dr Fred Simeone, Penn’s former neurosurgeon, leaves behind a legacy of fast cars and a world-class museum

The story of the 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A next to Fred Simeone is among those in his 384-page book.

dr Frederick Simeone, a former Penn neurosurgeon who donated one of the world’s finest racing car collections to Philadelphia, died on Saturday, June 11.

dr Simeone, 86, died at Pennsylvania Hospital, where he served as chief of neurosurgery until 2008.

However, his colleagues at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in southwest Philadelphia, which he founded in 2008, could not help but note that his death that same weekend was one of auto racing’s most prestigious events.

“We find solace and meaning in the fact that our friend died in the middle of his beloved Le Mans,” said a statement from museum staff, “and we know his spirit will now forever ride with the legends he holds kept his heroes.”

for dr Simeone, his 80 or so racing vehicles from 1907 were far more than just speed machines.

“He had such a passion for everything he did in life, but especially these old race cars,” said Art Carey, a former Inquirer columnist who interviewed the collector several times. “He liked them not just because they were marvels of engineering, but because they were so reminiscent of American history. He saw racing cars as symbols or metaphors for the human quest for excellence.”

And he saw his museum as an ode to beauty and a place of education – “my gift to Philadelphia,” as he himself once said.

“He really felt that his automobile museum was as important as the Philadelphia Museum of Art in showing what humans are capable of,” said Carey. “He had a very intellectual understanding of cars.”

He acquired this appreciation from his father, who was also a doctor and car enthusiast. Young Fred accompanied his father on house calls in Kensington to see patients and later to junkyards for their car hobby.

His car hunger led him to the Free Library of Philadelphia as a gateway to collecting manuals and other materials from auto manufacturers and dealers. That was in the 1950s when he was just a boy.

“They gave me a card with the word curator on it, Free Library of Philadelphia, and it said Freddie Simeone is representative, please give us two copies of your current literature, and I’ve been driving around collecting it for years,” said Dr. Simeone the Inquirer in 2019.

Over time, the museum of Dr. Simeone would acquire the library’s permanent collection of automobile handbooks and other documents and become her home along with the Antique Automobile Club of America Library in Hershey.

When the doctor’s father died, he left his small car collection to Fred. Then the son’s began to take off.

“He became even more interested in collecting after his father died,” said William Murphy, spokesman for the automobile museum.

In his early days as a collector, some of the vehicles were available for relatively little money. With no internet, the doctor had to research and network to find his gems. Murphy said Dr. Simeone would tell stories of how he would go and pick up one of his racing car finds, only to get a call saying he was needed at the hospital.

“He would close the deal, jump in the car and sprint off to save the day,” Murphy said.

dr Simeone loved the beauty of his cars. When he opened his museum in 2008, he told Carey his favorite of all the vehicles on display was a 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B MM that had won the 1938 Mille Miglia.

“It represents the pinnacle of automotive design,” said Dr. Simeone. “I’m totally in love with this car.”

And yet, the specific cars he would buy weren’t necessarily the most pristine. He was more of a preserver than a perfectionist.

“If he had an opportunity to buy a car, he would buy the car that had more racing heritage,” Murphy said. “He didn’t care if it had scratches or scrapes because for him it was all part of the story.”

His collection has been recognized as one of the best in the world, including winning a top ranking from the Classic Car Trust in 2019 and accolades from others in the field.

“The way it’s laid out, there’s a lesson in walking through this museum,” said Scott Fenley of New Britain, secretary of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America.

dr Simeone also had other achievements. In addition to his medical publications, he was also the author of an authoritative and magnificent illustrated book on sports racing cars The spirit of competition. He was also very concerned with the safety of young drivers and was a partner of the National Road Safety Foundation in an advisory capacity.

But despite all his accomplishments, Dr. Simeone a humble guy after all, said people who knew him.

He had one daughter, Christina Simeone, and had formerly lived in Chestnut Hill, but more recently his home was an apartment on Washington Square West and his car was a basic BMW, according to Murphy. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

He once told an interviewer that he wanted his museum to be a place that drew people to his city from all over the world. Murphy said his foundation will ensure it remains able to do what its creator intended.

“He really left an incredible gift,” he said. “He was a unique Philadelphian.”

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