Hobbies. Whether it is collecting baseball cards, knitting, playing a musical instrument, knowing the starting lineup of every Philadelphia Eagles team since 1972, scrapbooking, climbing all 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks, recognizing the calls of hundreds of birds, refining your cake baking techniques, or owning a large collection of vinyl records, we all have passions that we pursue in our spare time. What if, though, we had the time, resources, and passion to spend over five decades of our lives relentlessly pursuing our favorite hobby? And what if we spent those fifty years assembling a collection of some of the most noteworthy race cars from the years before World War I until the 1970s? In Philadelphia, you can tour a museum that houses just such a collection, the result of one man’s lifelong hobby!
For the past week, my wife has been out of town for a family event in the Midwest, and owing to my job, I was unable to travel with her. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon over Easter weekend, I was faced with a choice: stay at home and binge-watch TV shows, or throw my camera bag in my car and hit the road. I chose to keep the blog posts rolling!
So come along, then, as we visit one of the coolest automotive museums I have ever seen. Along the way, we’ll also test drive a family member’s new car, and close with some other automotive updates.
The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum
My weekend trip took me to the southern edge of Philadelphia to visit the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum.
Although rain showers were forecast for the day, I was treated to blue skies and sun for my drive to Philadelphia. As I crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge into Philly, I reflected that this was one of the few solo trips I have taken since I got married. It felt weird, man.
Nothing like visiting a classic car museum in a future classic car! After about an hour and a half of driving, I arrived at the museum. Established in 2008 to showcase the private car collection of Dr. Fred Simeone, the museum now houses over 75 vehicles (via Simeone Foundation).
Exhibits are grouped by eras and specific race tracks. The tour begins with a collection of Pre-World War I race cars, including this 1912 National Model 40. National was one of the most successful racing car manufacturers in the earliest years of American automobile production. Although defunct by the 1920s, National produced cars that won numerous races during the pre-World War I years (via Simeone Foundation).
The museum also groups vehicles by specific race tracks. This 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport is part of an exhibit about Watkins Glen, the historic track in upstate New York that I visited this past summer. This Corvette is one of only five (5!) Grand Sport models ever produced, and still retains its original bodywork. The Corvette Grand Sport program was doomed almost from the start. General Motors pulled out of automotive racing for a period of time in the late 1950s and early 1960s after a horrific accident at the Le Mans circuit in France killed several spectators. The surviving Grand Sport models fell into the hands of private owners, though, and those cars proved their mettle on the racetrack in subsequent years (via Simeone Foundation and GM Heritage Center).
No list of cool-looking cars is complete without the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. Purpose-built by American race car engineer Carroll Shelby to take the fight to Ferrari at races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was a highly successful race car. The car on display set 25 records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah (via Wikipedia).
Hill climbing is as straightforward of a race as it sounds: the winner is the car that can climb to the top of a hill the quickest. The Vauxhall 30/98E Velox Tourer set hill climb records in England that would stand for 15 years. Now the purveyor of mainstream passenger cars and SUVs, Vauxhall was once one of the United Kingdom’s preeminent sports car manufacturers.
To showcase the world-famous Nurburgring racetrack in Germany, two 1937 BMW 328s were accompanied by a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gull Wing Coupe. The Mercedes was a fully road-legal sports car, and its iconic design has placed it in high demand as a collector’s car. A similar model sold at auction recently for over 1.8 million dollars (via Barrett-Jackson).
Perhaps my favorite display was the re-creation of a historic town along the Mille Miglia, the famed Italian endurance race that last occurred in 1957. The Mille Miglia was an exceptionally dangerous track – over 50 racers died during the 30 years (1927-1957) that the race was held (via Wikipedia). Grim history aside, the Mille Miglia is still held in esteem as one of the great courses in auto racing history, and this diorama was a cool way to showcase two stunningly beautiful Alfa Romeo race cars. The red Alfa Romeo 8c 2900A Spider (left) finished second in the 1937 Mille Miglia.
Of course, no collection of historic races is complete without the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Originating in 1923, Le Mans is won by the team whose car travels the furthest distance (completes the most laps) in twenty-four hours without mechanical failure. This re-creation of the Le Mans pit lane was filled with cars that had raced at this historic track.
Few manufacturers are as closely associated with victory at Le Mans as Ferrari. This 250P model was the overall winner of the 1963 Le Mans race. The car was fast, but its beautifully-sculpted bodywork also makes it a piece of art.
The Porsche 917 LH is one of the most visually memorable cars to ever race Le Mans. Despite mechanical gremlins, this car finished second in the 1970 race, and later went on to set the Le Mans single lap record in 1971.
The centerpiece of the history of American efforts at Le Mans is the 1966 Ford GT 40 Mark II, which broke Ferrari’s streak of dominance (as famously retold in the recent movie Ford v Ferrari, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale). The Ford GT 40 finished in first, second, and third place at Le Mans that year. This car, the #8, competed in that race before retiring with clutch problems (via Simeone Foundation). If you’d like to put one in your garage, save your pennies. A few years ago, one sold at auction for nearly ten million dollars (via RM Sotheby’s).
Another wing of the museum devoted space to a collection of foreign and domestic vehicles built from the 1910s to the 1960s.
This 1956 Ferrari/Kurtis Kraft Barahl Special was designed to run in the Indy 500. With its shell removed, one truth is evident – from its thin firewall, to the fact that the driver sits straddling the transmission, to the lack of a safety harness, to the car being devoid of any crash protection, driver safety was not in the minds of race car designers in the early days of motor racing.
I made a beeline to check out this gorgeous 1966 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. With a 427 cubic inch V-8 engine, this beast put down over 425 horsepower. Talk about a rocket!
I was thrilled to see one of my favorite classic American cars: a Cord 812. I have been in love with these cars since I first learned about them several years ago at the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Indiana. A supercharged Cord set the speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1937 (via Simeone Foundation).
For fans of automotive history, the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum is a great place to pass an afternoon. It’s one of the unheralded gems of Philadelphia – it gets two enthusiastic The Open Road Ahead thumbs up! Updates
Before closing, I wanted to share some automotive updates! First, my Dad welcomed a new car into his driveway. I also have a mileage update for a friend, and an update on my own Accord as it nears the 200,000 mile mark.
The New Car Test Drive
My Dad’s beloved 2015 Honda Accord EX-L V6 sedan was recently totaled by a hit-and-run driver. Dad walked away without a scratch, which is the most important thing. However, he was forced into the market for a new car. Fortunately, after a few weeks of searching he came across this gorgeous 2017 Honda Accord V6 Touring model.
Dad tossed me the keys and encouraged me to take it for a test drive. When the drive was over, I didn’t want to give him the keys back! Although this car is only two years newer than his last one, handling and steering accuracy are much sharper, while the suspension soaks up bumps and potholes with ease. The powerplant is the same in both cars – a V6 engine producing 278 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque, but this car feels smoother. It drives like a dream.
Although the cabin is almost identical to Dad’s last car, there have been a few updates. I found the front seats far more comfortable and supportive. The piano-black trim, a new addition for 2016, looks cool and also resists smudging. The car gains better cell phone integration through Android Auto and Apple Car Play. The car also comes with built-in features such as a navigation system and a remote starter.
Maybe the feature that impressed me the most – as a top-of-the-line Touring model, the car comes equipped with heaters for the rear seats. So cool! Or maybe, so hot!
Good luck with the car, Dad – I’m glad you found such an awesome new vehicle! Mileage and Other Updates
I first want to give a quick congratulations to my friend Justin, whose 2003 Honda Accord V6 coupe recently crossed 910,000 miles. Onward, sir!
Meanwhile, my Accord was dropped off at a local body shop to address two small rust spots that had appeared on the passenger side rear quarter panel over the past few months. The shop did a great job, and the Accord is, once again, rust free.
I recently filmed a quick walk-around video for my car at 195,000 miles. If you’re looking for some further automotive entertainment, feel free to give it a watch:
Finally, my Accord recently crossed the 196,000 mile mark. Only 4k until the big 200,000 miles rollover now. Onward! Wrapping Up
If you are in the Philadelphia area, the Simeone Foundation Auto Museum is definitely worth a stop for car enthusiasts of all ages. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm, and Saturday to Sunday from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Adults ages 18-65 cost $12 per entry, seniors 65+ are $10, and children under 18 can enter for free. This hidden gem is one of the best automotive museums I have ever visited, and is well worth the price of admission.
Thanks, as always, for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.
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3 thoughts on “I Can’t Drive 55.”
Congrats to your dad!
You’re almost there. 200k commemorative trip coming soon!
What an incredible collection. That 66 Vette is beautiful and I spy a Superbird in the background. Awesome that many of these cars had accomplishments in racing and are being preserved.
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The Simeone Museum is one of the best automotive museums I’ve ever visited – and it definitely seems like one of those “hidden gems” that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. I’ll pass along your congrats to my Dad, and thanks for the 200k good wishes!
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