Joe Richardson will never forget that day in 1985 when his father brought home a rusty Austin -Healey 100 to restore in his garage.
To young Joe, it looked like “a pile of metal.” But not to his proud dad, Ted Richardson, who exited his car, walked over to his 11-year-old son, put his arms around him and exclaimed, “Isn’t she beautiful!”
“I thought he was crazy,” Joe says with a grin, wondering why his dad would call a rusty, non-running car – with collapsed springs and a wrecked quarter panel – “beautiful.” To Joe, it was anything but beautiful.”
That was Joe’s introduction to the Austin-Healey. But not his last. As he and his dad attended car shows together as a teen-ager, Joe was introduced to the Austin-Healey Sprite, also called “Bug-eyes” by Americans and “Frog-eyes” by the British.
His infatuation with this tiny, funny-looking car – with protruding headlights – soon became an obsession. He wanted one. So, while helping his dad restore his Austin-Healey 100, he asked him if he could have a “Bug-eye” someday.
That “someday” came in the early ‘90s when Joe’s grandfather pulled up in front of the family home towing a junkie looking 1960 Austin-Healey Sprite, which his father had purchased sight unseen from a salvage yard in Arizona.
“We spent the next 20 years taking it apart and putting it back together, Joe says of this father and son project. “We put a quarter panel on it and drove it; then once we had driven it, we decided we were going to redo the whole car.”
After getting the vintage car running again, Joe, who works for his father selling import auto parts in Kansas City, drove it twice as a teen-ager before parking it and taking it apart.
“It was completely apart for about 20 years,” the 40-year-old Blue Springs resident says. “Then gradually – piece by piece – it got put back together.” In October 2012, the restoration work was finished. The once-rusty car looked brand new; it was ready to show off.
And what better place to show off this cream-colored Sprite – with its two burgundy stripes and red interior – than at the prestigious Art of the Car Concours in Kansas City on Sunday, June 28.
The ninth annual show is expected to showcase more than 200 vehicles – the dream cars of their day – on the grounds of the Kansas City Art Institute. Show hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Car collectors from throughout the country will be displaying their vintage, classic, antique and special interest cars. In addition, grand classics, trucks, motorcycles, sports and luxury cars will be on display, thus continuing a tradition of highlighting unique “Concept Cars.”
Admission is $20 at the gate. Tickets can also be purchased online (in advance). Children 16 and younger are free. Proceeds benefit the KCAI scholarship fund. Last year’s show netted $180,000.
The public is invited to attend the following concours events on Saturday, June 27:
n Meet the Legends. A panel will discuss dream/concept cars at 1 p.m. in KCAI’s Epperson HalI. Featured panelists are Ralph Marand, a Packard collector, and Wayne Carini of Velocity Channel’s “Chasing Classic Cars” show. The panel also includes Scott Grundfor, an internationally known Mercedes restoration specialist, who also is a major Concept Car collector. Also on the panel is the team that restored the Futurliner.
n Exhibitors Welcoming Reception. This ticketed event is open to the public. Seating is limited; guests can join exhibitors and sponsors.
n Tivol Exhibitor Preview. This event is from 9 a.m. to noon at 220 Nichols Road in the Country Club Plaza.
For more information or to purchase tickets to all events, visit: www.artofthecarconcours.com.
Those wishing to visit Joe at the concours will probably have to search the grounds to find him
“I don’t know where I will be,” he says, “because I haven’t been told. “I don’t think we will know until game time.”
But, should you find Joe, he will tell you his “Bug-eye” is 137 inches long, has an 80-inch wheel base and is as wide as two average people sitting shoulder to shoulder.
How small is the Sprite?
“It’s very small,” he says. “When you are going down the highway and you look over and see your face in the hubcap of a semi-truck, you feel very small.”
In addition, “There is no power steering, no power brakes and (it has) a manual shift transmission,” he says, adding, “The starter is a pull button, the turn signal is not self-cancelling and it turns real sharp.”
Joe says he has the mindset that his “Bug-eye” is no more than a piece of metal that looks pretty.
“I have to keep that in perspective,” he says. “If I don’t, (the car) becomes an idol, and I can’t let it be that because God has to be first. That being said, (the Sprite) is not as important as my kids, my wife or my God. But it’s like third.”
Though Joe is entering the Art of the Car for the first time, he is no stranger to car shows. He and his Sprite have participated several times in the All-British Car Show in Kansas City, where visitors say they love his “Bug-eye,” especially the children. “They’ll come up and say, ‘This car is smiling at me.’”
As Joe looks forward to becoming a participant in the upcoming show instead of being a spectator, he says he is a little giddy, adding: “I get that way about most car shows.” But, nevertheless, “I was extremely honored they thought my car was nice enough to be there with the rest of these wonderful automobiles.”
“...To me, the honor of being in it is more than I anticipated. I am not expecting (any honors). If I get a nod of recognition that (I was there), I will be very happy.”
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.