Fred Simeone’s interest in cars traces back to Kensington in the 1940s, when he helped his father, a family doctor, at his general practice in an Allegheny Avenue rowhouse.
“After house calls, we would go to junkyards, and we would look at cars and figure out why this car or that car was important and what it had to offer,” said Simeone, an 82-year-old retired neurosurgeon and 1960 medical school alumnus.
Simeone was dubbed the second-most significant car collector in the world by the Liechtenstein-based consulting agency Classic Car Trust in May.
The organization examined 200 car collections from around the world to form The Classic Car Trust’s “Global Collector’s List.” Final rankings were based on a point system that measured a collection’s total estimated value and historical importance, quality and social value.
Simeone’s collection is credited with including “the rarest and most significant race cars ever built,” according to Classic Car Trust. It earned an 84.84 ranking out of 100, placing higher than the car collections of fashion designer Ralph Lauren and former Walmart chairman S. Robson “Rob” Walton.
It took more than a year for the trust to compile the data and select collections for international recognition.
Simeone said he especially appreciates that the judges considered a collector’s social responsibility, awarding extra points to those who “recognize their wider responsibility by working to nurture and sustain the classic car community.”
While collecting, the cars’ net values never affect Simeone’s interest in them. He said he purchases them out of interest, not historical preservation.
In 2008, Simeone opened the nonprofit Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum to preserve his collection as “a gift to the public.”
Located in Southwest Philadelphia, the museum displays Simeone’s collection under the theme “The Spirit of Competition.” It includes more than 65 specialty model cars like Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Mercedes, Jaguar, Porsche, Aston Martin, Corvette and Ford.
“You come to the museum and you’re in front of the greatest sports cars in the world,” said Kevin Kelly, the museum’s curator.
The museum hosts themed “Demo Days” on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month to display the cars on its three-acre lot.
Valle Schloesser, a retired real estate chief financial officer who lives in Chester, New Jersey, attended a Demo Day in April to see Simeone’s 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe.
“They don’t just have [the cars] sitting there where you can’t touch them,” he said. “They’re right there, driving them and you get to walk around and look inside.”
Despite the cars’ current popularity, Simeone said his collection’s development resulted from being ahead of the times and recognizing the cars’ artistic and historical values before they became popular.
He said the cars are increasingly being seen as high art, just like furniture.
“Furniture was once where you kept your undies, and now you find furniture in all the great art museums,” Simeone added.
As a medical student in the 1950s and 60s, Simeone was interested in studying the “history of progress” by reading about the winners of major racing events in any automobile and racecar literature he could find.
Once he became a practicing neurosurgeon, he purchased cars and assembled his collection. He bought his first racecar in 1970.
Simeone said it was a “standing joke” in his office that every once in a while he would step out to answer an important international call related to organizing car deals.
He added that neuroscience and racing cars are similar in how competition in the industries has fueled progress.
“You want to study the winners,” Simeone said. “It’s the winners that have the best stories to tell, and how they succeed, is always a part of the story.”