If my own blog posts are to be believed, I have visited the Simeone Museum in Philadelphia five times: October 2011, October 2012, December 2015, June 2016, and February 2022. This most recent Saturday, March 25, 2023, can now be counted as visit #6. Any visit to the Simeone, with its collection of historic racing and sports cars, is special. Saturday was a Demo Day, and Demo Days are extra special because a small theme-based collection of vehicles is chosen, and they are taken outside to the back lot so that attendees may delight to the sights and sounds of them motorvatin’ (a Chuck Berry coinage) under their own power.
The theme this time was “Sebring ‘65”, an infamous race because of the deluge which caused cars to plow through what was described as up to 8 inches of standing water on the track. For this Demo, the museum selected its ’64 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe and ’66 Ford GT40 Mk II. The program listed the ’63 Corvette Grand Sport, but in lieu of that, a stock ’66 Corvette 427 roadster was chosen (nice to have such illustrious machinery as backup). Last but not least, on loan from Luigi Chinetti Jr. was a ’63 Ferrari 250P. (The Ferrari was not part of the driving portion of the day’s festivities – one can only presume that the loan arrangement excluded such an option.)
My friend Terry, whose idea it was to visit on this particular Demo Day, accompanied me. We arrived about 30 minutes before showtime, and to my pleasant surprise, all four cars were arranged at the front of the seating area; they were not roped off (as I’ve seen done previously) so guests were free to get up close and personal with the cars. Soon enough, the program started and we were treated to a slide show, including technical specs of the cars and film footage of the actual 1965 Sebring 12-hour race. The variety of vehicles racing that day, American and foreign, was huge, and the race stood out because 1st and 2nd place overall were taken by two American teams. The Chevy-powered Chaparral of Jim Hall and Hap Sharp came in first, followed by a GT40 driven by Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren. To Enzo’s chagrin (he had earlier threatened to boycott the race), his 250LM finished third.
BELOW: RED FERRARI AND YELLOW FORD GT DURING SLIDE SHOW PRESENTATION:
After the slide show, it was Ford vs. Chevy in the back lot. I should not have been amazed that all three cars started up on first attempt. They were slowly driven out of the building, and once on pavement, the drivers picked up a little bit of speed, but not too much! These vehicles are too valuable to put them at risk. (The Cobra Daytona, in particular, as one of the most singularly-famous cars in the world, must have an incalculable monetary value.)
After the show, we toured the rest of the static display within the museum, and promised each other that this would not be the last time we’d visit the Simeone in 2023.
On Saturday, December 12, 2015, the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia PA hosted a special “Preservation Workshop”, featuring the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe (serial number CSX2287) owned by the Foundation. The gist of the presentation was that, after this vehicle spent some 30-odd years languishing in hidden storage, it was acquired by the Foundation and brought back to running, driving condition. The work to accomplish that goal was considered “preservation” and “conservation”, not “restoration”, in an attempt to keep the car as original as possible.
This particular vehicle is one of only 6 Cobra Daytona Coupes built, and on that basis alone, it is an historically important vehicle. However, CSX2287 is also the first Daytona Coupe built, and the only one constructed entirely in the U.S. Most infamously, it has a long and convoluted ownership history (including, for a short time, serving as daily driver for the music producer Phil Spector). No attempt will be made here to delve into this history, about which much has been written elsewhere. Instead, this blog entry will summarize the workshop presentation, which was fascinating both for its detail as well as some of its controversial “conservation” decisions. For those interested, the Foundation’s website has this information on the car: http://www.simeonemuseum.org/the-collection/bonneville-salt-flats/1964-shelby-cobra-daytona-coupe
The event started promptly at its scheduled time of 12 noon, with about 150-175 people in attendance. After the briefest of introductions, the mic was handed to Dr. Fred Simeone, who spoke while clicking through Power Point slides on a large screen at the front of the room. The Belle of the Ball, the car itself, sat on the floor, roped off from groping hands.
The good doctor proved himself to be knowledgeable, well-spoken, interesting, and occasionally amusing. One got the sense while listening to him that he was actively involved in the car’s refurbishment. He may not have literally had his hands on components (indeed, he informed us that the work was performed by a restoration shop in Georgia), but he likely was helping to make key decisions.
The slide presentation began with the history of CSX 2287: its creation and racing exploits. Again, there is no need to cover that here. The Foundation purchased the car in the early 2000s, and since one of their goals is to maintain all vehicles in running condition, work started to make it a driver again. A rotisserie was constructed, with mechanical systems (fuel, suspension, brakes, etc.) disassembled and carefully documented and photographed. Various methods were employed to remove dirt, scale, and rust, while preserving whatever original finishes might be found. In this way, the original black paint on the tube frame was saved; so were factory markings on the engine, cooling system, even the hardware. Rubber fuel lines, obviously corroded to nothingness after such a long time, were replaced as a necessary safety matter. However, the metal ends were reused, a painstaking and more expensive approach, but one which preserved what could be saved. Almost every piece of hardware was cleaned and reused. In cases where worn parts were replaced (wheel bearings), the originals were kept and stored away.
The engine, not original to the car (Shelby American installed a “spare” Hi-Po 289 into it when they sold it to a private individual in the late ‘60s), was determined to have relatively few miles on it. One controversial decision was to NOT rebuild the engine, for as far as anyone knew, there was nothing wrong with it! In fact, Dr. Fred stated that the ONLY reason the engine was removed from the frame was to replace a seeping freeze plug, a job which could not be done with the engine in situ.
The photos below reveal that the body and paint on this Shelby were decidedly not restored. This of course, was also controversial, for several reasons. The first and most obvious is that in this hobby, “refurbished” cars are not just mechanically corrected; they are cosmetically returned to their most glamorous state. The controversy is further fueled by Pete Brock, this vehicle’s original designer. He has made it publicly known that in his opinion, the only correct “restoration” of CSX2287 is to remove its hood scoops and rear spoiler (which were added while the vehicle was competing in real races), and to repaint it in the original (lighter) shade of blue which it wore in 1964. Dr. Simeone was not shy in stressing that while he respects Pete, he disagrees with him.
As mentioned earlier, Dr. Fred was far from boring during the hour+ he held the mic. Some of his memorable quotes from the day include:
• “A car that doesn’t run isn’t a car. It’s a statue.”
• “Restoring a car for Pebble Beach does nothing for its conservation. All it does is make you eligible to win a plastic trophy.”
• (Quoting Carroll Shelby, who was trying to negotiate the repurchase of the Daytona coupe from the woman who hid it away for 30 years): “The bitch would only talk to me through the screen door”.
• “Watch out if you disagree with Pete Brock. First he’ll argue his case with you, and when he’s done, he’ll sic his wife on you”.
This concept of keeping original cars original is not new to CSX2287. Those in the old car hobby began to notice a hard right turn in that direction within the last decade or so. Recent auction results around the globe have shocked onlookers by repeatedly proving that “barn finds” in some cases fetch more money than 100-point restorations. The Simeone Automotive Foundation, in 2012, published a book “The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles”which draws parallels between art and furniture collections (which pieces would never be stripped of their finishes) and automobile collections.
Hood up so the battery could be connected
The book does make the distinction (as Dr. Fred did today) that the concept of preserving what is original is not intended for every “Model A and Mustang out there”. Some astute writers have noted that compared to an oil portrait or a desk, a functioning automobile has moving parts which are designed to become worn, deteriorated, and consumed. Eventually, the entire vehicle is discarded. Therefore, for many vehicles selected for the restoration process, there is no choice but to completely renew all their components.
After an hour of the slide presentation and audience Q & A, the Daytona Coupe was started and allowed to idle for a minute. Slow to crank, it fired up on the second try. Expecting a cacophonous roar, the vehicle sounded docile at idle. While never to turn a wheel in anger again, this simple demonstration helped prove that the preservation efforts accomplished their intended goal.
A final note about this particular car and the maturing of the old car hobby concerns the National Historic Vehicle Register, overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The National Historic Register has been awarding “historic status” to buildings and other architecture in this country for decades. Recently, it was proposed to extend such recognition to automobiles. This Shelby Cobra Daytona CSX2287 is the first such vehicle recognized, a massive accomplishment, and one that signifies that not only is the old car hobby alive and well, it is growing in important ways.
Comments concerning “restoration” versus “preservation“ are invited.