Dr. Fred Simeone, a neurosurgeon from Philadelphia, has spent the last 40 years compiling an elite collection of automobiles with international recognition. During a Dec. 20, 2014 visit to the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, a line of early Le Mans, Sebring, Mille Miglia and Nurburgring competitors in their gleaming original paintwork greeted us as we awaited a chance to speak with Dr. Simeone.
The line of body designs evolved from early exposed utilitarian components and delicate wire wheels, to sculpted sheet metal and precision-formed alloy rims on racing slicks. Our tour through the collection of 65 automobiles revealed a carefully selected and curated group of sports cars, winners of the World Sportscar Championship Series and more.
The 1964 Shelby Daytona Coupe responsible for setting a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats sat twenty feet from a 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Mille Miglia Spider, a third place runner up at the 1933 Spa 24 hour race. The 1938 winner of the Mille Miglia, an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B MM Spyder, stood on a podium at the other end of the gallery.
What stunned us was how the extraordinary became the average along the display floor. Nurburgring winning Aston Martins and Le Mans Ford GT40s blended into the collection of racing evolution casually, leaving us with a question: how did all these cars come together?
In one of the museum’s upstairs offices, Dr. Simeone described how he became involved with collecting at a young age. His father appreciated automobiles and had accumulated a few, which are on view in the collection. As Dr. Simeone put it, “My father said it was okay to save up for a car and enjoy it. He didn’t discourage it like other fathers did.” That was how it started.
As Dr. Simeone graduated from medical school and began his career in neurosurgery, he began collecting, adding to the cars his father left him throughout the 1970s and 80s. Each addition had to represent something special, though.
“I didn’t want the little Lotuses and Morgans, I wanted cars that won major races,” Dr. Simeone said. “They had to be winners in [their] category, they had to exhibit superb performance qualities and they had to have the body and engine they were raced with.”
He explained his method for developing the collection and remaining motivated. “I’d write them down on a white refrigerator magnet, and every once in a while I’d be able to take one off.” His refrigerator must have been an interesting sight to behold.
The unifying theme of the collection is aptly summed up by the John Stuart Mill quote, “Competition is indispensable to progress.” Organized in chronological order according to race category, the evolution of the race and sports car is visible in a consistent, thematic quality that Simeone mentioned is rare in most private collections.
This was a determining factor in the museum’s nomination as “Museum of the Year” at the 2011 International Historic Motoring Awards in London. The foundation has also received IHMA awards for “Best Publication” and “2014 Car of the Year” with the 1964 Daytona Coupe pictured above.
“I felt the need to take a proactive step in the stewardship and preservation of the collection,” Dr. Simeone explained, detailing his reasons for creating the foundation museum. “[It’s] a place where people of all ages can view these unique cars, hear them, [and] smell the old leather and oil.”
To create a proper environment for visitors to experience the cars, the museum holds a Demonstration Day once a month where a few select cars are run in the three-acre lot behind the museum for spectators. In the article below, a 1929 duPont Le Mans Speedster is featured in action as one of the Demonstration Day exhibits
Be sure to check out the end of the video at the base of our earlier article about the Simeone Collection. In the video, uploaded to YouTube July 24, 2014 by the Simeone Museum, Publisher of duPont REGISTRY Thomas L. duPont talks about three of the duPonts in his collection of automobiles.
The Le Mans Speedster shown in the video is a production edition of the competition vehicle raced in the 1929 24 hours of Le Mans, one of three four-seat duPont Speedsters in existence. The second of the three cars is in Mr. duPont’s private collection, sporting midnight blue and black livery.
Debuting in 1919 as an American luxury motor car brand, the duPont became a symbol of unique taste for elite individuals. In 1928, the eight-cylinder engine featured in the Speedster was introduced with the new model G line of duPonts, producing 125 hp at 3,200 rpm, as mentioned in Stan Smith’s book, “The Eight Cylinder duPont Motor Car.” It was a powerful and rare car for the wealthy.
In 1931, production of the duPont automobiles ceased, but they have remained highly desirable as only thirty or so of the 537 original automobiles exist. Only ten or so of those in existence are outside of the duPont family’s ownership. Seeing one of these duPonts Speedsters anywhere is rare, and to be seen in motion at the Simeone Foundation is a once in a lifetime experience
These Demonstration Days are one of the many ways the Foundation functions to serve as an interactive part of the automotive community, and they remain its most strongly attended feature event. Other events are often scheduled and held in the museum, such as wedding receptions and special events on the display floor.
Experiences like these, where visitors can observe the cars in an intimate environment, are what Dr. Simeone has strived to create. As he explained, “I want kids to come here and say ‘Wow, that was neat!’ and get a hook in their mind that cars are cool and competition is maybe a good thing.”
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“The DNA of this collection is competition, and I want to inspire the people who walk through our doors,” Simeone continued. He succeeded in inspiring us on a previous visit as an old British competitor was revived.
The sound of a 1921 Vauxhall 30/98E Velox tourer emerged from the back section of the museum’s restoration workshop. The car hadn’t run in decades, butran smoothly at that moment. Bodied in bare aluminum, the tourer has been preserved in its original condition, mud still caked on the undersides of its fenders from hill climbing. It looked ready to take on the Bentleys and other hill-climbing champions thanks to its inspiring intactness.
Dr. Simeone has retired from active medical practice and spends much of the work week at the museum, overseeing the restoration and curation of the collection with the help of 150 volunteers. One of the volunteers, “Shiny” Bob Goldstein, has been washing and maintaining the autos’ spotless bodywork since the opening of the museum . He is the museum’s longest participating volunteer.
Scroll down and check out our favorites from the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, and consider visiting the museum the next time you’re in Philadelphia. At number 27 on Tripadvisor’s Things to Do in Philadelphia, and only a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport, it’s a great spot to explore during a long layover. For more information about demonstration days and museum events, check out their website at SimeoneMuseum.org.
(Media Source: The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum)