The winning 1966 Ford GT40 Mk II. Photos by Andrew Taylor unless otherwise noted.
Philadelphia’s Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum is home to roughly 65 historically significant sports and competition cars from around the world. Selecting the most beautiful cars from the collection is no easy task, which is why the museum asked website visitors to choose their favorite three for Saturday’s “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder” Demonstration Day, an event that enables visitors to see cars being exercised in the museum’s spacious back lot. The winner was a 1966 Ford GT40 Mk II, but two cars tied for second place: CSX2287, a 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, and the museum’s newest acquisition, a 1990 Nissan 300ZX Turbo.
1990 Nissan 300ZX Turbo, tied for second place. Photo by Joseph R. Chiaccio.
Donated by John J. Casey of Pearl River, New York, in 2014, the Nissan is a two-owner car with less than 35,000 miles on the odometer. Though stock in appearance, it does contain a few period-correct performance upgrades, including a stainless steel STILLEN exhaust, STILLEN brakes and rotors, a Jim Wolf POPcharger air cleaner and a JVC receiver. Returning the car to stock form wouldn’t be a significant undertaking, but the Simeone prefers to leave vehicles in an “as acquired” state whenever possible.
Photo by Joseph R. Chiaccio.
In racing trim, the second-generation Nissan 300ZX won 24 IMSA GTS class races between 1990 and 1995, capturing both Driver and Manufacturer championships in 1992 and 1994. Following victories at both Daytona and Sebring, the Clayton Cunningham Racing team entered a 300ZX in the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans, where the car finished first in the IMSA GTS class and fifth overall. While the 300ZX now in the permanent collection of the Simeone Museum was never raced, its low mileage and relatively unaltered condition makes it the rarest of examples. In the museum’s own words,
Due to the wonders of depreciation, as well as an influx of low-cost performance parts, a high percentage of these cars were heavily modified and unceremoniously beaten into the ground.
The 300ZX is making its Demo Day debut, and it also represents the first Japanese car to participate in a Demo Day event.
CSX2287, the museum’s 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe.
Tied for second place with the Nissan was CSX2287, the first Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe constructed and the only example to be built entirely at Shelby’s facility in Venice, California. The subject of the museum’s very first Preservation Workshop, held onsite last December, the Daytona was raced throughout 1964 and at Le Mans in 1965. Later used by Craig Breedlove to set endurance records at Bonneville, the car once belonged to record producer Phil Spector, an odd side note that set in motion a chain of events worthy of an Elmore Leonard novel. Today, CSX2287 remains the only Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe in preserved but largely unrestored form.
The people’s choice Demo Day winner, by a clear margin, was the museum’s 1966 Ford GT40 Mk II, finished in the same yellow-with-black-stripes livery as campaigned by Alan Mann Racing at Le Mans in 1966. Driven by Sir John Whitmore and Frank Gardner, the Ford FE 427 V-8 powered car retired with clutch problems a mere five hours into the race, and was subsequently returned to Shelby American. Reclaimed by Ford, the GT40 Mk II was used for a promotional tour of Ford dealerships in the Great Lakes region, before being placed into long-term storage in 1967.
Purchased by Dr. Roger Wilcox in 1971, the car was sent to Holman & Moody for restoration to period standards. After passing through a few other collections, the Ford was acquired by the Simeone Foundation in 1987, and a post-purchase inspection revealed that the engine was not as original as the rest of the car. This discovery, and the attempted restoration that followed, kicked off a multi-year ordeal that Dr. Simone calls “by far the worst experience I have had in the automotive hobby.”
All’s well that ends well, and today the car is once again in 1966 trim, complete with a period-correct T44 transaxle and a properly date-coded engine block sourced through Kar Kraft. Though the car never achieved glory on the race track, it is a stunning example of a period in history when, cost be damned, Ford was determined to beat Ferrari at its own game, and in its own backyard.