Revs Opens it Up for Car Lovers

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 03/2014
  • posted in: Great Garages

Floor it for Florida.

On March 25, The Revs Institute for Automotive Research, Inc., featuring the famous Collier Collection, opens by appointment to the public in Naples, Fla.

The 501(c)(3) organization has one of the world’s great collections of automobiles and an equally outstanding repository of automotive documents, numbering 30,000-plus book and journal titles, and hundreds of thousands of photographs from specialists such as Rodolfo Mailander, Karl Ludvigsen, Bruce Craig, Albert Bochroch and Cyril Posthumus.

In addition, through its affiliation with the Revs Program at Stanford University, the institute is advancing the study of the automobile, recognizing it as the most significant manufacturing artifact of the 20th century –– a technical, industrial and aesthetic human achievement and a social-change agent. The Revs Institute also hosts a biennial symposium discussing the importance of the hobby and profession of car collecting.

For these and other achievements, this past Feb. 22 The Revs Institute became the eighth recipient of the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance Award of Excellence at a gala dinner in Boca Raton, Fla.

Colliers and Cunningham

In 1989, The Revs Institute began as the Collier Automotive Museum, founded by Florida businessman, philanthropist and artist Miles C. Collier. He is the son and nephew, respectively, of Miles and Sam Collier, two of the founders of the Sports Car Club of America. Today, Miles C. Collier continues with the planning and programming of The Revs Institute.

The museum houses more than 100 significant automobiles, 1896 to 1995, each emphasizing innovative concepts. They are arranged into several themed galleries expressing different eras, watershed design elements and automotive utilities.

All the major racing marques are represented, with special attention to Porsche’s sports-racers in one of the galleries. These include an early 356SL-Gmund racer, several space-frame Spyders of the 1950s and the long-lived production based car, the 356, the 906 Carrera and the 908, 910 and the iconic 917.

Included in the collection are many cars from the former Briggs Cunningham Auto Museum. As a result, the Revs Institute houses examples of nearly every model produced by the iconic American sports car manufacturer, Cunningham, as well as the cars raced and driven by Briggs Swift Cunningham.

These include the cars raced by the Cunningham team at Le Mans, such as the two Cadillac-powered entries for 1950, a stock Series 61 sedan and one — Le Monstre — with an innovative aerodynamic body.

A Birdcage and an Eagle, Too

The many other rare racing sports cars, many award-winners at concours and other events, include the 1948 Ferrari 166 Spyder Corsa and the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport, 1955 Jaguar D-type, 1961 Maserati Type 60 Birdcage, an Alfa Romeo GTZ, Ferrari 250 LM and a pair of Ford GT40s.

Just weeks ago, in March, The Revs Institute’s 1958 Scarab Sport-Racer, one of eight built, was honored with the Best in Show Award in the Sport Class at the 19th annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. The Scarab was a front-engine design car that dominated United States racing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when other teams were changing to the mid-engine layout.

At the same time, approximately half of the collection is devoted to road-going cars. Early motoring examples start with a 1896 Panhard et Levassor, from the firm begun in 1887, and a 1902 Mors 60-horsepower Paris-to-Vienna racer.

The pre-war 1939 Mercedes W154 features an exotic motor and fuel system, and post-war examples include a 1958 Vanwall, a Cooper T51, a BRM P578, and a 1967 Gurney-Weslake Eagle, possibly the most beautiful Formula 1 car ever. Developed by the great Dan Gurney, he drove this one to victory June 18, 1967, at the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps.

Exquisite 1910s through the 1930s collectibles include a Hispano-Suiza Alphonso, a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Kellner, a Vauxhall Velox and a 1930s Delahaye 135 Figoni & Falschi. Opulent American cars are a stunning 1928 Stutz Blackhawk Boattail Speedster, two Packards, one a V-12 Phaeton Dietrich, and several Duesenbergs such as a 1930 J Phaeton, bodied by LeBaron.

“Every car at The Revs Institute demonstrates how the automobile is at once an object of technology, movement and art,” says Scott George, vice president of The Revs Institute. “The focus of the collection is to preserve those machines defined by their social, technical and aesthetic significance.”

Roads Less Traveled: Six Signature Cars

George recently selected six of the collection’s vehicles to discuss in detail with Highline Autos:

•1901 Benz Dos-à-Dos –– Weighing just 1,716 pounds, this rare and early Carl Benz car is powered by a two-cylinder, four-stroke opposed engine producing 10 horsepower at 920 rpm.

The car was sold to Freiburg industrialist Julius Oswald Römmele, who kept it until the Nazi’s seized it as an example of German ingenuity and automotive achievement. The Third Reich moved it to a salt mine near Dresden for safekeeping during the war, and it did not re-emerge until after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

The West German family found their Benz in the Verkehrsmuseum, or Transport Museum, Dresden. Five years later, the car was returned to the Römmele family from whom the Collier Automotive Museum acquired it in 1999.

•1914 Mercedes GP –– A “Heroic Age” icon, this magnificent car participated as one of six such vehicles that gave Mercedes the first one-two-three sweep of the French Grand Prix near Lyon, just two weeks before World War I began.

Based upon the aero unit Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft had developed for Kaiser Wilhelm, the four-cylinder 273.7 cubic-inch in-line, single-overhead-camshaft engine delivers 115 horsepower.

The 1914 Grand Prix car was recently honored with the Most Historically Significant Mercedes-Benz Award by the Mercedes-Benz Club of America and will be returning to Lyon for the centenary anniversary of that historic race this April.

Thirty-seven cars started the race, with 11 finishing. The car from the collection was used for one leg during the race. It was sold after the race to an American military man and converted to road use for 1915.

The museum’s description: “The battle now was between [Christian] Lautenschlager’s Mercedes and Boillot’s Peugeot. The closing laps were the most exciting motor sport had thus far seen.

“Suddenly, Boillot’s car gave out. There was a hush as Lautenschlager crossed the finish line — and a gasp as [Louis] Wagner and [Otto] Salzer followed.

[Two weeks later, the war began.]

“Among the millions of casualties was Georges Boillot, shot down from the skies in a dogfight with a German airplane.”

•1935 Duesenberg SSJ –– How can you make a Duesey better? Have actor Gary Cooper want one for his personal stage. This eight-cylinder in-line engine, with 448.141 cubic inches and twin-overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and centrifugal supercharger develops approximately 400 horses at 5,000 rpm.

“Introduced in December 1928, the J Duesenberg was unabashed overkill: massive, weighty, of heroic proportion everywhere,” the museum plaque says. Its race-inspired straight-eight engine boasted over twice the horsepower of its nearest American competitor.”

The SJ, introduced in 1932, of which only 39 were made, went further with the supercharger and other refinements: from the 265 horses of the J to a supercharged 320 horses, with the factory advertising 129 mph in top gear.

The SSJ further surpassed this with the “super-short” and lighter 125-inch chassis, as the standard wheelbase lengths were 142 ½ and 153 ½ inches, and ram’s-head manifolding.

Only two were produced. Cooper (Sergeant York, High Noon) bought the car now on display in the Automobility-themed exhibit gallery.

“Not to be upstaged, Clark Gable quickly decided he had to have a Duesey ‘just like Coop’s’ and talked the local dealer into lending him the other one . . . . And, oh, to have been there when Cooper raced his friend Gable through the Hollywood Hills in this bobtailed SSJ.”

•1954 OSCA –– In this supposedly outclassed 1500-cc MT-4 sports racer, 24-year-old Stirling Moss drove to an upset victory at the Sebring 12 Hours, sharing honors with American Bill Lloyd.

Beginning in 1947, Officine Specializzate Construzione Automobili produced cars in Bologna, Italy, by the Maserati brothers — Ernesto, Ettore, and Bindo — after they left their eponymous company.

One of six cars entered by Briggs Cunningham at Sebring, the dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder produced just 130 horses at 6,300 rpm, but this David whipped 59 other Goliaths, including C-Type Jaguars, 4.5-liter Ferraris, a 5.5-liter Cunningham 4CR, a Cadillac-Allard and the Aston Martin DB3S team.

Just 25 cars finished, topped by this brakes-challenged 1,280-pound OSCA and, even better, five laps ahead of the second-place car.

The OSCA had the smallest engine ever to win a world sports car championship round, a record still standing. “Certainly I’d hoped to finish, because that’s not easy. The circuit was pretty gruesome in those days. I certainly wanted to win our class, but I didn’t have any more hopes than that,” Moss later recalled.

•1952 Cunningham C-4R and C-4RK –– Two roadsters, including this #1 car and the #3 coupe, were prepared for 1952 Le Mans, both powered by the Chrysler eight-cylinder, hemi-head vee engine with four Weber 40 DCM downdraft carburetors. Its 331.1 cubic inches produced 300 horses at 5200 rpm.

In the #1 car, Briggs Cunningham drove with Bill Spear, an American sports car circuit amateur. In the other roadster, John Fitch, who had become the SCCA’s first national champion in 1951, sat with George Rice, a fine midget car driver.

Sharing the coupe with Phil Walters was Duane Carter, an Indianapolis veteran.

By midnight, just this car was still competing, with Cunningham driving, determined that one of his cars would finish, and this one did, in 4th.

While “R” designated the company’s racing cars, the “K” added to the #3 coupe referred to Dr. Wunibald Kamm, a German scientist brought to this country after World War II.

Aerodynamically efficient Kamm-back coupes, without long, pointed tails, showed their prowess. Kamm actually visited West Palm Beach to flatten this Cunningham’s tail.

Although the C-4RK didn’t finish (Carter had hit the sandbank at Tertre Rouge and valve gear trouble, which had also finished the race for the Fitch-Rice C-4R roadster, eliminated it), Walters’ 105.6 mph second lap was the Cunningham team’s best that year and was also even a bit quicker than the winning 300SL Mercedes’ fastest lap.

•Porsche 1971 917K –– This flat-12 air-cooled mid-engine, with twin overhead camshafts and fuel-injection, produces 600 horses and is light at 1,760 pounds.

Porsche Salzburg raced independently from the official factory team, and this car was part of that team, which won Le Mans in 1970. In 1971, this #23 car was raced by the Martini Racing Team, so named because of the colorful sponsorship from Martini & Rossi.

“Down to the pockmarks on the front nose, it has been kept in original condition, thus maintaining a visceral connection as to how race cars were actually treated in their prime,” Scott says.

“The collection’s Martini-liveried 917K, indeed, was one of the standard setters in the current stewardship movement. This represents a growing trend by automotive museums to not over-restore or otherwise misrepresent historically significant automobiles,” he adds. “The Revs Institute is at the vanguard of this aesthetic approach.”

The Revs Institute, Inc. may be visited three days per week by reservation only. Details are at or call 239.637.REVS for reservations and more information.

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