There are more than 100 cars at The Revs Institute, and they’re not just sleek lines, shimmering chrome and supercharged horsepower. They all have stories to tell.
These rare, historically significant cars are housed in a low, gray, fire-proof building that looks like a military fort or perhaps the Guggenheim.
“It looks like CIA headquarters,” says docent Mark Koestner on a recent tour of the Naples museum.
The meticulously preserved racers and other cars in the Collier Collection — named for owner Miles C. Collier, whose family gave Collier County its name — were all built between the years 1896 and 1995. Many have won major races such as Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.
And they’re not just museum pieces, either. “All the cars in the collection run,” Koestner says. In fact, each car is taken out and driven at least once a year to keep it in good working condition.
Koestner gave The News-Press a fascinating tour of the 84,000-square-foot museum recently, and he astounded with his vast knowledge of the approximately 115 cars — not to mention three bicycles, whose technology paved the way for the automobiles to come.
Here are the stories behind some of coolest cars in the collection.
1914 Simplex 50 HP Speed Car: This American-made car was once owned by Barron Gift Collier, the New York City advertising magnate and real-estate developer who gave his name to Collier County. The 50-horsepower car could easily hit 75 mph on the country’s less-than-smooth roads.
Delahaye, 1937 Type 135 MS Special Roadster: Parisian automaker Delahaye entered the luxury-car field with this swooping, glamorous vehicle. Delahaye made the chassis, but Parisian coachbuilders Figoni et Falaschi designed and built its distinctive body. The car’s sensuous shape has been compared to the curves of a woman’s body, Koestner says. But it also resembles a ghost, especially when it’s gliding along the highway.
“The car is made to look like its floating,” Koestner says. “You really can’t see the wheels or the tires.”
The Delahaye is one of the earliest examples of an Art Deco-style car, he says. And it’s always a hit with museum visitors. “Everybody loves this car!” he says.
Mercedes-Benz 1929 Sport Model SSK: People described the sound of this car’s aptly named “elephant blower” as a “Valkyrie’s cry” or a “banshee’s wail.” Only 31 SSKs were built over three years.
AAR Eagle, 1972 Mystery/Olsonite Offy: This car came after the United States Auto Club started allowing race cars to have wings not attached to the bodywork, thus achieving a faster average lap on the raceway. Cornering got faster thanks to the downward force created by the wing. At the All American Racers (AAR) shops in California, Roman Slobodynskj designed a new Eagle with a chisel nose and a gigantic rear wing. This car eventually broke the 200 mph barrier with driver Jerry Grant.
Alfa Romeo, 1934 Tipo 8C 2300 Corto, Touring: This model won Le Mans four years in a row. The display car at Revs, however, is a road car that never actually raced. The supercharged Alfa Romeo could go from 0-60 mph in under 10 seconds — an impressive acceleration for the 1930s. “It’s the winningest car in our collection,” Koestner says.
Panhard & Levassor, 1896 Wagonette: This is the oldest car in the Revs collection —basically just a horse-drawn buggy without the horse. That’s why cars like these were often called “horseless carriages.” It has a V-twin engine, a 4-speed transmission, and rack-and-pinion steering. “Notice the one-candle-power headlights,” Koestner says, pointing to two partially melted candles at the front.
Ferrari, 1948 166 Spyder Corsa: This particular car was the first Ferrari to win a major race and also the first racing Ferrari to arrive in the United States. “It’s an important car,” Koestner says.
Ferrari, 1962 Superamerica Coupe Aerodynamica by Pininfarina This customized coupe was owned by none other than Ferrari maker Enzo Ferrari, himself. It’s one of only 14 built.
Mors, 1902 Type Z European company Mors was known for its electrical products before it started building cars and winning races with them at the turn of the 20th century.
The 60-horsepower Type Z features pneumatic shock absorbers for better handling and a spidery, ultra-light chassis. Drivers wore goggles while racing in the open-air car.
1935 SSJ Duesenberg: This massive, heavy and “hideously expensive” car cost $8,500 for the chassis, alone, and could only be afforded by the wealthiest people in the world, Koestner says. Actor Gary Cooper owned this specific car, inspiring fellow Hollywood star Clark Gable to buy a “Deusie” that was “just like Coop’s.” The actors owned the only two SSJs ever built. The SSJs — an abbreviation for “Short-chassis, Supercharged model J” — featured an 8-cylinder in-line supercharged engine that generated about 400 horsepower.
1953 550 Porsche Coupe: This race-winning, groundbreaking coupe resulted from Porsche’s decision to make cars specifically for racing. It achieved speeds of 124 mph at Le Mans in 1953 — but it was a hellish ride for the driver and passenger, thanks to claustrophobia, lack of ventilation and a punishing noise level. “This is a very important car,” Koestner says. “Porsche WISHES they had this car back.”
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells (News-Press) (Facebook), @charlesrunnells (Twitter), @crunnells1 (Instagram)
If you go
What: The Revs Insitute
Where: 2500 S. Horseshoe Drive, Naples
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The museum is closed for renovation Aug. 1-Sept. 15.
Admission: $17 ($12 for teachers, students or active military; free for children 7 and younger). Docent-led tours are $20. Tickets must be reserved in advance.
Info: 687-7387 or revsinstitute.org
Find out what’s under the hoods at Revs
For the second year in a row, The Revs Institute is lifting the hoods on 40 of its rare, historic cars. The hoods have been opened or completely removed this month so visitors can better appreciate the beauty and technology of their engines.
Some of those engines haven’t been seen by the public for decades.
“After the strong positive response from our 2016 ‘engines exposed’ exhibition, we have selected a new cross-section of cars which we hope will truly allow our guests to appreciate over a 100-year span of engine evolution,” said Scott George, vice president of The Revs Institute, in a press release announcing the exhibit.
The “Under the Hoods” exhibit takes place now through July 8.
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