I recently shared a portion of my trip to the Kemp Auto Museum. Now I’m back to share some history and knowledge about some of the other cars I saw.
One thing that really struck me during my visit was just how the cars in the museum tied into American and world history. Seeing a replica 1886 Benz Motorwagon made me smile but hearing how it was the developer’s wife that took it on its first major outing to see her family made for a good story. It also reminded me just how far people lived from each other and how isolated the world must have been without cars. I grew up a fan of the Little House books and saw how distance separated families as they headed across America. It was humbling to be reminded that a trip I can make in a day might have taken weeks when this car was first made.
When I toured the museum I learned that a car made in 1926 was still driveable. Considering how old my 1995 Camry seems at times, it was remarkable to hear such an old, unrestored car could start up and go.
With war hitting Europe hard in the first half of the 20th century, cars reflected the limited resources. The luxurious 1935 Mercedes Benz 500K Special Roadster was one of several cars to have a wooden body frame. Even right after the war cars would still have wooden body frames until rationing of metals was no longer limited. The museum has a 1951 Mercedes Benz 170S Cabriolet A that once had a wooden frame but was restored to prevent further breakdown of the materials inside. For a deeper look at a wartime vehicle, make sure to check out our post on Erhard Milch’s 1939 Mercedes Benz 540K Cabriolet A.
The Post-WWII cars really stood out to me. It reminded me of the shift to a more suburban society, where cars gave you the chance to commute into the city for work but gave you the chance to live in affordable housing. These were the days when credit became king and our society shifted into another new world. Cars started including power steering and automatic transmissions, like in the flagship post-war model, the 1960 Mercedes Benz 300 Series. The car was adored by Americans and Germans alike, helping to tie together two countries in a time of restoration and recovery.
As prosperity spread, so did luxury. Parisian women wanted “cute cars” and special limited-edition vehicles were rolled out. The 1955 Mercedes 300SC Coupe was once priced at $12,500 which would now run around $100,000. The 1972 Mercedes 600 strived to be the top luxury car of its day and was hand constructed to show just how special each car was. Fred M. Kemp, the museum’s namesake, was able to get the first car imported to the United States while celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis soon followed his lead. That car would cost over $150,000 today.
Cars also started shifting into separate classes. You’d have functional cars, perfect for fitting a family into, and you’d have sportier cars, perfect for cruising or racing in. These later evolved into racing cars, one of which the museum has on display. The museum has a 1983 Indy Eagle that was driven by Al Unser Jr. at the Indy 500 and a 1958 Lotus Eleven Series 2 Le Mans that was raced by St. Louisan Gregg Brumm. The Lotus fell into disrepair before a buyer discovered it in a Missouri barn. He consulted Brumm on the restoration and later Brumm drove it 4 laps at the Michigan International Speedway.
As you can see, cars have not only connected people with each other through transportation, they’ve also done it through entertainment. Even if you aren’t a car enthusiast there’s a lot you can learn and enjoy at the Kemp Auto Museum. I highly recommend this museum for any car or history lover. The $2 audio tour also helped supplement some of my knowledge on these cars. To see my full collection of photos and more history from my visit, be sure to check out my flickr page.
Fifth Annual Cocours d’ Elegance
May 20, 2012, 10 AM to 3 PM
75+ cars from the 30s and 40s will be on display and many have never been seen in public exhibition. The automobiles on display represent the best of the classic and modern era and are expertly chosen on the basis of unparalleled craftmanship, uncompromising performance and unquestionable beauty. This event is free to the general public.
Fifth Annual Big Truck Day
June 10, 2012, 10 AM to 3 PM
Thousands come out annually to hear live music, see big trucks, and enjoy plenty of entertainment. The top emergency, collector, and construction vehicles fill the plaza and you can climb on board, take photos, and experience the big truck fun. This event is free to the general public but it also works as a benefit for Operation Food Search so please bring a nonperishable item to give back to the community.
Kemp Auto Museum
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Location: 16955 Chesterfield Airport Road, Chesterfield, MO 63005
Tickets: Adults-$8, Seniors-$6, Children-$3, Audio Tour- $2; A coupon to buy one ticket get one free is available in the St. Louis Entertainment Book.
Additional visitor information can be found on the website