In Ford v. Ferrari, opening Friday, a Ford driver (Christian Bale), competing in the 1966 Le Mans race, watches the rival Italian team roll out the latest bright red version of their handmade Ferrari.
“If this were a beauty contest,” he says, “we’d lose.”
Ford’s sleek entry in the ’66 Le Mans, the GT40 MKII as configured by legendary designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), is a head-turner as well, though.
And since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you can behold these cars for yourself with a trip to the Simeone Museum, located near the airport in Southwest Philly. Its collection includes three of the vehicles featured in the movie, and a fleet of rare champion cars from the era (admission is $8-$12; veterans get in free).
And, unlike the replicas used in Ford v. Ferrari, the cars at the Simeone Museum are the real deal — vintage racing vehicles collected over the years by car enthusiast and retired physician Fred Simeone, 83, whose collection was recently named by the International Classic Car Trust as the best in the world.
He’s been at it for more than half a century — he bought his first as a young man in Kensington, where he grew up attending Edison High — and said he’s accumulated his peerless collection because he started acquiring the cars when they were affordable, at least on a neurosurgeon’s salary.
“I collected cars when you could find them in a barn. I had a break — to know what was important then. They went from being something that cost a few hundred dollars, to something that cost serious money in the 1990s, to being unobtainable,” Simeone said.
Unobtainable, because collectors like Jay Leno, Ralph Lauren, and Walmart heir Rob Walton have scoured the globe to buy up most of the known vehicles with a pedigree. Most of the race winners have been accounted for, meaning Simeone’s one-of-a-kind collection is likely to remain so.
The museum has reorganized and freshened its exhibit to coincide with the Nov. 15 release of the movie, making use of some promotional materials provided by Ford v. Ferrari studio 20th Century Fox, which also arranged for a special screening at the Film Center this week for Simeone and 400 of his closest friends.
At the center of the exhibit is one of the actual GT40 MKII vehicles that competed at Le Mans. Ford had entered 13 GT40s in all, to improve its chances of doing what it had never done — beating the Ferrari team at Le Mans, a 24-hour grand touring race that combines speed (topping 200 mph) and endurance.
Christian Bale’s character, Ken Miles, bested Ferrari with a GT40 MKII designed and built by Shelby. Simeone’s GT40 MKII was part of the Le Mans team operated by Alan Mann Racing — Ford had three separate units competing — a car that Simeone acquired in 1987 and spent several years restoring to its original race day condition.
The museum staff takes the vehicles out for a spin on selected Saturdays — you can see the GT40 in action Nov. 23 in its back lot, along with several other Shelby vehicles, including the next-generation GT40 MKIV that won at Le Mans the following year.
By the way, if you like what you see (and hear), you can buy a GT40 clone. A California company called Superperformance, which built the replicas for the movie, will sell you a brand new GT40 MKII, though the price is reportedly north of $200,000.
That’s a bargain compared to an original vehicle from the era. One of the ’66 Ferraris recently sold for $30 million. (Fred Simeone doesn’t put a dollar number on his collection, and has chosen to donate his cars to the museum’s nonprofit foundation rather than sell them.)
Featured in the updated museum exhibit is a 1963 250P that is one of several Ferraris seen dominating competitors and other teams in the early moments of Ford v. Ferrari. You can also see the GT40 MKIV of the type that won at Le Mans in 1967. Simeone also has a 1958 Aston Martin that Bale’s character drives in one of the races that opens the movie.
Simeone, just back from London, where he accepted another award for the museum, said that when he’s in Europe, he no longer spends time looking for rare vehicles.