A Celebration of the Art & Design of the Automobile

A Celebration Of The Art & Design Of The Automobile

Rev it UP for the Motorcycle Class

Motorcycles are a frequent class at the Des Moines Concours, and one that attracts a lot of attention. Whether this is due to their affordability, fun factor, or the memories they evoke, motorcycles and automobiles have a long history of sharing technology and even parts.

Many of the microcars of the 50’s and 60’s used either motorcycle engines, or engines based on motorcycle architecture/tooling. One facet of motorcycles is the 2-stoke single (1-cylinder).

In the late 1940’s, 2-stroke tuners were trapped between two conflicting goals. To reduce cylinder pressure enough such that cylinder filling could begin through the opening transfer ports, they needed to open the exhaust port earlier. But opening the exhaust earlier also meant that it closed later, allowing more time during which fresh charge (air/fuel mixture) that had traveled around its loop in the cylinder to escape through the exhaust port. As a result, 125cc 2-stroke engines were limited to about 8 hp at around 7,500 rpm.

Fortunately, engineers developing 2-stroke diesels (such as Detroit Diesel) had already tackled this problem and had concluded that a strong sound wave, created in the exhaust pipe by the sudden opening of the exhaust port, could be reflected back to the engine by a correctly shaped exhaust pipe. The sound wave’s pressure would arrive at the exhaust port just as the fresh charge was beginning to exit.

In 1951, DKW in West Germany succeeded in applying this idea. Through much experimentation, the new exhaust system worked! It not only created a negative reflected wave (helping to pull exhaust out of the cylinder), but its positive wave reflection not only stopped fresh charge from escaping, it could also stuff any already-lost charge back into the cylinder just as the exhaust port was closing.

The East German challenge incorporated an idea previously used on the 1920’s Sun-Vitesse motorcycle—a crankcase intake port controlled by a rotating disc on the crankshaft, cut away to open and close that port. With it, opening and closing timings could be set at any desired values.

Japanese 2-stroke manufacturers, seeing this success, applied modern scientific methods to the problems of the Germans synthesis, and rapidly advanced the state of the 2-stroke arts by greatly improving piston metallurgy. This was a game-changer which gave Suzuki a World Championship win with the new technology: the 50cc in 1962.  The next year, Suzuki added the 125cc World Championship, and in 1964–65, Yamaha’s  RD-56 250cc twin.

Narrowing the focus a bit to street legal singles, popular brands in the U.S. offered sizes from 50cc to 400cc. Examples are Honda’s MB5 and Kawasaki’s AR50 at the small end, to Hodaka’s Ace 90/100, Bultaco Metrella 200/250 and Yamaha DT-1 in the middle, and MAICO GS400 at the larger end. Although a trifle compared to muscle car values, a Yamaha DT-1 will demand upwards of $10,000 in the current market.

Although their zenith was over 40 years ago, 2-stroke bikes play an important role in motorcycle history. Often overshadowed by their 4-stroke, and often larger, brethren, the singles are an interesting and affordable niche within the motorcycle collector hobby.

The Des Moines Concours is accepting exhibitor applications through July 31st. Visit our Exhibiting page and apply today!

Volkswagens at the Des Moines Concours

Discover the History and Charm of Volkswagen at the 2024 Des Moines Concours

We are excited to announce that this year’s Des Moines Concours will feature a special class dedicated to celebrating the history of air-cooled Volkswagens in America, spanning the years from 1949 to 1981. This unique class will include air-cooled examples from Volkswagen’s product line, including the iconic Beetle, the versatile VW Bus in all its variations, the elegant Karmann Ghia, the Squareback and more. Each vehicle on display represents a piece of Volkswagen’s storied past and its impact on automotive culture.

In 1934, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, the visionary behind both Volkswagen and Porsche, was awarded a contract to create an affordable car for the average German—the “people’s car” or Volkswagen. Originally called the KdF Type 60, the design parameters included being able to accommodate two adults and three children, 32 MPG, an air-cooled engine, and easy inexpensive parts changes. By late 1935, prototypes with their 1100cc 25HP engines appeared.  Production was interrupted by WW2, but units of the now Type 1 began trickling out of the Wolfsburg factory by late 1945.  By 1972, over 15 million had been produced, exceeding the Ford Model T’s production record. When the last Beetle rolled out of the Puebla Mexico factory in 2003, over 21 million units had been produced wordwide. An interesting fact you might not know: Volkswagen always produced a convertible version (Cabriolet) of the Beetle, adding a touch of open-air freedom to its lineup.

The concept for the Type 2 (aka the Bus) is credited to Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon. Pon visited Wolfsburg in 1946, intending to purchase Type 1s for import to the Netherlands. While visiting, he saw a Plattenwagen, an improvised parts-mover based on the Type 1 chassis. HE realized something better was possible using the stock Type 1 pan. With a drag coefficient of Cd=0.75, the aerodynamics of the first prototypes were poor.  Engineers did wind tunnel testing to optimize the design, implementing simple changes such as splitting the windshield and roofline into a “vee”, this helping the production Type 2 to achieve a Cd=0.44. The first production models debuted in November 1949. Only two models were offered: the Kombi, with two side windows and middle and rear seats that were easily removable by one person, and the Commercial. The Microbus was added in May 1950, joined by the Deluxe Microbus in June 1951.

The Des Moines Concours is accepting applications for exceptional cars for the Volkswagen Class. If you would like to be a part of this iconic class, go to our Exhibiting page to apply.

Questions?  Send your email to info@desmoinesconcours.com

DID YOU KNOW VW’s presence in Iowa dates back to as early as the mid-50’s? Des Moines had Cars Inc., Cedar Rapids with Empire Motors, Burlington had Import Motors Ltd, Davenport had Murphy’s Foreign Cars, and Hassenger Import Motors in Sioux City. In some cases, these dealerships sold multiple imported brands to augment the sales of Beetles and microbuses. Today, remnants of their (and their successor’s) legacy can still be seen at vintage car shows and classic Volkswagen gatherings across Iowa! Here are a few:

Celebrating American Station Wagons at the Concours

We are extremely excited to include a special class in the Concours d’Elegance this year for American Station Wagons. If you were raised in the USA in any decade prior to the 1990s, there’s a good chance you have memories of riding in the back of a wagon, perhaps on a family vacation or maybe even on a daily basis. As automotive culture has evolved and shifted its emphasis to SUVs, trucks and crossovers, the station wagon has become a symbol of nostalgia: it represents a way of life that many see as a high point for both the manufacturing of cars and the country itself.

Photo by Mark Susina

The term “station wagon” originally referred to train stations; those earliest versions were designed for exactly that: taking people and luggage to the local passenger rail stop. Over the years, other terms have been adopted and used for similar vehicles: estate car, variant, shooting brake and carryall have all been applied to cars we would classify as wagons. Though they are few and far between on modern day roads in the U.S., it’s hard to deny that the station wagon is one of the quintessential symbols of the classic American way of life.

Photo courtesy of Bells Studebaker Diner & Museum

From the earliest wood-bodied variants of Ford’s Model T in the 1910s, the station wagon has served as a practical car for hauling people, luggage and more. The “woody” iteration of the wagon is certainly what defined the style in prewar days, but it was in the 1950s when America first began to wholly embrace the need for family transportation in a big way. Domestic automakers all saw the postwar boom of suburban development as an opportunity for them to create and market cars designed for all purposes: take the kids to school, bring home plywood to build a deck, and go out on the town on the weekend. Style and practicality were combined in cars that had three rows of seats and extra cargo space, but all the luxury options and powertrains of sedans of the day. This wagon boom continued through the 1960s and ‘70s, but quickly changed in 1984 with Chrysler’s introduction of its minivan.  Sales declined further with the popularity of SUVs, pickups and crossovers in the decades to follow.

Do you own a classic wagon from one of the big three American manufacturers? Or maybe a less common wagon from Studebaker or AMC? The Des Moines Concours is accepting applications for exceptional station wagons (up to 1984 model years) in this year’s exhibition, from a Model T depot hack through the glorious Nomads of the 1950s, and even the faux-wood adorned Country Squires of the 1970s and beyond. If you, or someone you know, would enjoy being a part of this iconic class, go to our online application.

Questions?  E-mail info@desmoinesconcours.com for more information.

Classics Class – What You Need to Know

The Des Moines Concours uses the Classic Car Club of America’s definition of a Full Classic as a “Fine” or “Distinctive” automobile. It may be either American or foreign built, produced only between 1915 and 1948. A number of factors come into play but, generally, a Classic was a high-priced, top-end vehicle when new, and was built in limited quantities. No mass-produced assembly line vehicles are considered Classics. Other factors include larger engine displacement, custom bespoke coachwork, and luxury accessories. Mechanical developments such as power brakes, power clutch, and automatic lubrication systems also help determine whether a car is considered to be a Classic.

With some marques, only certain models are recognized as CCCA Classics. Download the list of recognized cars to see which models of a particular marque are accepted as Full Classics.

2023 Des Moines Concours 1st Place Winner in the Classics Class and Best of Show

2023 Classics Class & Best of Show Winner

1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II owned by Irving Jensen of Milford, IA

This car was originally ordered by J.P. Morgan Jr. and was used as his summer car until 1941 when it was donated to the Henry Ford Museum. Morgan requested some items when ordered, including a taller folding top to allow for a top hat, black wheels with SS spokes, softer riding main springs, and the Morgan crest on the rear doors.

Registration Open for 2024 Des Moines Concours

Mark Your Calendars for our Events September 6th through 8th

It’s time to submit your registration for the 2024 Des Moines Concours. Our main Concours event takes place on Sunday, September 8th from 10 am to 4 pm, capping off a weekend of activities.

This year’s classes include our Annual Classes and three Special Classes:

Annual Classes

  • Antiques– Vehicles produced from the beginning of motor vehicles through 1927
  • Early Collectibles– A broad range of cars and trucks produced between 1928 and 1942
  • Atomic Age Collectibles– Vehicles with post-war styling built between 1946 and 1957
  • Space Age Collectibles– Tailfins, chrome, and sleek body lines, produced from 1958 to 1969
  • Preservation– Unaltered survivors produced before 1974
  • Classics– Luxury, limited production automobiles produced from 1915 to 1948
  • Exotics– Speed, rarity, and provocative designs make these cars an attraction to everyone
  • American Muscle – High-performance, rear-wheel drive, mid and full-size models up to 1973
  • Motorcycles– Mechanical icons that influenced cultures with their design and engineering

2024 Special Classes

  • Station Wagons – American station wagons up to 1984
  • Porsche – Performance on the street and on the track
  • Volkswagen – 1949-1981 Volkswagens in America


French Rules Judging at the Des Moines Concours

The Des Moines Concours utilizes “French Rules” for evaluating vehicles shown at our event. After all, the word “Des Moines” is French!  A Concours d’Elegance, which translates to Competition of Elegance, typically utilizes French Rules for evaluating vehicles. Unlike the judging system typically used in car club events (e.g. AACA, CCCA and marque-specific clubs), French Rules judging utilizes both objective and subjective elements.

Are you ready to apply to exhibit? The link to the application is below. August 1st is the deadline to apply. Classes do fill up, so the sooner you apply, the better!

Twelve classes of sculptured machines – from Classics to Porsches, Corvettes to Volkswagons. All on display around the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.