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Philadelphia, August 2012

Today we take a look back to our visit of one of the most famous race car collections in the world, the Simeone Foundation Museum in Philadelphia. When arriving from the airport the journey leads to the nearby business park that is home of the rental car parking lots and numerous car dealerships, unimpressive signposts guiding to a brown industrial building. Just a blue sign and the name over the entrance indicate that this building might be more than an ordinary factory building, a banner “Museum of the Year” is making curious. This award was given to the Museum in 2011 by a well known international jury of automotive experts in London in this category as part of “The International Historic Motoring Awards”. The fact that this was not given to one of the new manufacturers museums with their expensive architecture but to the passion of one man shows very well the importance of the collection and indicates that this is a “must visit” for all interested in the subject.

Dr. Frederick Simeone started to collect race cars more than 50 years ago
Dr. Frederick Simeone already shared the passion for old cars in his youth with his father and started to collect race cars more than 50 years ago, long before these became an investment or status symbols. Over this long period he has set up a collection including all the important manufacturers with their most successful models spanning over seven decades, many of the cars in the museum are even the most original or sole survivors of a very small production built for only purpose: winning in the major sports car races on both sides of the Atlantic. This is not by chance as Simeone values originality over a shiny finish so most of the cars are carefully preserved just as they left the race track or restored in the most sensitive way to keep them as original as possible. It is not a surprise that the cars were not often shown in the concours scene before the preservation classes became more popular (although their owner is regularly seen on the major events) but Simeones dream of making them accessible to the public was fulfilled with this museum in 2008.

About 66 cars are on display, set up in their natural surroundings of colourful arranged diorama showing the old paddocks of Le Mans, the famous Dunlop-Bow, the small villages of the Targa Florio or the salt lake in Bonneville.

The oldest group is dedicated to the American Races before the first WW, the dawn of sports car races. Although the trip over the Atlantic was a very long journey during that time the races even attracted European cars to compete with the local heroes f.e. at the Vanderbuilt Cup in Long Island. The oldest two cars are the American Underslung from 1907 and 1909, known for their innovative chassis layout were the rear frame is slung under the axle instead of above, giving the car a lower centre of gravity. More conventional but also more successful was the 1912 National, the last American Model to win the Indy 500 before WWI and the famous Mercer Raceabout. The last car in the group is the 1916 Stutz Bearcat, the oldest Stutz in the collection, the marque that celebrated its Centenary in Style at the Pebble Beach Concours in 2011.

But not just European cars came over to America but also some Americans took part in major races in the old world. In 1921 a works team of Duesenberg was sent over to Le Mans were the French Grand Prix was held, 2 years before Le Mans became the centre of long distance racing. 3 Duesenberg took part in that race and 2 of them finished with the winning car more than 15 minutes ahead of the following Ballot to give Duesenberg the first international victory overseas. The car on display is one of these team cars and one of the first cars Simeone bought, years before the history of this significant car was surfaced. This is also the only open wheeled Grand Prix car in the collection but because of its history without doubt one of the centre pieces.

Whereas the road race in Europe become more and more popular between the wars America had no significant sports car race in this period. When the Automobile Race Club of America was founded most of the raced cars were imported from Europe as there were just few own light sports cars available. The collection has two of these with American club race history, both beautifully preserved, a classy Bentley 3 Litre Speed Model with original all metal Vanden Plas 4-seater Tourer body (unlike the lighter fabric bodies) and an Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 SS with a sporting 2-seater body.

24 Hours of Le Mans
During this period the most important sports car race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans was established in 1923. The first edition was won by a local Chenard&Walcker but the private entered Bentley 3 Litre started the history of Bentley in Le Mans and the interest of British manufacturers, drivers and spectators in the long distance race. The reputation of the race was well known in Europa but relatively unknown in the US but as the first editions in the 1920s were dominated by reliable cars with larger capacity this attracted also a few American manufacturers. One of two LM displays in the museum is dedicated to these American cars at the Sarthe with a 5 car display under the Dunlop-Bow. When people think of American cars at Le Mans the Ford GT40 and its dominance at the end of the 1960s comes to mind but already in its third edition a team of Chrysler took part, in 1928 Stutz joined in with the all new AA Black Hawk, a four seater boat tail with a 4.9 litre straight eight. Both the Stutz and the Chrysler were entered by French teams and the Stutz kept up with the winning Bentley until the end to come home second in front of the duo of Chrysler. After the success of 1928 Stutz was back in 1929 with a supercharged version of the 5.3 litre enlarged engine, one year before Bentley and Mercedes had their epic duel with their Blowers, but unlike the year before the Bentley were unbeatable leaving the Stutz a fifth place, the car on display even led the race before retiring in forth position. But not just Stutz and Chrysler took part in that year but also a sole Du Pont Model G Speedster that had to retire early in the race, the car in the museum was ordered new in Philadelphia to the same specification as the Le Mans car.

Just around the corner is one of the supercharged Bentley 4.5 Litre, the famous Blower. Today the Blower Bentley is one of the most sought after Cricklewood cars, although it is the least successful of the race cars. Unlike the 3 Litre, the normal aspired 4.5 Litre or the Speed Six the Blower never won a major race, the best was a second place in the French Grand Prix driven by Sir Henry Birkin. To enter the race version sponsored by Dorothy Paget for Birkin Bentley had to built 50 street versions of the Blower, the car in the museum is the first of the second batch of 25 built featuring the ribbed Supercharger and still with its original Vanden Plas body whereas many of the other cars were rebuilt to Le Mans specification with fabric body and cycle wings.

Soon after WWII Ferrari dominated the sports car racing and the challenge was to defeat them at Le Mans and in the World Sports Car Championship. The first American car to take this challenge was the AC Cobra driving against the 250 GTO. With the open bodied roadster the Cobra was defeated on fast circuits like Le Mans so the Daytona Coupe was developed. With just six of them built the car on display is maybe the most original one with extensive race history including a GT class win in Sebring and a LM entry (although disqualified after a restart). So this car could be in the LM display as well, but it was later used to set up no less than 25 national speed records on the salt lake in Bonneville before it ended up in storage for three decades before acquired and restored/preserved by Simeone.

After the Cobra/GTO the next chapter was the duel Ford versus Ferrari that ended up in a battle between the Ford GT40 and the Ferrari 330P3. In 1966 no less than 8 GT40 MKII were lined up at the Sarthe and the yellow car on display was entered by the British Alan Mann Racing Team but retired after 5 hours, nevertheless Ford scored a 1-2-3 finish.

Just a year later the battle was back again with the GT40 MKIV against the 330 P4. Unlike the GT40 MKII the MKIV was an pure American development and with Dan Gurney and A.J.Foyt winning in the sister car this was the first all-American victory in the history of LM. 10 cars were built and this is one of 4 entered in Le Mans but failed to finish when stranded in the hands of Hulme&Ruby at the end of the Mulsanne.

The main display in the museum is the line-up in front of the pit- lane diorama. After the dominance of Bentley in the 1920s the next 4 editions were dominated by Alfa Romeo with the immortal 8C 2.3. For all those interested in the pre-war sports Alfa Romeo the Simeone Collection is heaven on earth, no less than 5 supercharged straight eight are on display, two of them even the more desirable 2.9 Litre models. The 8C 2.3 was built in three different wheelbases, the long chassis that was used for long distance races like Le Mans, the short chassis for road races and the Monza for the Grand Prix. The museum features all three types, the light blue long chassis was entered by Lord Howe in the 1934 Le Mans edition but failed to finish.

In the 1930s a lot of different displacement classes were raced in Le Mans, the next car on display is the 1934 MG K3, a supercharged 1.1 litre engine that came home fourth in 1934. The K3 is the most famous of the small MG and even Tazio Nuvolari raced one of them in the 1933 Ulster TT to victory. Other classes were the 1.5 and 2.0 litre classes, especially the 1.5 litre class was won several times by Aston Martin with the Ulster before Aston prepared two 2 Litre Speed Models for the 1936 race that was cancelled. Another 2 litre entrant was the 1937 Peugeot Darl´mat with three cars finishing in the top 10, in 1938 one of them even won the index by performance.

The display even features a true Le Mans winner, the 1936 Bugatti Type 57G “Tank”. Since the early 1920s Bugatti won many of the major Grand Prix races, smaller races or hill climbs but an overall victory at their home long distance race in Le Mans was never achieved, maybe because Bugatti built small and sophisticated voiturettes and GP cars but Le Mans needed the “fast trucks” Bentley built in that period. In 1931 Bugatti took the first attempt for an overall victory with the Type 50S but problems with the Michelin tires led to the retirement of all entered cars. 1936 Bugatti came back with a trio of racing 2-seater (called “tank”) based on the Type 57 with a special T57 S race engine. As this is the most successful and only surviving example of this type this might be one of the most important Bugatti in existence, during the second WW the car was stored to avoid a seizure by the Nazis. Back in the 1960s it was restored and now has a lot of nice patina from an older restoration that perfectly matches the ambience of the museum.

But Le Mans was not all about works racers, many of the cars were entered privately by so-called gentlemen racers. Especially after the war some of the pre-war cars found a second career in the hand of these privateers just as the Delahaye on display that raced in 1936 until 1950 in no less than 4 Le Mans editions.

As mentioned before in the years after WWII Ferrari was the leading sports car manufacturer but for some reason in the first 10 years Ferrari just secured 2 LM victories, the second in 1954 with a Ferrari 375 Plus, the enlarged version of the 375 MM on display. The Lampredi engined 375 was beaten the year before by the Jaguar C-Type but very successful on the other side of the Atlantic, the Carrera Panamericana, in Nassau or Buenos Aires. But following the 3 victories of the Jaguar D-Type the displacement was restricted to 3 litre and the Ferrari 250 TR became the dominant car in the following years. The car on display is one of the clients pontoon fendered cars sold to customers, the winning cars were the improved works racers. One of the competitors in that period was the Maserati 300S, the one on display was raced both in the 1936 and 1937 race and later owned by Jean Behra.

With the Jaguar C-Type, the D-Type, the Maserati 300S and the Ferrari 375 MM and 250 TR the display features some of the most iconic sports racer of the period, rounded off by the Aston Martin DBR1 in the winner's circle display. After David Brown bought Aston Martin after the war his dream was to win Le Mans with his own car, the DBR1 fulfilled this finally in 1959. DBR1/3 is one of five DBR1 built with 4 factory racers and one spare car, this is the only remaining example in the US that is not regularly seen in Goodwood during the revival. Back in 2007 during the Roy Salvadori tribute this was the only one (out of 5 DBR1 and 2 DBR2) that was missing so to see this car in person is worth the visit alone. This example was driven by Stirling Moss to victory at the Nürburgring 1958 and helped to secure the world sports car championship in 1959.

The last of the Ferrari victories in Le Mans was achieved in 1965 with the 250 LM, on loan in the museum is the very first of the LM originally exported to the North American Racing Team (NART) and today belonging to Luigi Chinetti Jr.

Last but not least in the LM display is the 1970 Porsche 917 LH. After many class victories the overall winning series of Porsche started with the infamous 917 that ran both as short tail and long tail. The first versions for the homologation were long tail cars but the short tail was preferred by the drivers and gave Porsche the long desired overall victory. Today all of the designs on the Porsche 917 are famous, be it the red Porsche Salzburg of the 1970 winning car, the Martini or Gulf livery of the factory racers but the most special one is the psychedelic colour scheme of “Hippie”, a colour combination that reflects the period. This car was piloted by Gerald Larrousse and Willi Kauhusen to the second place in 1970 and returned in 1971 were it failed to finish. Later the car ended in the famous Vasek Pollak collection before it was traded to the Simeone Collection.

The Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio
But aside the 24 hours on the closed off track in France Europe featured some of the most exciting road races in Italy, namely the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio. These two races have their own diorama in the museum that features some of the already mentioned Alfa Romeo. Of 12 editions between 1927 and 1938 Alfa Romeo won not less than 10, most of them with the 8C.

The 8C Monza on display was raced by its first owner Count Carlo Castelbarco to the second place just beaten by the famous Tazio Nuvolari in another 8C. The Monza was modified by Zagato with longer fender (compared to the normal Monza cycle wings) and headlights for the road race and is one of the few original surviving Monzas. The car was active for several years and had one of its last outings in Le Mans 1938 when the car was already 5 years old.

Keeping the best for last we finally come the absolute highlight of the collection with the successful duo of Alfa Romeo 8C 2900, both an A and a B. The 8C 2.9 was the sports car version of the famous Tipo B, a 2.9 litre straight eight engine with twin supercharger that was successful in the hands of Nuvolari, Caracciola, Chiron, Varzi or Fagioli, the who is who of the time. After the German Silver Arrows appeared on the Grand Prix circus the Tipo B was not competitive anymore but the engine was the ideal base for a sports version for the road races making this the ultimate supercar of the late 1930s. The 8C 2900 A started life as a so-called Botticella (“small bottle”), a body design very similar to the Grand Prix 8C-35 with an additional seat for the riding mechanic. A team of three Botticella started in the 1937 Mille Miglia with Pintacuda winning over Farina in the car on display. After its active racing career as a factory car it was rebodied into a stylish spyder to the design of Touring and sold, a practice not unusual at that time. Transferring this to the modern days this would mean the have a current Le Mans winning Audi rebuilt for street use.

Even more desirable is the 8C 2900 B MM Spyder by Touring. After the rather simple design of the Botticella body the development of the successor featured a beautiful low spyder, maybe the best looking sports car of all times. Five of these cares were prepared for the 1938 Mille Miglia, the race was finally won by Biondetti in the displayed car featuring some special features like a larger engine or improved brake drums. Of the 5 cars just 2 survived with the original design, two were highly modified later with “home made” bodies (and are now part of the Schlumpf Collection in Mulhouse), the third one was reconstructed after it was destroyed in a barn fire. One of the two surviving examples is now in Ralph Laurens Collection and the winning car can be seen here in Philadelphia. The 8C 2900 B is without doubt the most sought after pre-war car, Touring Spyder and Berlinettas are amongst the winners on the international concours circuit and a factory team car winning the most prestigious race of the time is even superior and it is not a surprise that Simeone rates this the best of his superb collection.

The museum is small but of a unbeatable quality, very well presented and a must visit when travelling the East Coast. Unfortunately on normal working days there are less visitors than it deserves compared to the large manufacturers museums. But every forth Saturday in the month the museum features a demonstration day when selected cars are driven on the parking lot behind the building showing the cars in motion. These days usually attract a good number of visitors showing that people like to see and hear them running, the only experience a “normal” visit cannot supply. Fortunately the layout is very old-school without the multimedia gimmicks some other museum feature distracting from the main exhibits: the cars.

For further information, the demonstration days and the opening ours please visit www.simeonemuseum.org

For all those who are not able to visit the museum the book on the museum is entrusted. Published by Coachbuilt Press the book features information on every car on display illustrated by the superb studio photography of Michael Furman.

Text & images ... Peter Singhof www.ClassicCarPhotography.de

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