Gear: Book Review: Spirit of Competition

Book Review: Spirit of Competition

By Benjamin Shahrabani
January 14, 2015

The book: The Spirit of Competition: The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum

Author: Frederick A. Simeone

Pages: 384, hardcover

Purchase: Click here

Oh, it is certainly good to be a neurosurgeon!

The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, located in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, is home to a collection of sixty-plus cars, all the property of Fred Simeone, a retired neurosurgeon. Simeone, not one to relax through retirement, opened the Simeone Museum in June 2008 to showcase an evolving menagerie of classic sports and racecars accumulated over five decades. The museum is open to the public, and well worth a visit; however, if you can’t make it, the next best option might be to pick up a copy of The Spirit of Competition: The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum. In conjunction with photographer and publisher Michael Furman of Coachbuilt Press, the duo have authored an expansive book that offers up the story of the creation of the Simeone Museum, its particular mission, and of course, the classics nestled within.

Every story has a beginning, and in The Spirit of Competition it was a seed planted many, many years ago in the teenaged Simeone’s life when his father, a Petrolista himself, gave him a dilapidated 1949 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 as his first car in 1952. Simeone says, “We would go to junkyards together and then read about what made each car we saw important. The car, we felt, was the most transforming invention of the industrial age.” From there, and as circumstances allowed, Simeone would begin to assemble a collection of racing sports cars. These cars were kept in a non-descript private parking garage in Philadelphia’s Center City District until the museum opened its doors several years ago. While “competition” is the theme to the book, with several Le Mans and Mille Miglia winners forming the collection’s heart, each car has something else in common–their inclusion in the collection comes from some sleuthing, and much research. They are also, unlike many museums, running, driving…and original. This last statement strikes to the heart of the slightly philosophical nature of the mission at the Simeone Museum: preserve, not destroy. Simeone, its founder and executive director, believes that cars should be smelled and heard, not just seen, but the cars are no longer his. Dr. Simeone created a foundation that owns them now.

Simeone’s mandate comprises the first section of the book, so, depending on your personal viewpoint, you may or may not agree with him, but you will find it worthy reading. And when a highly significant car enters the Simeone collection, they clean it up, make it roadworthy, maintain or restore operational function without losing the history–Simeone believes that his “chargés” hold too much historical significance to allow restoration. And that’s something every Petrolista must believe, surely, as long as the car is drivable.

Significant cars in the collection date from 1909 through the mid-seventies, and included at the time of this book’s publication are a few standouts amongst the cars from marques such as Stutz, Mercer, Vauxhall, Bentley, Bugatti, Allard, Cunningham, Jaguar, and Ferrari, as well as the Martini Racing “Hippie” Porsche 917 (named for its psychedelic paint scheme), a 1958 Aston Martin DBR1 that Stirling Moss drove to victory at Nurburgring, a 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe that had been lost for thirty years, and a Le Mans-winning Bugatti and a 1938 8C 2900B Alfa Romeo, winner of the Mille Miglia. Every car is accompanied by truly excellent, contemporary photographs by Furman, as well as historical and archive photos, posters, and other anecdotal material. Lastly, meticulous and fascinating details of Simeone’s acquisition and condition of the particular car, and finally, a section on what it is like to drive the car round out each “record”.

Simeone asks, “Will automobiles ever achieve the historical legitimacy of other important objects?” Automobiles have only relatively recently been taken seriously in the wider world of collecting, but with this book, and through the virtual tour that Simeone and Furman give us, I think the tides are most definitely changing. The Spirit of Competition is a highly recommended book about one man’s desire to preserve and share automotive history.

Purchase Spirit of Competition.

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Frank Oliveri
Frank Oliveri
8 years ago

I have been fortunate enough to visit the museum and purchased the book. In a word: Spectacular! I visited with my wife on a cold December weekend and we had the fortune to meet one of the museum’s mechanics. He was kind enough to walk with us and then he opened the garage where he was doing some maintenance on one of the two Gullwings in the collection (one was Fred’s the other was his father’s). Wow! I was looking under the hood, under the car, and sat in the car. He then explained that all the cars in the museum are runners and many are original. On any given weekend, check the schedule, the museum takes the cars out for “driving days” in the large paved lot around the museum. He pointed out the original 67 Corvette Grand Sport will take your breath away as will one of the remaining Shelby Daytona Coupes. This museum is one for any car aficionado’s bucket list. At the end of the day I purchased the book from the museum store and Fred, who was in the building, was kind enough to sign it for me. I would highly recommend the book and the museum to anyone.