The 1964 Shelby Daytona Coupe. The 1966 Ford GT40 Mk II. The 1970 Porsche 917LH. The 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B MM.
These are some of the greatest racing cars of all time.
They are four of the 65 world-class racing cars in the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, PA.
Dr. Fred Simeone is a retired neurosurgeon who began building his collection in 1972, when his father died and left him with $8,000 and four cars.
He has just four criteria for his collection:
The car must be a sports car with headlights and fenders.
The car must have a history of road racing (not just track competition).
The car must have been considered a “winner” or superior competitor in period.
It must have its original chassis, body and engine.
I recently had a chance to spend a couple of hours with Dr. Simeone. He took me through his collection and discussed his philosophy of collecting.
“I’m interested in the great road-racing cars. These are cars that represented significant technical innovations in their era,” Simeone said. “They were all champions.”
As an example, he noted that the only Porsche in his collection is a 917LH that finished second overall in 1970 at Le Mans.
“I don’t have any of the 4- or 6-cylinder Porsches,” Simeone said. “I felt that it wasn’t until the 917 that they started playing with the big boys, shooting for overall victory in the most important races.”
Simeone smiled and said that not all Porsche fanatics agreed with him.
The museum is housed in a building in an industrial park about 15 minutes from the Philadelphia International Airport.
Like a racing garage, the museum’s interior is Spartan but purposeful — with painted backgrounds for some of the cars.
Dr. Simeone said car collecting is still in its infancy.
“We have had curators and connoisseurs of painting, sculpture and even furniture for hundreds of years,” he said.
The first automobile, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, was built just 133 years ago in 1885. And the ultimate collectability and importance of racing automobiles wasn’t established until after they had completed their competition careers, as recently as 48 years ago with the Porsche 917.
Having a carefully curated 65 cars to examine makes an afternoon at the Simeone Museum a thoughtful and satisfying one. Each car represents the pinnacle of road racing machinery it its respective era.
The cars on display are icons from an era we will never see again, where road-racing cars could also be driven on the street.
There’s not another collection anything like it in the world. If a visit isn’t already on your bucket list, it should be.