Go to See Auto Go
Sep 23, 2015 04:05PM
By Corinne Moore
Cooper Type 51 GP 109
Henry Ford told us history was bunk. Considering the automaker’s professional contributions, it seemed a baffling statement.
“What difference does it make how many times the Greeks flew their kites?" Mr. Ford reportedly told New York Times columnist Henry A. Wise Wood in May 1916. The crazy irony, of course, was that Henry Ford was already a legend, a chapter in school textbooks. He and men like Cooper, Ferrari and Rolls are faces on the Mount Rushmore of manufacturers because they produced things we cherish as if choosing a life partner. Americans still purchase nearly 17 million new vehicles each year. Thousands of others sell, collect and show classics. Otherwise, why would a 1964 Ferrari coupe in 2014 fetch some $26 million? Is a Ferrari just transportation, or racing artwork very few must possess?
The grace and functionality of motor vehicles are at our doorstep in Naples at The Revs Institute for Automotive Research. It is here the theory of a motor vehicle’s impact can be measured. The Revs Institute has about 120 significant vehicles available for close inspection. There are multiple examples of exotic craftsmanship and refinement, racing cars, classics and one-of-a-kinds. The Revs Institute also swaps out or sends its vehicles to world venues. An exhibit through November includes Lancia and Mercedes Formula 1 racers from the 1950s. The silver Mercedes looks as if it’s crouching to pounce, it has that much vitality. There’s also a research facility, one of the world’s largest motor vehicle libraries, racing trophies and ephemera beyond imagination.
Michigan’s Henry Ford Museum houses a nice collection of mostly America motor vehicles, the Petersen exhibit in Los Angeles is culturally fun, even the Museum of Modern Art in New York in its 1951 collection of modern artwork exhibited a Jeep the curator described as a "sturdy sardine can on wheels." But Revs (Researching the Evolution of Vehicles in Society) is different.
Nestled in a quiet gray structure in Naples, Revs holds an astonishing selection of mostly European motor classics, early French and German racing power and innovation, ultra-sleek Italian motor vehicles, nice examples of art deco and English design elegance, and other striking vehicles built by the Floridian Briggs Swift Cunningham, who later brought the first Jaguar imports to America. But there are many examples of American genius, including items and vehicles from racing legend Dan Gurney, classic Ford and Chevy racers, a beautiful Model T. For true nostalgia, there’s a wonderful Volkswagen Beetle with a touchscreen to help discover its history in pre-war Germany.
There are plenty of Porsche and Ferrari vehicles at Revs. There’s a 1948 Ferrari Spyder Corsa, for instance, the first in the United States. It is a sleek red racer once owned by Cunningham. The Ferrari Spyder was also the vehicle in which a Collier died racing in September 1950. The death of Sam Collier was prominently reported in the New York press. The Colliers remain The Revs Institute’s benefactors. Miles Collier, the grandson of the advertising mogul and South Florida land baron, oversees the venue. Much of its collection is Miles Collier’s, including a green 1962 Ferrari coupe. It was Enzo Ferrari’s personal vehicle (red reportedly was a buyer’s color). There’s also Miles Collier’s first car, a dark blue 1965 Porsche 356C coupe. The car’s immutable style remains remarkable. It also strikes the visitor as acceptable vanity. The 356C is only unusual because it is his.
“The objects here are a testament to all that’s great in the human mind and spirit,” Miles Collier wrote in an online introduction when the former Collier Automotive Museum re-constituted itself as The Revs Institute in partnership with Stanford University in 2011. Miles Collier remains a fixture at Revs, hosting symposia, acting as an ambassador at world events, judging elite shows, tinkering in the immaculate restoration/repair garage, and otherwise keeping busy in an exhibit The New York Times once declared the finest sports-car collection in the world.
For 20 bucks and a reservation, a Revs visitor gets a docent-led tour of the 80,000-square-foot facility. Guests are instructed on the history of racing and technology, fun anecdotes in open exhibit space (try not to touch). Self-led tours are $17. It’s crazy not to spend the extra money, although smart volunteers offer help on each floor. Volunteers’ exhibit knowledge is startling. Docent Jesse Yarger joined Miles Collier’s team in 1988. He knows plenty, often pausing to search his mind’s database, pulling his thick fingers in recounting those details. Inevitably, Yarger’s answers are punctuated with a fun anecdote about vehicles, owners or drivers in the collection. Halting at an exquisite 1935 Duesenberg SSJ, for instance, Yarger shares that the word “doozy” derives from the automobile’s grace and sheer elegance. A Gary Cooper owned Duesenberg is in the collection. Yarger also details that a 1902 French Mors Type Z racer in the collection, with its massive 573-cubic-inch engine, could top 100 mph. His enthusiasm is viral: Who’d thought a vehicle just out of the Horse Age would move any quicker than a pedestrian?
Most everything at Revs inspires and, perhaps, is what sets it apart. The exhibit tour is emotional. It’s also culturally bonding. A nifty (and first) 1953 Porsche 550 racing coupe, for instance, was discovered in parts in Mexico in a shoe plant. The owner raced the 550 in city-to-city venues, parked his cars in a barn. The Porsche then wasn’t worth much. Its value today, in its racing package, is immeasurable.
German, French, English and Italian racers of extreme importance dot the exhibit like golden apples, each with a story of the vehicle, a race or its owner. There are examples of modern racers through the 1990s, including Cooper Formula 1 racers, a Dan Gurney Eagle, Ford GT-40s, a 1971 Porsche 917K and a 1963 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport. Many of vehicles race in exhibitions, and many of those are available for in-seat viewing on YouTube.
The Revs Institute houses its library and memorabilia in 12,000-square-foot research archive. That academic mission was bolstered in 2011 by the acquisition of the Ludvigsen Library. Karl Ludvigsen, a former General Motors consultant and past editor of Car and Driver and Motor Trend magazines, had assembled 7,000 automotive books, 300,000 photographs and hundreds of research files. Much of the print catalog is available online, with scholars working to make the entire collection available in the not-too-distant future, says Keith Grey, The Revs Institute’s information systems technician and—time permitting—welcoming host. He is eager is point out The Revs Institute’s pristine service area/machine shop. Most vehicles in the collection are regularly exercised in a back roundabout or at world motoring events, Grey says. Only a couple of vehicles are so fragile as to be unusable. Many of the technicians and interns hail from McPherson College in Kansas, the country’s only undergraduate program in preservation technology. The Revs Institute also hosts scholarly workshops, important collectors (Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno, for instance), other events of world significance. “Few of us think how the auto shaped society,” Grey says. “The auto made things possible, changed the world. Mr. Collier’s main goal is to help educate.”
The Revs Institute also offers a wealth of information on Briggs Swift Cunningham, the Florida businessman and sportsman who helped in pioneering American motor sports in Europe. Rugged and rich, Cunningham first built race cars using Cadillacs, later assembling lovely and highly coveted vehicles bearing his nameplate. A Yale classmate of Sam Collier, Cunningham’s collection was absorbed into the Collier exhibit in 1986.
The Revs Institute for Automotive Research is at 2500 Horseshoe Drive, Naples, Fla. 34104. Hours, reservation and other details are 239-687-REVS (7387), revinstitute.org
- An accomplished fine artist, investor and philanthropist, Miles Collier also spent the better part of a decade racing in an E-Production Porsche Speedster as well as behind the wheel of other vintage automobiles.
- In 1986, Miles Collier acquired the Cunningham Museum collection of longtime family friend Briggs Swift Cunningham, which included the first Ferrari racing car ever sold in the United States and one of six Bugatti Royales ever produced.
- What is now known today as The Collier Collection began to take shape during the late 1980s and 1990s as Miles Collier continued to grow his private collection of the finest, most original examples of sports cars and ephemera. He soon became widely recognized for his groundbreaking preservation aesthetic, which elevated the original function and integrity of historic automobiles above recrementitious renovation styles.
- In 2000, Miles Collier began hosting symposia on collecting rare automobiles that gathered the world’s most prestigious experts on preservation technique and theory.
- Above all, providing the automobile with a platform that demonstrates the sheer power and influence that this great, modern invention has profoundly contributed to our culture and history remains Miles Collier’s tireless mission. The Revs Institute was founded in 2009 as a reflection of that determination and to serve as a center of scholarly study.
- That same year, through the vision of Miles Collier, The Revs Institute began an affiliation with Stanford University known as The Revs Program. It established a new trans-disciplinary field connecting the past, present and future of the automobile. The Revs Program at Stanford fosters a wide-ranging academic focus on the automobile. In recognition of the program’s scholastic merits, Hearst Publishing Corp. transferred its entire archive of Road & Track magazine to The Revs Program, which will preserve and digitize the collection for future research and make its information available to the public.
- By meticulously preserving these incredible milestones in automotive history, The Revs Institute is also endeavoring to shape history by elevating the status of the automobile as a cultural icon and agent of change and human progress. Thereby, collecting and documenting this important history and making it available to a new era of scholars and thought leaders, The Revs Institute seeks to serve as a platform for the next century of automotive innovation on and off the track.