1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. Photos courtesy Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum.
Sometimes, the joy of acquiring a collector car is not in the actual purchase, but in the hunt itself. While all the cars in the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, have stories to tell, a few stand out as much for the story behind their acquisition as for their place in automotive or racing history. This Saturday, March 25, the Simeone will present a “Car Detectives” Demonstration Day, featuring the museum’s 1927 Stutz Black Hawk Challenger, its 1934 MG K3 Magnette, its 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 A roadster, and its 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe.
The Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, chassis CSX2287, is perhaps the best-known of all the cars in the Simeone Collection. The first vehicle placed on the National Historic Vehicle Register, CSX2287 enjoyed modest racing success, placing fourth overall (and first in class) at Sebring in 1964, followed by ninth overall (and sixth in-class) at Spa in May 1964. Aside from an 11th place class finish at Goodwood in 1964, driven by Phil Hill, the car’s other races were marked by Did-Not-Finish (DNF) endings and a disqualification at Le Mans in 1964. Later, it was used by Craig Breedlove to set endurance records at Bonneville, but the Daytona Coupe is best known for the drama that unfolded after its racing days were over.
Slot car manufacturer Jim Russell was the first to acquire the repainted-but-not-restored car, fitted with a new 289-cu.in. V-8, and drove it for about a year to promote his business. The next owner was record producer Phil Spector, who reportedly sold the car to his bodyguard, George Brand, after racking up too many moving violations behind the wheel. Brand found the car a bit uncivilized for use as a daily driver, so he asked his daughter and son-in-law, Donna and John O’Hara, to store the car in their rented storage building.
For decades, that’s where the story of CSX2287 ended, but in 1982, the O’Haras divorced, leaving Donna as the named owner on the car’s title, signed over by her father. Selling the car would entitle John to half the proceeds, and following a bitter divorce, Donna couldn’t stomach the idea of making John wealthy. No matter what the offer, the answer was always the same – CSX2287 wasn’t for sale.
In 2000, Donna gifted the car to friend Kurt Goss, but before the DMV paperwork was filed, she took her life. Donna’s suicide meant that her mother, Dorothy Brand, was now the legal owner of CSX2287, and when a substantial offer was made by broker Martin Eyears, Dorothy willingly handed over the keys and title. A flurry of lawsuits ensued, including one filed by Goss against Eyears, Dorothy Brand and the storage facility that released the car. Next, Hollywood attorney Robert Shapiro entered the picture, arguing that his client, Phil Spector, had never really sold the car to George Brand in the first place.
In December of 2001, a court awarded monetary damages to Goss, but gave possession of CSX2287 to the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum. Now preserved (not restored), the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe remains one of the museum’s most popular Demo Day attractions.
1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A.
The 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A owned by the Simeone was once a pure sports racing car, equipped with cycle-style fenders and campaigned extensively throughout Europe. By early 1938, however, its competition days were over, and the car was fitted with the stylish roadster body (likely built by Carrozzeria Touring for Alfa Romeo) it wears today. In the postwar years the Alfa again returned to competition in Italy, but by 1949, the car had been sold to a buyer in Argentina. There, it was raced by a series of owners until 1952, when it largely disappeared from sight.
Through contacts in Argentina, Dr. Simeone began a search for the car’s owner, Sr. Tornquist, after acquiring another significant Alfa Romeo racing car, the 1938 Mille Miglia-winning 8C 2900B. A short time later, both Sr. Tornquist and the 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A had been located, though the car suffered from years of neglect and was presented without its engine.
The 2.9-liter, eight-cylinder engine had been pulled and disassembled for a rebuild that never occurred, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise; shipping the car intact might have created issues with Argentina’s “national treasure” laws, but exporting the car in pieces raised no such red flags. Largely complete, the Alfa was acquired by the Simeone Foundation and restored by craftsmen in the United States and England; fittingly, its first post-restoration event was the 1991 Mille Miglia, a race that the car had finished in second place in 1937.
1934 MG K3 Magnette.
The 1934 MG K3 Magnette owned by the Simeone Foundation finished fourth overall at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1934, driven by Lindsay Eccles and C.E.C. Martin. It also captured the Index Performance win at the race, yet is largely unheralded in books about the marque; worse, some have credited the win to another MG chassis, owned by Martin but not raced at Le Mans in 1934 (a fact that Dr. Simeone believes is supported by period photos of the race). The history of this MG K3 is known to about 1980, when it was in the possession of restorer Bill Hill, but after this, the car dropped out of sight.
Later, it would surface that the car was at the center of a dispute between Hill and the car’s then-owner. To satisfy the debt owned, Hill sold the car’s rare supercharger to a buyer in England, before offering up the now normally aspirated MG for sale. The purchase by the Simeone Foundation was brokered by a shop in exchange for the restoration work, and the hunt began for a replacement period-correct supercharger. The car’s original blower was deemed not for sale by the new owner, but a suitable component was sourced through model expert Chris Leydon.
Today, the car remains preserved but largely unrestored, and its 1.1-liter six-cylinder supercharged engine is reportedly the smallest in the Simeone’s Collection. Now, as when the car was campaigned, it’s a reminder that horsepower alone does not win races.
1927 Stutz Black Hawk Challenger. Photo copyright Michael Furman, courtesy Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum.
The 1927 Stutz Black Hawk Challenger owned by the museum has no know racing history, but it does carry the same DNA as the 1928 Stutz Black Hawk Challenger raced to a second-place finish at Le Mans in 1928 by Éduoard Brisson and Robert Bloch. The winning Bentley, driven by Woolf Barnato and Bernard Rubin, was heavily favored, but the Stutz was seen by many as the only legitimate challenger to the British marque’s dominance on the Circuit de la Sarthe.
On paper, the Bentley and the Stutz were remarkably similar, sharing a common wheelbase and track. The Bentley’s displacement was smaller (by 30-cu.in.), but the car also tipped the scales roughly 200-pounds lighter than its American counterpart. Where the Stutz fell short was its three-speed transmission, designed for road use and not for the rigors of endurance racing, The Bentley, by comparison, used a four-speed transmission that had been designed for racing and was already proven in competition.
Photo copyright Michael Furman, courtesy Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum.
Six hours into the 1928 race, the Stutz took the lead away from the Bentley, but a victory was not in the cards for the American automaker. By hour 20, the Stutz had lost its top gear, requiring the engine to run flat out for the remaining four hours. When the checkered flag waved, the Bentley had completed 154 laps to the Stutz’s 153, while the third-place finisher (a Chrysler 72 Six) had managed just 144. European sales of Stutz models reportedly spiked in the race’s aftermath, though the brand’s podium finish had no effect on domestic sales.
Very little difference exists between the 1928 Stutz Black Hawk (as raced at Le Mans) and the 1927 Stutz Black Hawk (as owned by the museum), so when the opportunity arose to acquire a well-preserved and largely original example of the earlier car, Dr. Simeone eagerly pursued the purchase. Quite literally a “barn find,” the car had been inherited by the seller from distant relatives, and a brief bit of research showed it to be one of three four-passenger Black Hawk boattail speedsters known to remain.
Today, the Stutz remains largely in “as found” condition, though the car’s hydrostatic (water-based) brakes were replaced with a more conventional hydraulic fluid-based system. Though itself not a race-winner, the car is a reminder of a brief (and largely unknown) moment in time when an American car very nearly bested the competition in the world’s most grueling test of man and machine.
The Car Detectives Demonstration Day runs from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and entry is included with the price of a general admission ticket to the museum. For additional details, visit SimeoneMuseum.org.