Story & photos by Doug Switzer, Moto/ology Publisher
Here’s one heck of a motoring museum!
A while back while on a trip down south, we got the opportunity to visit one of the most impressive auto museums there is. The fabulous Collier Collection at the REVs Institute in Naples, Florida is well worth seeing!
You can call me old-fashioned, I am. That’s why I like to race vintage cars and I get all misty-eyed over fine, old analogue machinery while all the current and latest whiz-bang gadgetry on wheels leaves me cold. So, on a winter-dodging trip to southwestern Florida a while back, I indulged my appetite for cars that at least theoretically, I could actually work on and understand, and went to an interesting and delightful museum.
In spite of the midweek traffic, a beautiful, sunny day made the almost 2-hour drive down from Sarasota to Naples quite enjoyable. Upon reaching Naples my travel partners and I followed our directions into an upscale but kind of nondescript industrial area where we came upon the equally nondescript, almost windowless low building with a simple low sign out the front that said: “The Revs Institute for Automotive Research”. Once we entered the building and were greeted by a very cheery woman at the check-in, our pre-ordered tickets were scanned, we were given our programs and pointed on our way. The lobby was impressive with a trio of red sports cars straight ahead on the raised landing above the ground floor. To our right was a Ferrari 250 LM and to our left a very tidy Lotus Elite and a McLaren F1. This is a promising start!
Beyond the Ferrari is a sign over a doorway that simply states “Porsche: Designed to Excel” … and beyond that, an Aladdin’s cave of historical Porsches.
Gazing down the subtly lit gallery you can take in—almost all at once, Porsche’s racing history from just after the Second World War to the late 1960s. Almost every milestone and generation of Porsche competition cars is represented here. There are 550 coupes, spyders, various versions of RS and RSK racers and even a beautiful Porsche-Elva. Sprinkled in with the stunning collection of race cars is a sampling of the street versions of some of Porsche’s most coveted creations. Rounding the right turn at the end of this first gallery takes you into the realm of the “big guns”, the 906’s, 908’s, 910’s, 917’s and other exotic racing machines of the 1970s. Along with the cars are static displays of some of the most iconic powerplants devised by Porsche. Various versions of the flat sixes are there of course, but there’s also flat 8’s and a sample of the astounding flat 12 type 911 engine that powered the legendary 917’s to so many victories.
All the cars, engines and memorabilia are presented in a spotlessly clean environment with dramatic lighting and although some of the racers are presented in their “as-raced” condition, this just adds to the authenticity of the displays.
Apart from the wonderful collection of Porsches, there are several more galleries filled with other mechanical marvels. There’s a hall with very early “horseless carriages” and it showcases the march of technology from the very early Benz motor-carriages through the era of brass-festooned Model T Fords and into the more sophisticated machines produced just after the First World War. There’s a fascinating section that delights with glittering nickel and chrome plating, deep old-school lacquer paint jobs and wonderful wide whitewall tires that’s dedicated to automotive nobility: Bentleys, Roll-Royce, Packard, Stutz, Duesenberg, they’re pretty well all here. A little further along there’s more of the premium European marques: Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza, Mercedes and Isotta-Franchini. There’s fabulous rare sports cars and racing machines from the 1930s through the early 1950s. Some very famous and some rare machines are on display from MG, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, and even the oldest Ferrari in the U.S., a very early 1948 166 Spider Corsa, and of course it’s painted in bright red.
There are just so many vehicles in this collection, I couldn’t include more than a small sampling here. To get the true impact of this place you just have to go there. There are many, many more pre-war classics and postwar legendary examples of rare and fascinating machines.
There’s a pair of legendary MG’s that bear noting. The K3 “Magnette” on display is a rare supercharged six-cylinder car that was quite successful back in the day. Three were entered in the Mille Miglia and two of them finished first and second in class and took the team prize away from the disappointed Italians. In the Ulster Tourist Trophy race of 1933, none other than Tazio Nuvolari drove a supercharged K3 to the outright victory. Another K3, fitted with a streamlined body and prepared as a record-breaking car, gave an astonishing performance in 1939 in the hands of Goldie Gardner. In Gardner’s 1939 flying start run on the Dessau Autobahn he achieved a world speed record for 1100cc vehicles at an amazing 203.54 mph!
The other legendary MG in the collection is the 1935 MG PA/PB “Leonidis” which, driven by Miles Collier, distinguished itself with numerous wins through the 1930s and early postwar years.
As you meander your way past these motoring works of art, it becomes apparent that the really nice thing about this museum is the cars are all roughly at “arm’s length” away from you. They are not cordoned off with you so far back that you need to squint through your opera glasses to see them and their glorious details. Signs near each display encourage you to “Please do not touch” but the vehicles are positioned so you can lean in and see whatever details and technicalities you’d like to ponder. This is a very good thing.
Wandering further into the place, you come across more treats and another area housing some famous sports-racers of the 1950s. There is a gallery dedicated to the vehicles of the great American sportsman, Briggs Cunningham. Now for those that may not be familiar with that name, Cunningham was a legend in motorsport circles just after World War 2 and into the 1950s. He had the crazy idea that a big, lumbering American engine would be just the ticket to winning at the famous 24 hours of Le Mans. He reasoned that a big, relatively slow-turning engine would be super-reliable as it could chug along for the entire time while being completely under-stressed. As Carroll Shelby later proved, this idea was not without merit. So, with this plan in mind he race-prepared two Cadillacs of all things! One, in a standard Series 61 2-door coupe body was christened “Petit Patoud” by the locals and was driven by Miles and Sam Collier. The other was outfitted in a bizarre, but wind-tunnel tested “special” coachwork. This was the infamous “LeMonstre” driven by Phil Walters and team principal Briggs Cunningham. Many were quite surprised when, at the end of the 24 hours, the novice team in the Cadillacs finished 10th and 11th and the lead car averaged only 8 MPH slower than the overall winners. This was a pretty amazing first whack at the track!
Cunningham went on to build his own dedicated racing cars for the annual 24-hour classic and the gallery here has almost a complete set of his sports-racers.
Further along in the museum we came across some more American icons of motorsport like the super-rare 1962/1963 Corvette Grand Sport, one of 5 built. A Scarab sports-racer and a pair of Ford GT40 Le Mans contenders occupy adjoining spaces. There is a Mk 1 that was the Ickx/Thompson Gulf-sponsored entry in the 1967 Daytona 24-hour race. Next to it is an example of the mighty 427 cubic inch Mk. II – this particular one won at Reims and remarkably, was the car that was famously pushed across the finish line by Dan Gurney at Sebring, only to be disqualified for not being under its own power at the end of the race!
Just to be clear, not all the cars on display are famous racers or fabulously expensive exotics and antiques. There is a very succinct representation of the more mundane, everyday vehicles that put people on wheels and gave the world its unprecedented mobility. A case in point are 3 sub-compacts that had a great influence on the automotive scene when they were introduced. The cheeky Austin (BMC) Mini designed by Alec Issigonis, re-wrote the design parameters of the modern automobile when it was introduced in 1959. The saucy French Citröen “deux chevaux” (2CV) was conceived as a sort of Gallic Model T with the intention of granting the entire French nation access their own personal vehicle. There are several Fiats and other euro-economy cars on display and of course, the most popular “People’s Car” of all, the ubiquitous Volkwagen Beetle. (Unfortunately, it seems this vehicle is either no longer on display or at least is no longer in the collection as it is now missing from the museum’s promotional literature. – Ed.) At any rate, there are many other examples of “regular cars” for “regular folk” on display.
Oh, and those 3 red sports cars in the lobby? That impressive display guards the access to an upstairs level with yet more historic racing cars and consists of another Porsche 904, an Abarth Coupe and an Alfa-Romeo TZ Zagato coupe – all in bright red!
You climb the stairs past them (or take the elevator) to the second floor and find yet another couple of interesting Porsches in the “Racing Cars and Racing Men” Gallery. There’s another pushrod-engined 550 Coupe in Carrera Panamerica trim and when I was there, a 1954 Lincoln Capri Carrera Panamerica-prepared racer that was on loan from another museum. Moving past these displays, you enter a gallery of “pure” race cars – Grand Prix and open-wheeled vehicles. The gallery starts with some very early examples of racing cars. You are greeted by two ancient French blue Mors Grand Prix cars from the turn of the previous century. Personally, I find these old vehicles fascinating. They are built more like locomotives than what we would consider to be cars. They generally have gargantuan engines, the 1908 Mors boasts a powerplant of 12.5 litres (more than 760 cubic inches!) that puts out a whopping 100 HP, eclipsing its older 1902 brethren which only has a 9 litre engine of 60 HP! Along with these old Mors racers is a 1914 Mercedes Grand Prix car that looks absolutely delicate in contrast to the two Edwardians sharing the area. Proceeding through the gallery, we come to a group of slightly more modern machinery. There are several old racers worth noting: a 1913 Peugeot “Voiturette”, a 1919 Ballot Type 5/8LC, a group of 1920s racers, a 1930 Duesenberg Indy car once owned by noted racer Fred Frame, an unrestored 1930 Bugatti 35B, the list goes on and on! Further along we come into the race cars of the post-World War 2 era. One of the Ferrari-campaigned Lancia D50’s with its enormous side fuel tanks is here with its engine compartment open for display. Nearby there’s an intriguing Behra-Porsche Formula 2 car that’s nestled in with a pair of John Cooper’s revolutionary early mid-engined Formula 1 cars. Just across the way, a mighty 1939 Mercedes W154 Grand Prix car sits with half its skin removed to show off the Teutonic elegance of its innards. Near the flayed Mercedes is the ex-Graham Hill 1962 BRM P-578 F1 car that Hill used for most of his championship-winning year! There’s a wonderful example of one of Dan Gurney’s gorgeous 1967 Eagle-Weslake Formula 1 cars as well as a mid-sixties Eagle Indianapolis car (which may no longer be on display) and a later, 1974 Jorgenson-sponsored USAC iteration that was driven by Jerry Grant.
The last car we saw on display in this magnificent racing gallery was a 1988 Arrows A10B Formula 1 car that had been campaigned by Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever and managed 5th place in the F1 World Championship that year.
It’s also fitting that there’s several landmark engines on display throughout the buildings and the whole collection is really breathtaking both in its scope and elegant presentation.
You must bear in mind, however, that the cars on display change from time to time as they are serviced, exchanged or go on loan to other museums or attend other events around the country or the world for that matter. If you wish to see a particular car, we advise you to check to make sure it will be there. After seeing the place, however, it wouldn’t matter to me – whatever they have on display would be well worth seeing.
If you find yourself in the Southwest Florida area, do go see this place, but be forewarned, you can’t just pitch up at their door and expect to get in. To keep the crowds and reserved group tours under control, the museum requires you to pre-book tickets, which is easily done online through their website revinstitue.org.