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Upcoming Simeone Museum Demo Day focuses on Aerodynamics – Going Faster!

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The Simeone Collection’s “Hippie Car,” a 1970 Porsche 917LH. Photos by Andrew Taylor, courtesy Simeone Museum.

In the early days of racing, a powerful engine was the primary component in achieving victory. Later, reducing weight became the main obsession of engineers, and later still, shaping a wind-cheating, aerodynamic body grew in importance. On July 9, the Simeone Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania will host a Demonstration Day devoted to aerodynamics in racing, featuring the collection’s 1936 Bugatti Type 57G Tank, 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, 1970 Plymouth Superbird and 1970 Porsche 917LH.

1936 Bugatti Type 57G Tank

1936 Bugatti Type 57G Tank.

The science of aerodynamics, at least as it applies to automobiles, was still in its infancy in 1936. In an effort to improve upon its Type 57S engine for racing purposes, Bugatti created the Type 57G, a variation with a lightened crankshaft, and opted to wrap its prototype, known as the “aerodynamic mule,” in a low-drag body. Two more examples of the 57G were created, both based upon prototype’s shape, and all were known as the 57G Tank.

The car in the Simeone Collection, the aerodynamic mule, had its first race outing at the Grand Prix of the Automobile Club of France at Montlhery in 1936, where it achieved a victory and established a new course record. A week later, this 57G Tank won again, this time at the Grand Prix de la Marne in Rheims, but its biggest victory would come in June of 1937. With drivers Jean-Pierre Wimille and Robert Benoist at the wheel, the Bugatti captured a win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the first for Bugatti in such a prestigious race.

Later, this chassis went on to set numerous speed and distance records, including a few that remained until April of 1965, when they were shattered by a Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, also part of the Simeone Museum’s collection (and also featured in this Demo Day). Of the three 57G Tanks constructed, this car is the sole remaining example.

1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe

1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe.

The 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, CSX2287, was the first and only example built exclusively by Shelby American, fitted with a Kamm-tailed body designed by Peter Brock. The car was also the first Daytona Coupe to win a race (Sebring in 1964, where it finished fourth overall but first in the GT class), and later went on to set numerous speed and distance records at Bonneville, but it may be best known for its mysterious disappearance after record producer Phil Specter’s ownership. Following a tragic suicide and a protracted and complex legal battle over its ownership, the car became part of the Simeone Collection in December of 2001.

One of roughly 2,000 Plymouth Superbirds produced for the 1970 model year, the Simeone’s Tor Red example, powered by 375 horsepower Super Commando V-8, recalls NASCAR’s “Aero Wars” of 1969 and 1970. Produced to counter the similar Dodge Charger Daytona, as well as the Ford Torino Talladega and the Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II, the Superbird lured Richard Petty back to Plymouth and away from Ford for the 1970 season.

1970 Plymouth Superbird

1970 Plymouth Superbird.

With a 426 Hemi beneath the hood, the Superbird was said to be the first NASCAR stocker to top the 200 MPH mark, which may well have proved to be its undoing. Concerned about rapidly growing speeds, and looking to counter the dominance of any single brand, NASCAR penned new rules for the 1971 season, reducing engine size for aero cars. Manufacturers quickly halted production, and with no racing to spur sales, it’s said that numerous Superbirds and Daytonas remained unsold well into the decade.

The 1970 Porsche 917LH owned by the Simeone Collection is better known as the “psychedelic car” or the “hippie car” for its surrealistic purple, green and white livery. One of just five examples fitted with a “longtail” body, designed to improve top speed at Le Mans, the car quickly earned a reputation for being difficult to drive. At the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, drivers Willy Kauhsen and Gerard Larrouse qualified 12th but finished in second place, during a very wet running of the fabled endurance event. The following year, fitted with an improved body, the 917LH set a new record in testing on the Circuit de la Sarthe, completing a lap in 3:13.6 at an average speed of over 250 km/h (155 MPH). Once again, victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans proved elusive; after suffering an oil pressure problem, the 917LH retired from the race early, ultimately score in 27th place.

1970 Porsche 917LH

1970 Porsche 917LH.

Porsche retired the car from racing at this point, and returned the 917 its original 1970 bodywork. It remained with the factory for an additional four years, where it continued to serve as an aerodynamic test mule for various projects.

As with all Demo Days, the July 9 session will include both a static discussion of the car and a live demonstration, conducted in the Simeone’s three-acre back lot. Frank Moriarty, author of several books including Supercars: The Story of the Dodge Charger Daytona and the Plymouth Superbird, will be on hand to answer question and sign copies of his book.

For more information on Aerodynamics – Going Faster! or other upcoming Demo Days, visit