The Kansas City Auto Museum

Kansas City was one of the biggest markets in the country without an automotive museum, but that’s now been rectified thanks to the staff of the new Kansas City Auto Museum!  (Technically, there is the Armacost Museum in Grandview but it’s a private thing only open to selected people/groups.)

The museum just opened earlier in May and it’s current location is just north of 119th & Strang Line Road in Olathe. Yes, the location is not the most “Kansas City” of spots but the museum is clear that this is a temporary home and they have plans to be in a much larger facility in the next 4-5 years. I’d love to see it as part of Union Station but have no idea if there’s the kind of space available there that’s needed.

The Kansas City Auto Museum
Just north of 119th & Strang Line at 116th Street

Anyway, the Museum partnered with the Mustang Club of Greater Kansas City for an only-a-month-late 50th birthday party for the Mustang, so about 30 of us brought our cars out to display in the parking lot today, and we also got to check out the museum.

A WWII Jeep (built by Ford though) along with a gorgeous 1963 Buick
A WWII Jeep (built by Ford though) along with a gorgeous 1963 Buick

The museum houses approximately 30 cars on loan from private collectors, as well as from KC Vintage Cars. They don’t appear to own any of the cars, which is probably an advantage for them as this stage since they can easily switch out displays, etc. without having to worry about all the details of ownership at this point. The collection ranges in age from a Ford Model T, Stanley steam-powered car and a Hupmobile all the way up to a first-gen Dodge Viper.

But, to be frank, the collection isn’t much better than you can see at a lot of the different cruise nights found throughout the warm months here in KC. The coolest part about the Museum, to me, is all the Kansas City history they’ve collected and presented really, really well.

Just some of the great history
Just some of the great history

Above are just a few examples – the 2nd one from left is about KC’s earliest racetrack, a wooden oval on the site of what’s now the Bannister Federal Complex. The one on the far right is all about Greenlease Cadillac, one of the city’s earliest dealers (and the building is part of Union Hill today – seen here today and occupied by something far less interesting (a gym):

Greenlease Cadillac building
Right up McGee Trafficway from Hallmark/Crown Center is this cool old building

These boards are filled with fascinating KC automotive history, much of which I didn’t know. They’ve done a tremendous job researching and creating a compelling story, which is what they needed to do to get the Museum off the ground.

A wall full of ads for cars that were built in KC
A wall full of ads for cars that were built in KC

Above is another of my favorite parts of the museum – a large wall filled with ads for cars that were built right here in KC.

More of the museum collection, including a 1991 Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette
More of the museum collection, including a 1991 Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette

The museum also includes a kid’s interactive area, though adults are just as apt to play, considering they have four full racing wheel/seat/pedals setups running Forza Motorsport 4 for XBox 360. (I spent about 45 minutes running laps at Road America!) Plus there are some fun photo opportunities like this one:

Me "behind the wheel" of the #21 Ferrari driven by KC's own Masten Gregory to victory at LeMans in 1965, the last time a Ferrari visited Victory Lane at the famed racetrack.
Me “behind the wheel” of the #21 Ferrari driven by KC’s own Masten Gregory to victory at LeMans in 1965, the last time a Ferrari visited Victory Lane at the famed racetrack.

Maybe my favorite history lesson, however, was about the Ford Winchester Avenue plant. Opened in 1913, it was the first Ford plant built outside of Detroit, which is kind of a cool badge of honor for KC, considering how many other places in the country and the world have/had Ford plants. It was located at 1025 Winchester Avenue, on the east side of town, right off of 435 & Truman Road near the Truman Sports Complex. It was open until 1957, when Ford opened the newer, even bigger Claycomo plant that is still thriving today. What’s really cool though, is that the original smokestacks from the Winchester plant are still up, which inspired me to drive by there on the way home.

You can't get too close to 'em anymore; I couldn't even tell if this whole complex is still really in use.
You can’t get too close to ‘em anymore; I couldn’t even tell if this whole complex is still really in use.
2014-05-17 15.28.35-1
But there they are – still with “Ford” clearly visible on ‘em.

Final Thoughts

I’ve got to give huge credit to all the people involved in the Museum’s creation. It is not easy to raise funding for a museum like this, especially in the financial conditions of the past few years. But they’ve done it and the museum, in its current state, is a great start. There’s enough history for even car geeks like me, and enough different cars to look at to maintain the interest of almost anyone. I hope they can bring in enough business that the expansion plans continue, as I can imagine how cool the entire experience could be in the future.

If you’re at all interested in KC history, it’s well worth an hour or two of your time, plus it’s right up the street from Oklahoma Joe’s so there’s your lunch afterwards. If you’re passionate about cars, please go check it out and consider supporting the museum through a donation and/or volunteering. Cars are so important to the last 100 years of our history and I hope that story can keep being told!

The museum is open 10-5 every day of the week, except some holidays. Admission is $11 for adults, $9 for seniors/military and $8 for kids.

 

Dodge does it again.

I just got done singing the praises of Dodge and its ad agency in a recent post, and now they’ve gone and done it again.  To celebrate their 100th anniversary, they released this spot during the New York Int’l Auto Show:

Like the “Uncle” spot, it’s aggressive, fun and right on point with where they are trying to take the Dodge brand. I’m not sure the brand strategy Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles has in mind will work, but the marketing team won’t be to blame for that. Fantastic work again, Dodge team.

Rental Review: 2013 Kia Optima EX

This week, I had a business trip to St. Louis and wasn’t able to ride with my boss as I usually do, so got the chance to book a rental instead, so I could save the 500 miles on Lucy. I booked a full-size rental through Enterprise and hoped to have the chance to drive a 2013+ Ford Fusion.

No such luck, as they had none available, but then I spotted this silver Kia Optima:

2013 Kia Optima EX
Love the look of this thing.

Since it was first revealed, I’ve loved the look of this car. Just about every time I see one on the road, I’ve continued to like it and said to myself that, if I was in the market for a sedan, it’d be near the top of my list. Purely on looks, I think it’s right behind the Ford Fusion as the best-looking car in the D-segment (other competitors include the Camry, Accord, Malibu, Altima, 200, Sonota). But I had no idea how it drove and had never really been behind the wheel of any Kia for an extended period, so here’s my thoughts, in bullet point form because that’s how I almost always organize my thoughts on anything.

Pros:

  • Style: like I said, this is a damn good looking car and I think it changes pre-concieved notions about what a Kia is. From the aggressive front end to the nicely styled back end with good-looking dual exhaust tips, to the little touches like the vents behind the front wheels (which can frequently look tacky) and the wrap-around headlights/taillights, it’s nicely done.
  • Interior style & comfort: though I was driving a pretty basic EX (the LX is the most basic model), I didn’t feel too slighted by the interior. More hard plastics than I would like but, again, it’s a lower-end model. The cloth seats, though a bit dirty from 30,000 miles of rental car usage, had great bolstering and support (more than my Mustang, which is kind of sad) and a perfect headrest to be useful for somebody my height. The backseat is big, with plenty of headroom and I have no doubt four 6′ tall guys could ride in this car without an issue, or two adults with rear-facing child seats behind them, for that matter.
  • Interior tools/technology: love the two storage pods in the dashboard (see the below pic – right in front of the shifter and in-between the radio and climate controls) perfect for devices, wallets, chapstick, etc. and the four cupholders in front, as well as the roomy center console. That lower storage area also includes two 12V outlets and the USB plug-in. The steering wheel controls were nicely done as well, with a mix of buttons and toggle switches. The voice command system worked ok, though it didn’t react as quickly or find people’s names in my phonebook as quickly as the Microsoft Sync system in my Mustang does. I also didn’t like that I couldn’t advance tracks using the steering wheel buttons when streaming music through Bluetooth, as I can do with Sync. Those are minor complaints though. It seems to be pretty equal to Sync and it even sounds like Ford and Kia share voice talent.
  • Quiet: even in windy conditions on the highway going 75 MPH, the car is quiet and comfy – great road-trip car.
  • Mileage: It’s rated at 35 highway/24 city. I definitely didn’t get anywhere near that but think I averaged around 27-30. Not out of this world but I was driving 75-77 MPG most of the trip with strong winds and the A/C running so I’m good with that mileage.
  • Powertrain: Going from Lucy’s 412 HP V8 to a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder with 200 HP wasn’t as big a disparity as I expected. The engine and transmission are matched together pretty well and the car accelerates better than I’d expect a car of this class and price point to. The 6-speed “Sportmatic” transmission shifts gears quickly, though can be a bit jerky on downshifts. It’s set up to upshift when pushing forward and downshift when pulled back, which is backwards from how I like it (and how Mazda and Porsche do it). All in all, a very nice powertrain though.
  • Quality: this car was getting close to the end of its rental car life, with 30,000 miles on the clock, but there were zero squeaks, rattles or anything that seemed broken on this rental, which is impressive. The worst thing I can say is that the seats were pretty dirty and that’s not Kia’s fault – Enterprise could very likely have done a lousy job cleaning them.
2013 Kia Optima EX interior
Love the steering wheel and shifter design, especially.

 

Cons

  • Some cheap details: I realize it’s not the loaded model but there were a couple things that let me down about the car. The steering wheel, though nicely shaped and with good tech integration, is plastic all the way around. The parking brake is a foot-activated one, which I realize saves some room on the center console but it feels cheap. A button-activated one would be nicer, though I don’t know what that would add in cost. Finally, having only a driver’s window auto-down function feels really cheap. This 2013 Optima brochure says it should have auto up+down for both front windows, but my rental did not.
  • Torque steer: even under modest acceleration, the car pulls to the left frequently and to the right some, which I’m attributing to torque steer, as it wouldn’t do it while cruising so I’m pretty sure it’s not an alignment or tire wear issue.
  • Lack of a manual transmission: I’m in the minority here and I realize the take rate would be 5% or so, but Ford still sells a manual Fusion and I’d love to have the option on the Optima.

Summary

Another thing I like about the Optima is the long options list. From the base model in the mid-20′s to a loaded SX model at $35,000+, you can get a really nice family car for cheap, or a loaded, almost luxury car for what’s still a strong value. That loaded model comes with options like a heated steering wheel, ventilated seats, paddle shifters, a cooling glove box, and more. Which makes a car like the Buick LaCrosse or Lincoln MKZ for thousands more not such a good value, perhaps. This car feels like a lot for the money, comes with a fantastic warranty and, from what I can tell, the quality is on par with its competition too. My opinion has been validated – if I was in the market, I’d definitely be looking long & hard at the Kia Optima.

(Note: My company paid for the rental and I have had zero interaction with anybody at Kia or Enterprise)

Aggressive without being over the top. Nicely done, Kia styling chief Peter Schreyer.
Aggressive without being over the top. Nicely done, Kia styling chief Peter Schreyer.

 

 

 

Opinions and anecdotes on mostly cars+racing, plus some marketing here & there