Dr. Frederick Anthony Simeone, whose extraordinary car collection featured many racing cars with Le Mans history, died on Saturday, June 11. He was 86. Fittingly, his last moments were spent at the hospital he regarded as a second home, as the 24-hour race was well underway. “Dr. Fred,” as many people called him, was a world-renowned physician and former chief of neurosurgery at Pennsylvania Hospital until his retirement in 2008.
His father had been a car collector, and Fred grew up loving cars while chasing brochures from car dealerships all over Philadelphia and through the mail. He persuaded the curator of the Free Library of Philadelphia to let him use library stationery. “Give me a card asking a car dealer for two copies of his latest brochure,” the youngster said, “and we’ll each keep one.”
The result, over time, supplemented with annual trips to AACA Hershey, became the basis for an extensive, world-famous literature and automobilia library. (Fred would call it “compulsive.”) He attributed his lifelong interest in cars “to pure luck,” and a father who gave him, for his first car, “a dilapidated Alfa Romeo 6C 2500.”
A philosophy of preservation
Simeone’s splendid book, The Spirit of Competition, written in 2009 (and photographed by the incomparable Michael Furman), was not only a complete cataog of his 75-plus car collection, but a platform to espouse his heartfelt theories of automotive preservation.
Stated simply, Fred loved original cars. He sought them out, and sometimes, because of his reputation, they found their way to him. The battle scars of competition, the obvious wear and tear, to Fred, authenticated a car well beyond what any ground-up restoration could have accomplished.
“Having seen Dad’s penchant for restoration in the ‘100-point era’ of the collector-car hobby, an era which unfortunately still predominates,” he wrote, “I soon developed latent observations that restoration in many cases was a form of degradation, and that original finishes, trim, and preservation of cars in an as-found condition certainly supervened over glorious perfection, and replacement in the name of restoration.”
It is an insightful view of present-day automobile culture. “Because we are dealing with objects that are defined by their past,” Simeone wrote, “that past cannot be erased to satisfy competitive imperatives. The preservation criteria that govern other major historical collecting must apply to noteworthy automobiles if we are to earn respect as connoisseurs rather than hobbyists.”
An unsurpassed collection
Fred inherited four cars from his general-practitioner father, along with $8,000. Half a century later, he’d built one of the pre-eminent racing and sports-car collections. When it came to collecting, Fred’s cars were a living embodiment of Ken Purdy’s “The Kings of the Road.” All the legendary marques were represented: Mercer and Stutz, DuPont, National and American Underslung, from the pioneering days in America; Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Bugatti, Squire and Vauxhall from the glorious 1930s; Jaguar, BMW, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche from the ’50s and ’60s.
His cars were not just an example of the marque — in many cases, they were the example.
A 1927 Mercedes-Benz S-type Sportwagen? Fred’s car won the first German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. A 1931 Bentley 4½ Litre “Blower” Tourer by Vanden Plas? His Bentley won the Isle of Man Time Trials that year.
His Peugeot 402 Darl’mat roadster is one of three raced at Le Mans in 1937. Fred’s Bugatti Type 57G “Tank” won every race it was entered in, including Le Mans in 1937. His MG K3 Magnette was identical to the car Nuvolari drove at the Irish TT, and Fred’s MG was 4th overall at Le Mans in 1934. His 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A finished 2nd in the 1937 Mille Miglia. (Fred found it in Argentina.) His 1938 Alfa 8C 2900B MM Spyder won the 1938 Mille Miglia. Simeone’s Delahaye 135S/175S raced at Le Mans four times.
The Simeone Collection includes the first customer Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa; a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Pinin Farina Spyder, raced in Italy by actor William Holden; Jean Behra’s 1956 Le Mans Maserati 300S; Briggs Cunningham’s C-4R Roadster, the Class winner at Le Mans in 1954; and so much more.
Most of Fred’s cars were unrestored; all were nicely preserved. He delighted in demonstrating them for appreciative crowds on weekends at the museum. He graciously established the Simeone Museum Foundation so his collection would be preserved in perpetuity. “It’s my little gift to Philadelphia,” he’d say with a smile.
When Pebble Beach celebrated the Porsche 917 Anniversary, Fred sent “The Psychedelic Porsche,” a 917 LH (Long Tail) that was 2nd at Le Mans in 1970. It traveled innoculously across the country in a nondescript trailer (he didn’t want to risk it being stolen). Craig Breedlove set 23 Bonneville speed and endurance records in Fred’s Shelby Cobra Daytona coupe. There are still salt flakes on the surface from the record runs. It’s the ex-Phil Spector car, of course.
These cars are real; they exude authenticity because they’re nearly exactly the way they were built, the way they ran, and the way they’ll remain forever. Paraphrasing the Hippocratic oath, Dr. Simeone wrote, “Do no harm to historically accurate artifacts.” He envisioned a paradigm shift: “[Posterity should] reward the owner for preservation, not perfection.” Fred Simeone lamented that cosmetic perfection sometimes destroyed originality in the process. “While cosmetic perfection is very difficult to achieve,” he acknowledged, “historic perfection is even more elusive, and therefore more desirable.”
Dr. Fred Simeone was kind, gracious and generous. His many friends will tell you that while he was passionate about automobiles, his skill and long experience as a medical practitioner meant that he quietly helped and advised them on medical issues. There’s no one quite like Fred Simeone in the car hobby and there may never be. His collection will live on in tribute. And we, his friends, will never forget him. ♦