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Legendary car collector Dr. Fred Simeone dies at 86

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Dr. Fred Simeone, retired chief of neurosurgery at Pennsylvania Hospital who channeled his passion for racing into perhaps the finest collection of exotic automobiles in the world, died June 11 at age 86. The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum announced Dr. Simeone’s death on its website June 12. “Late last evening, as the first rays of light began to appear on the Mulsanne Straight, we lost our hero and champion, Dr. Frederick Simeone,” the statement read. The announce-ment noted that “our friend passed in the midst of his beloved Le Mans, and we know his spirit is now eternally driving along with the legends he considered to be his heroes.” Considered the world’s most prestigious racing event, 24 Hours of Le Mans attracted 62 cars and 186 drivers to test their endur-ance and their machines in a marathon race in northwestern France last month. (Toyota won this year’s race for the fifth straight time, in a GR010 Hybrid driven by Sebastien Buemi of Switzerland, Brendon Hartley of New Zealand and Ryo Hirakawa of Japan.) Over 50 years, Dr. Simeone accumulated one of the world’s greatest collections of racing sports cars, and donated them to the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, which he launched in 2008. The collection incudes 75 historically significant cars includ-ing Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Mercedes, Jaguar, Bentley, Porsche, Aston Martin, Corvette, Ford, and more.

His fascination with cars began in his youth, and when his father (also a doctor) left him a collection of four cars after his death in 1972. The collecting bug took hold and he expanded his father’s collection exponentially.

“All this goes back to my dad. Dad was a general practitioner,” he told Hagley Museum in 2014. “He took me on house calls with him and then we would go to junk yards or we would just drive around and look at cars.” As the collection grew, Dr. Simeone adopted a set of strict criteria:

As the collection grew, Dr. Simeone adopted a set of strict criteria:

• The car must be a sports car with headlights and fenders.

• The car must have a history of road racing (not solely racing on a track).

• The car must be considered significant, or “winners” associated with superior racing performance.

• Important components, such as the chassis, engine, and body, must be original to the car.

“With me, it wasn’t about value, it was about love of the cars,” he said. “I don’t think about what it’s worth or what it costs.”

The Foundation, at 6825 Norwitch Drive in Philadelphia, attracted visitors from around the world, includ-ing racers, manufacturers, other collectors, and even former “Tonight Show” host and classic car buff Jay Leno, whom Dr. Simeone encoun-tered just gazing at the cars on display soon after the museum opened in 2008.

While there is no formal tour at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, Dr. Simeone would sometimes round up impromptu groups
of visitors and give them his personal tour.

Beyond his collection of vehicles, Dr. Simeone also assembled a library of automotive literature and
ephemera that’s unmatched anywhere in the world.

The library includes sales literature and other factory produced-material, 1892 to present, with over 1700 different makes of cars represented; photographs, 1900 to present; racing photographs organized into American and European venues; more than 1,000 portrait photographs of racing drivers and automotive personnel; and periodicals of American and foreign magazines dating back to the turn of the century.

Dr. Simeone felt strongly that cars are more than museum specimens, and belong on the road. So he launched Demonstration Days twice a month, when several cars are moved to the 3-acre parking lot and then operated for all to see.

Asked in 2014 to explain the reason for collecting anything, he replied, “There’s a few things, my own insanity … you tend to get obsessed … and if I did do something I wanted it to be as good as it can be.”

Al Kemp
Author: Al Kemp