiously named Futurliner.

“The Futurliner is the centerpiece of that whole era,” Miller said.

The 11-foot-tall chrome-trimmed art deco van was General Motors’ concept, a figuration of how the future would travel.

It is an “extraordinary and crazy” car, Miller said. The 14-ton van will be parked at The Art of the Car Concours atop steel plates to preserve the integrity of the ground.

Its heft is mostly there to store artifacts rather than passengers. It was used as a traveling stage of sorts in the Parade of Progress, which General Motors sponsored until those events waned in popularity. The entire side of the van opens, making the vehicle more like a mobile display case, which typically held appliances and, at one point, the item blamed for the parade’s demise: the television.

Almost a century ago, the 1933 Studebaker Indy Special sped to seventh place in the Indianapolis 500 in the hands of Kansas Citian Tony Gulotta.

The Studebaker is now owned by Weatherby Lake resident August “Augie” Grasis, who will be exhibiting the concept car for The Art of the Car Concours attendees.

“Any car in Indy was something special over and above anything else,” Grasis said.

Grasis said the Studebaker racer was built at a time when the company was basically experimenting just for fun. There’s no good scientific reason to race a car at 100 miles per hour for a solid 24 hours, as the Studebaker engineers reportedly did.

Also, Studebaker was interested in creating high-performance cars even through the Depression. Where other firms like Ford were making strides in creating less expensive cars for the masses, Studebaker focused on making a high-quality product, Grasis said.

Grasis and his late father, August Grasis Sr., took a mutual interest in how much Studebaker pushed the limits of the design in the racer and worked on it extensively.

“It’s just as good now as when it was raced in ’33,” Grasis said.

The Art of the Car Concours also will feature the 1935 Riley Imp, a royal-looking two-seater that looks like something James Bond would make his escape in.

Owner Bill Alexander’s favorite feature: “Definitely the looks,” he said. “It has easily some of the best lines out there.”

Before bringing the car stateside in 1990, the Fairway resident had the British car tuned by mechanics in the United Kingdom. Once it was brought across the water, he finished the restoration himself.

The Imp is one in a long tradition of dedicated racing cars that includes the Alfa Romeo 6c model, a low-slung Italian sports car that Alexander strongly suspects Riley’s designers borrowed from liberally.

The Imp made a splash in ‘34 at Le Mans, France. Riley sent a group of Imps to participate in the race, all of which finished in the top five.

The Riley brand is currently owned by BMW.

Miller said the value of the cars at the show range from a few thousand dollars to $20 million.

“And those two could be sitting side by side,” he added.

When the event started in 2007, Miller said, there were about 70 vehicles and maybe two were from out of the Kansas City area.

“What we’ve done is evolve this into an event of national stature in the vintage car area,” he said, noting the lack of comparable car shows in surrounding metropolitan areas.

While most of the cars will have roots in the the post-World War II era, The Art of the Car Concours will feature some contemporary concept cars, like the BMW i8 electric sports car.

The show is a fund-raiser for scholarships for Art Institute students. Miller said the show is on track to raise more than $1 million.

When and where

▪ Art of the Car Concours kicks off Saturday, June 27, with a collector meet and greet. A panel discussion will be held at 1 p.m. at the Kansas City Art Institute, 4415 Warwick Blvd., at Epperson Auditorium. Tickets are $25.

▪ An evening reception will be held at the art school that evening at 6 p.m. The informal mingling session will introduce attendees to exhibitors and event guests. Tickets are $20.

▪ The Art of the Car Concours auto expo will be held Sunday, June 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kansas City Art Institute, 4415 Warwick Blvd. Tickets start at $20. Children age 16 and under are free.

For more information, visit artofthecarconcours.com/

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