Northeast Times

Welcome to hot rod heaven

Start­Frag­ment

People don’t race auto­mo­biles like they used to.

Nowadays, they drive com­puter-de­signed, cook­ie cut­ter-styled fly­ing bill­boards around san­it­ized, if not bor­ingly cir­cu­lar courses. In the old days, they coaxed and caressed hand­craf­ted works of art along wind­ing open roads across the coun­tryside.

Re­tired neurosur­geon and Kens­ing­ton nat­ive Fred Simeone longs for the golden era of mo­tor ra­cing, but he needn’t want for many of the finest ex­amples of auto­mot­ive func­tion­al­ity and beauty ever en­vi­sioned by the hu­man mind.

He already has dozens of them. And for the last three years, he’s offered them for pub­lic dis­play by trans­form­ing an oth­er­wise non­des­cript ware­house near the Phil­adelphia In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port in­to the Simeone Found­a­tion Auto­mot­ive Mu­seum.

In Novem­ber, the largely un­dis­covered gem on Nor­witch Drive near South 70th Street earned world­wide re­cog­ni­tion as Mu­seum of the Year at the in­aug­ur­al In­ter­na­tion­al His­tor­ic Mo­tor­ing Awards in Lon­don. The mu­seum show­cases more than 60 rare and sig­ni­fic­ant ra­cing sports cars all ac­quired by Simeone, 75, dur­ing his five dec­ades as one of the na­tion’s fore­most neurosur­geons and most vis­ion­ary race­car col­lect­ors.

“The cars have everything,” Simeone said dur­ing a re­cent tour of his mu­seum. “They look good; they feel good; and they sound good. They have aes­thet­ic and tech­nic­al in­nov­a­tion. And I think most people will agree that the most trans­form­ing in­ven­tion of the in­dus­tri­al age was the auto­mobile.”

THE STAND­ARD BEAR­ER

That is not to say Henry Ford’s old Mod­el A will be found at the Simeone Mu­seum. On the con­trary, the types of cars that piqued the founder’s in­terest as a teen­ager and that con­tin­ue to do so today are those that set the stand­ards of design, en­gin­eer­ing and per­form­ance.

The vehicles, ran­ging in mod­el years from 1909 to 1975, are all con­sidered sports cars, mean­ing that they have fend­ers and lights and could’ve been driv­en on pub­lic roads in their day. But they’re also race cars, road-course racers in fact, best suited for elite in­ter­na­tion­al ven­ues and events like France’s Le Mans, Italy’s Mille Miglia or Amer­ica’s Sebring.

Fi­nally, and per­haps most im­port­ant, Simeone wanted only the best of the best for the col­lec­tion.

“[The cars] had to be win­ners in their genres at ma­jor races,” he said.

As one might ex­pect with those re­quire­ments, most of the le­gendary man­u­fac­turer names in road ra­cing are rep­res­en­ted in the mu­seum’s in­di­vidu­ally styl­ized ex­hib­its. Italy’s Fer­rari and Alfa Romeo are show­cased, as are Ger­many’s Mer­cedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche; Eng­land’s As­ton Mar­tin, Aus­tin-Healey and Jag­uar; and France’s Bugatti and Peugeot.

Even Amer­ica’s sporad­ic but in­flu­en­tial con­tri­bu­tions to this tra­di­tion­ally European activ­ity have taken their place among the col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing Car­roll Shelby’s pro­to­type 1964 Co­bra Daytona Coupe — which Beatles pro­du­cer Phil Spect­or once owned and fam­ously drove on the streets of Los Angeles — as well as two vari­ations of the Ford GT40s that dom­in­ated the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the late 1960s.

There’s also a 1963 Cor­vette Grand Sport, one of just five made, that its en­gin­eers secretly res­cued from the scrap heap and sold to Ro­ger Penske after ex­ec­ut­ives at Gen­er­al Mo­tors pulled the plug on the Cor­vette de­vel­op­ment de­part­ment’s un­ap­proved ra­cing pro­gram.

HOT WHEELS

In all, the col­lec­tion is val­ued at more than $200 mil­lion, al­though Simeone prefers to con­sider the vehicles price­less with­in the con­text of mo­tor ra­cing his­tory. His found­a­tion, a re­gistered 501(c)(3) char­ity, owns the titles.

The cars hold a deep per­son­al sig­ni­fic­ance for Simeone, too. Col­lect­ing is a pas­sion he shared with his own fath­er, Dr. An­thony Simeone, a long­time fam­ily prac­ti­tion­er at Frank­ford and Al­legheny av­en­ues.

“I in­her­ited the in­terest and the pas­sion and the un­der­stand­ing,” said Simeone, who now resides in Chest­nut Hill.

When the young­er Simeone was a teen­ager, his fath­er gave him his first sports car, a 1949 Alfa Romeo, des­pite con­cerns for the son’s driv­ing style and per­son­al safety. Con­veni­ently for the eld­er Simeone, the car spent more time in the shop than in ser­vice.

“He gave me a car that took me two years to get on the road,” Fred Simeone re­called.

For years, An­thony Simeone stored his own mod­est col­lec­tion in a gar­age on Clear­field Street. Four of those vehicles are now in the mu­seum.

ON DIS­PLAY

Mean­while, the mu­seum also houses what is widely con­sidered the world’s most com­plete col­lec­tion of ra­cing Alfa Romeos. Simeone’s per­son­al fa­vor­ite is the 1938 Alfa that claimed that year’s Mille Miglia, a 1,000-mile race from Bres­cia to Rome and back.

In de­vel­op­ing the mu­seum’s dis­plays, Simeone took great pains in present­ing the unique stor­ies of each vehicle and fram­ing them with in­tric­ate and col­or­ful di­oramas of the ven­ues in which they com­peted, such as Utah’s Bon­neville Salts Flats, New York’s Watkins Glen, Ger­many’s Nürbur­gring and Si­cily’s Targa Florio.

“So [vis­it­ors] learn about the cars, learn about the tracks and by the end of it they learn about the win­ners,” Simeone said.

His con­scious de­cision to con­clude this his­tor­ic­al nar­rat­ive with the early 1970s was based on his per­cep­tion of a mo­nu­ment­al shift in the de­vel­op­ment, vari­ety and, frankly, the aes­thet­ic beauty of the vehicle. The latest car on dis­play is a 1975 Alfa.

“They start to get uni­form in this era,” Simeone said. “Once you start to have com­puters design­ing cars, they all come to the same con­clu­sion.” ••

The Simeone Found­a­tion Auto­mot­ive Mu­seum is open Tues­days through Sundays. Doors open at 10 a.m. For a full sched­ule, as well as in­form­a­tion about host­ing a private event at the mu­seum, vis­it www.SimeoneMu­seum.org or call 215-365-7233.

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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