Last Sunday a couple of hundred car lovers got to spend a dream day, traipsing through three of the most fantastic car collections in the area.
These collectors opened their private car barns to car hobbyists and their spouses by special invitation. For many, it represented a chance to mark a couple of items off their personal "bucket lists."
My wife and I were fortunate enough to be among those invited to participate. It was such a big deal that even when Kathy came down with a bad cough and a fever and had to bow out of the tour, I shamelessly loaded my cameras in the car and headed out alone.
The three stops on the tour were the Lawrence Smith collection, the Dick Price/John Carnahan car barn and finally, Tom and Tim Devlin's collection.
By the end of the day, I had shot so many photos that it was clear I couldn't do justice to all we had seen with just one story. So, today we'll share a bit of the Smith collection, followed next week by the Price/Carnahan stop and the week after that, with a look inside the Devlin displays.
I had been hearing about Lawrence Smith's collection since we started publishing Wichita On Wheels about seven years ago, but had never had the opportunity to see it in person.
Lawrence Smith, it turns out, is a very soft-spoken man who enjoys talking cars -- and what a remarkable bunch of cars he has to discuss. There are Bentleys and Rolls Royces and street rods, even a Craig Breedlove rocket-powered Land Speed Record racer, all under the same roof.
Smith said he had been interested in cars ever since he was a kid in high school, back in the 1950's. He eventually went on to become an industrial arts instructor. What were his first automotive projects?
"Hot rods," he said enthusiastically. "We built 'em in school ... a lot of Model T's," he said. He made his fortune in designing and manufacturing aircraft interior components and was able to indulge his passion for automobiles well beyond his boyhood dreams.
Someone asked him what his favorite car in his collection is. "I don't have one ... it all depends on what you want to do," he said. As a licensed "used car dealer" Smith is obliged to sell off at least five cars a year, he explained. Having to pick even one of the 60-70 immaculately maintained vehicles in his sprawling shop to sell would be a daunting task for anyone.
The car everyone kept coming back to was an ultra-rare Isotta Fraschini 8A Castagna Drop Head Coupe, in a subtle beige/tan paint scheme. The rumblings I overheard among people way more knowledgeable than me gave me reason to believe we may have been looking at the most valuable automobile in Wichita, if not the entire region.
As we prepared to leave for the next stop on the tour, I heard one person say, "It's like we stepped into another world." One man thanked Lawrence Smith, saying, "Thanks for letting us drool all over your cars."
It was, to say the least, an awe-inspiring experience. Please check out additional photos on-line at www.kansas.com.