In June of 2008, the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum opened in its current location on Norwich Drive in Southwest Philadelphia. Since then, the Simeone – centered around the “spirit of competition” – has twice captured “Museum of the Year” honors from the International Historic Motoring Foundation (now the Octane Awards), and even enjoys a rare five-star rating on Yelp. To mark its 10th anniversary, the Simeone is throwing itself a party on Friday, June 8, featuring free museum admission and a trio of special live automobile demonstrations in its back lot.
Dr. Fred Simeone inherited his love of vintage automobiles from his father, Anthony, a general practitioner who served the working-class in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood. When Anthony died in 1972, Fred inherited a modest sum of money in addition to four classic cars, but by then he was already building a collection of his own. His first vintage car was a 1916 Stutz Bearcat, purchased in 1971 when Fred was in his early 30s and on his way to becoming a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Years later, when his collection grew too large to house at home, Fred purchased a parking garage near Philadelphia’s Washington Square West neighborhood, both as a location to store his cars and as a commercial venture.
After a distinguished career in medicine, Fred turned his attention to creating a car museum focused exclusively on sports and racing cars. As Jim Donnelly wrote in Doctor of Correctness, in the June 2013 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, his first thought was to open the venue along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, in a tourist-friendly location near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Doing so was cost-prohibitive, so instead, he opted for a former machine shop just a few miles from the Philadelphia International Airport, which offered a three-acre back lot in which to exercise his specimens, enabling the museum to give its visitors more – much more – than just static displays.
The collection offers something of interest for virtually everyone passionate about competition cars, and there are four criteria to be met before an automobile is considered for acquisition. First, it must be a sports car with headlights and fenders; the car (or at least the model) must have a history of road racing; it must be considered significant, or have achieved significant success on track; and major components, such as the chassis, engine, and body, must be original to the car. Which in turn leads to another subject that Fred is passionate about: preservation over restoration.
The Simeone’s Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe runs in the back lot during an August 2016 Demonstration Day. Photo by Andrew Taylor, courtesy Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum.
Consider the museum’s Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, CSX 2287. While most of the Daytona Coupes are restored to a standard never realized by Carroll Shelby’s own staff (these were, after all, racing cars), the one in the Simeone collection looks more like a “driveable dream” than a concours contender. In keeping with Fred’s beliefs, the car was mechanically and cosmetically reconditioned as needed, but otherwise preserved. As such, its Guardsman Blue paint (not the original Viking Blue) lacks a bit of gloss, and the car’s aluminum bodywork bears the occasional crease or wrinkle, but its history remains as unaltered as possible.
The Simeone is being tight-lipped about what it has in store for visitors attending the 10-year anniversary party, but the museum will offer guests free admission (with pre-registration) on June 8, extended hours, barbecue, beverages, and a trio of surprise demonstrations in the back parking lot. Three lucky guests will even win the opportunity to ride shotgun in the cars being exercised, presenting what is almost certainly a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list opportunity.
For more information, or to register to attend, visit SimeoneMuseum.org.