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.

 

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