The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, located in Philadelphia PA, is far from your typical car museum. There are several attributes which contribute to its uniqueness. First, the cars in the collection are almost exclusively race cars, further specializing in “sports cars” which have been or could be used as dual-purpose road/race cars. Next, the museum practices preservation over restoration, believing that they have an actual duty to preserve and maintain these vehicles in their “as found” condition.
Last, Dr. Fred Simeone and his staff regularly exercise all the cars in the collection, and to that end, they invite the public to attend “Demo Days” to witness the running of the cars. The popularity of these has led to an expansion of Demo Days from once a month to twice a month. Saturday June 25 was such a Demo Day, and several friends and I found ourselves there to observe the goings-on.
Each Demo Day has a theme: for our visit, it was “cars with 12-cylinder engines”. Demonstration runs are held behind the museum in a paved lot, several acres in size, and the crew brought out their Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, Bizzarrini Spyder, Auburn V12 Speedster, and Alfa Romeo Tipo 33. Several other cars likely belonging to customers, including a Ferrari 308GTS and a Mercedes Benz AMG GT-S, were also on hand. There is no need here to delve into the history of each vehicle; for further reading I refer you to the museum website and/or Google. Below, we will cover each vehicle chronologically, providing comments on observed features.
THE 1933 AUBURN V12 SPEEDSTER
This stunning shape startles you when you realize that this car was designed in the early 1930s. You are again startled when you note that this magnificent V12 was sold during the Great Depression. This is clearly a vehicle which represents form over function. The massive cast-iron engine must give it terrible weight distribution; there is tight seating for only two adults; and there is no luggage space to speak of. However, if style and speed were your only objectives, and money was no object, in 1933 this was one of the ones to have.
THE 1958 FERRARI TESTA ROSSA
The shape of this sheetmetal is so pure, so perfect, yet so simple, it would be impossible to improve upon it. Note the front turn signals; unobtrusive but functional, you could take this grocery-shopping and be able to legally signal your lefts and rights. The Ferrari 12 cylinder engine, fed by three Webers, is mechanical design taken to perfection. And allow us to point out the passenger seat, if you’re so inclined to invite someone special along for the ride (NOT that there wouldn’t be a line of volunteers).
THE 1965-1967 BIZZARRINI P538 SPYDER
Almost all Bizzarrinis were powered by Chevrolet V8 engines. However, two of the four P538 Spyders built were equipped with Lamborghini V12s. Photos do not do justice in trying to convey the lowness of this car. It comes up to about your knees. It is unimaginable how the V12 fits in there. This is a rare Bizzarrini, and its looks and performance will give almost any Ferrari a run for its money.
THE 1975 ALFA ROMEO TIPO 33 TT 12
By the 1970s, aerodynamics played a much larger role in the design of racing machines. This Alfa distinguishes itself from its Demo Day company by its squared-off shape. It’s the opposite of the Auburn in that it’s all function over form. Note the protruding front spoiler, flat vertical sides, and tall rear view mirror. Unlike the other V12s out in the back lot, this Alfa has a flat-12, which of course contributes to a low center of gravity.
Seeing and hearing these cars run brings them to life; after all, cars were built to be driven. Better still, it transfers the museum experience from a dusty display of decay to an immersion in living and breathing history.
Demo Days at the Simeone are recommended for anyone who wants more than static displays. It is a trend we hope becomes contagious at other automobile museums around the country.
All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.