The Best Racing Sports Car Museum in the World?

by | Sep 2012 | 0 comments

By Glen Quagmire


You probably wouldn’t expect a former automotive engine remanufacturing plant in an industrial park to house one of the greatest sports car racing museums in the world.

You would be wrong.

Located just minutes from the Philadelphia International Airport, you’ll find the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, a collection of some of the rarest and most interesting racing sports cars in the world. It must be fabulous; it received the prestigious International Historic Motoring Awards “Museum of the Year” honor for 2011-2012, in a selection process that also included the likes of the Jaguar Heritage Museum in the UK, the Auto Museum Prototyp in Germany, and the amazing Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.


Housed in a gleaming and modern 100,000 square foot facility, the museum features a core group of race cars from the last hundred years, along with a constantly-changing group of cars based on various auto racing themes. There are typically 60-70 cars on display at any given time, and special occasions or special exhibits may increase that number.


This irreplaceable group of historic race cars represents a lifetime of collecting by Dr. Fred Simeone, a now-retired neurosurgeon with a passion for race cars. But make no mistake. This is not just the evidence of a well-to-do doctor’s casual hobby. Dr. Simeone is a very serious collector and historian who can recite the full history of every car in his collection, and do so with accuracy, detail, and passion. He is one with the collection.

This collection of race cars was previously housed in a nondescript warehouse in center city Philadelphia. But the collection outgrew that facility, which offered no off-street parking and was not particularly visitor-friendly. And Dr. Simeone didn’t want to keep these cars to himself; rather, it was and is, his intention to put together the greatest collection of racing sports cars and make them available to automotive enthusiasts to see, touch, and enjoy.


About the Cars


You see, these are not over-restored, concours-prepared pieces of jewelry. Rather, virtually every car in this collection is presented in “as-raced” condition, as Dr. Simeone believes they should be preserved. The patina gained from age, use, and sometimes racing-induced abuse, paints a vivid picture of technological advancements in motor racing technology since the early 20th century, as well as very clear examples of the sometimes-frightening vehicles in which daredevils of the day risked, and sometimes lost, their lives.

It was also Dr. Simeone’s vision to collect sports cars that were raced – in other words, cars that were built to be, or based on, street-driven automotive platforms. So, some were originally built for the street, but modified “back in the day” for racing conditions. Others, while ostensibly “production cars,” were really purpose-built race cars disguised as production cars. Examples include the very first Cobra Daytona Coupe ever built, along with an original Ford GT40 Mk. II, an authentic 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport, and a Porsche 917LH.


The cars are displayed in period-themed dioramas, which depict the locales and race tracks where the cars most notably competed – settings like Le Mans, Monte Carlo, and, of course, the famed Watkins Glen road course in New York. Visitors are encouraged to get “up close and personal” with the cars, and Dr. Simeone is often present to explain the cars’ heritage and answer any type of question a guest might have – who drove the cars, when and where did they win, what kind of technology did they incorporate, etc.

Truly a Dynamic Display…


While the cars are mostly stationary, they are almost always kept in drivable condition, and once a month or so Dr. Fred will take one or more of these priceless cars into the large paved three-acre lot behind the museum and exercise the cars a bit. He feels that seals, gaskets, and internal metal parts will be happier if they’re kept bathed in oil occasionally.


The collection is regularly supplemented with special cars from outside Dr. Simeone’s collection. The museum often hosts themed exhibits, with privately-owned cars displayed by invitation. The themes may be marque-specific, such as Stutz, Shelby, or Alfa Romeo, nation-specific like Best of Britain and Vive Le France, or based on other themes like Big American V8 Day, Tribute to Sebring race cars, Racing Motorcycles, and even seasonal themes like “Santa Claus.” Many of these themes incorporate a “Demo Day” in which selected cars from the collection, or invitees, are actually driven with élan, much to the delight of attendees that day.

Special Guests, Special Events


Because the Simeone Museum is such an extraordinary grouping of historic vehicles, the facility often hosts famous race car drivers, designers, crew chiefs, and automotive celebrities, sometimes just to visit and sometimes to lecture, discuss, autograph, and perhaps even drive one of their former steeds in the Ride and Drive area. The list of guests reads like a Who’s Who of the motor racing community, and includes names like Mario Andretti, Janet Guthrie, Jay Leno, Craig Breedlove, David Donohue, Brian Redman, John Fitch, and many others.


The Museum is happy to host groups of visitors; often, car clubs will caravan from near and far to afford their members a personalized tour and discussions relative to the interests of a particular make or model of car. Prior arrangements are necessary, but welcome.

In addition, the Museum is available for rental for all kinds of special events – meetings, conferences, banquets, business and charitable meetings and events, even weddings and birthday parties. The Museum’s staff is happy to help coordinate suitable arrangements and decorations, and recommend caterers and other suppliers who appreciate and respect the venue and vehicles. Again, prior arrangements are a must.

There’s always something fresh, new, and exciting at the Simeone Museum, and it’s a must-see for anyone traveling in or through the Northeast. The Museum is open daily except Mondays and certain holidays. The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum is a 501(C)3 non-profit organization.

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