If you get the opportunity to write about cars of the past, you’re guaranteed to meet some fascinating people, and you’ll end up admiring some of them. That’s why the pain is especially acute when you lose one of them. As I mentioned upon hearing the news of his passing last Saturday – fittingly, while his beloved 24 Hours of Le Mans was still in progress – the world of vintage racing cars never had a better friend than Dr. Frederick Simeone of Philadelphia, who has died at age 86. Fred wasn’t a vintage racer, but instead dedicated his off-hours from practicing pediatric medicine to collecting irreplaceable examples of historic racing cars that he maintained in a public Philadelphia museum, most of them in the same, untouched condition as when they were first pulled off the racing circuit.
I took this portrait of the good doctor, with a coupe of his collectibles, when I profiled both Fred and the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum for Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car in 2013. Fred was a second-generation physician who grew up at K&A, in one of Philly’s roughest neighborhoods, before heading off to medical school. Fred’s father was a hardcore car enthusiasts, passing his interest on down to his son. Fred became one of the world’s foremost surgeons specializing in neonatal and pediatric neurosurgery, having served on the faculty at Harvard Medical School before returning to Philadelphia, where he eventually served as chairman of neurosurgery at Pennsylvania Hospital for more than 25 years. Fred assembled his museum piecemeal, tracking down rare race cars individually, and was an early champion of the now widely accepted construct of keeping old cars in original condition. His museum was judged the best in the world by the Classic Car Trust in 2019, and the collection’s Cobra Daytona Coupe was the first car of any kind placed on the National Historic Vehicle Register in 2014. Atop all this, Fred was still a doctor first: The text on spinal maladies that he co-authored is still considered standard in medical study. We’ve lost one of the really good ones here.