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Dr. Fred Simone Collection 2006
Vintage Racer Group (VRG) Fieldtrip
Dr. Fred Simone Collection 2006

Mid–March in Philadelphia can be chilly and damp – it was – but I doubt anyone noticed it standing among one of the world’s finest collections of antique and classic sports racing cars and their passionate owner. You quickly forget getting up at 4AM for the ride to Ralph Steinberg’s bagel, coffee, and juice (and his dad’s lox) stocked “Cloverleaf” sports car restoration shop in Malvern, PA. Parking areas fill up, old and new friends offer a hand a smile and a quip. First timers scoff at the notion that dusty old cars are going to be worth all this attention. But those that have visited Dr. Fred’s just smile. You look around and see folks that have traveled hundreds of miles to get to this early morning meeting. Ralph Steinberg and his wife Candi are our hosts. Pete McManus has also helped organize this event. Anticipation intensifies as we bump along the narrow streets in the part of the city that produced a revolution two hundred plus years ago.

Fifty plus VRG members’ family and friends gathered for the bus, van, truck or motorcycle ride (Chris Shoemaker and a friend brave it on their Harleys) into the center of old Philly.

The collection of sports racing cars that spans the history of the automobile from the early 1900’s to about 1975 are staggeringly significant. In terms of racing accomplishments, design and engineering these cars are the best of the best.

Before I talk about the event let me start with our host, the person and philosophy behind this display: Dr. Frederick Simeone, MD, world renowned Professor of Neurosurgery. “Dr. Fred” inherited his interest from his dad who loved and collected important cars, some of which became the basis for the cars we saw on this Saturday in March. Dr. Fred has concentrated his selection on important “Sports Racing Cars” – open roadsters that technically can be driven on public roads. In reality they were the ultimate expression of design and performance by their manufacturers in their era to accomplish one thing – Win the BIG Race – the Vanderbilt Cup, a Grand Prix, the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, Sebring or Daytona. The race organizing club specified size, weight, engine size and number of seats: 2 or 4. These cars have wind screens, fenders and lights – but little more. And just as “the Getty” wants Monet’s, Degas’s, and van Gogh’s; or Queen Elizabeth wants champion thoroughbreds, Dr. Fred wants winners and or cars that were significant in their time.

He started assembling his display with cars his dad had held on to. We are shown the beastly late 40’s Alfa Romeo 2500 convertible that was Dr. Fred’s first restoration. He points out that many of the important cars were acquired years before the staggering inflation in collector car prices had occurred in the mid–eighties From then on Dr. Fred traded for cars he wanted to add to the collection. He has lived seventy years but looks much younger. I’m sure there are cars he wishes to add to his fabulous display and I’m certain the wheels are constantly turning to figure how to accomplish this.

His cars are displayed in the city where he practices his science and medicine. The building is as non–descript as you would suspect he wants it to be. Who would know that a world class collection of inestimable value is behind those garage doors – next to the neighborhood bodega! The cars are displayed on two floors. Dr. Fred tells us the important cars are on the top floor. Gee, that’s while looking at the 917 (Porsche) that finished 2nd at Le Mans, two big block GT40’s (Ford) that ran there as well, a 328 BMW American Flyer, a Marmon, a pre war 6C1750 (Alfa Romeo), and a TT33 12 World Championship Alfa (Romeo), his newest car at 1975, and twenty other important “sports racers” displayed on gravel in a museum setting.

Upstairs there’s a Le Man’s winning Bugatti, a 1938 Mille Miglia winning 8C2900 Alfa Romeo, one of the prettiest sports racers ever, the S. Moss – D. Gurney Nurburgring 1000KM winning Aston Martin DBR1 and twenty more fantastic automobiles – Jags, Ferrari’s, and Maseratis – sensory overload to the max!

Dr. Fred has his place wired for sound (it obvious he’s spent his life teaching). He tells us about each and every car on both floors, its importance in the history of motor sports, and why this particular car is in his collection. His cars are not chained to the floor – You will find some of them at Pebble Beach or Amelia Island, Lord March’s Goodwood Speed Festival or the Monterey Historic Races – and occasionally participating in a Mille Miglia or a Colorado Grand.

In recollection, the most amazing aspect of Dr. Fred’s collection is its focus on the history of important sports racers produced in or by Americans – clearly a source of pride among the cars on display: a Duesenberg, from the generation that ran at Le Mans in the twenties, a Du Pont produced near Philadelphia that ran at Le Mans, a Mercer racing runabout that ran in the Vanderbilt Cup trials, and other chitty chitty bang bangs. A car that turns me on and one that I wish was in the Smithsonian Museum of American History (inspiring youngsters to go forth and create the wonder machines of the future) is the 1954 Cunningham C4R Le Mans racer that won the Sebring 12 hours race that year. The long missing Shelby Cobra Daytona coupe – the first one built in Shelby’s Santa Monica shops – is a story that needs to be saved for another article for there is too much intrigue to be digested from this brief visit.

Which brings me to the last point – Dr. Fred likes to keep his cars in “as found” condition. Maintenance is done to make the cars serviceable and to not appear ratty or distressed – but otherwise, the closer to “original” the better as far as Dr. Fred was concerned. He apologized for the show quality restored cars and said that’s how they were when he acquired them. Dr Fred said that he was very happy Pebble Beach had instituted a “Preservation Class” for cars in original unrestored (or restored a long time ago!) condition. We enjoyed the Simeone Collection for about three hours – Dr. Fred answered every question.

Afterwards it was back to Ralph’s place for sandwiches, cake, and sodas. Mark Palmer ran an informal VRG meeting and we heard about upcoming events and about the health of our club. Tivvy Shinton talked about safety stuff and Lee Raskin gave a delightful presentation about his new book on the racing adventures of movie legend James Dean who died at the wheel of his Porsche 550 Spyder: “James Dean: At Speed” (see the MARKETPLACE). Chris Shoemaker organized go cart racing for a surprising number of willing participants and a wind down dinner was enjoyed by the few that hung in to the end of a wonderful day. Everyone left with visions of their favorite Dr. Fred car swimming nicely in their mind’s eye.

Hope next time isn’t too far away......Sam Smith with Pete McManus