If you ever find yourself in or around Naples, Florida, do yourself a favor and plan a trip to the Revs Institute.
I’ll just say it now, this is an incredibly wordy, history filled look through the collection. If you want to read more on their collection and see the other cars, check out their website here: Revs Institute.
This is absolutely one of the best automotive museums I have ever been to. There is an incredible collection of cars. Miles Collier grew up surrounded by racing and amazing cars. His father and uncle are credited with bringing sports car racing to the United States back in the ’30s.
In the ’80s and ’90s Mr. Collier started buying more and more cars with incredible histories and restoring them to back to their original conditions. He also took in the collection from Briggs Cunningham, who is indeed one of the best racers and greater minds in the world.
While most of the collection centers around racing, there’s also a nice amount of street cars too. Like this 1935 Duesenberg SSJ owned by Gary Cooper. This car has a wheelbase of 125 inches, when the usual wheelbases where either 142 or 153 inches. In typical ’30s fashion, someone saw Cooper’s Duesenberg around Hollywood and wanted one for himself, and that was Clark Gable. And according to lore, Gable and Cooper raced their Duesenbergs through the Hollywood Hills.
Then there’s this Duesenberg J Phaeton. It’s insane to see the detail and work put into these cars. Every Duesenberg was custom built and no two are alike. The chassis alone for a Duesenberg was around $8,500, back in the ’30s.
And then from that, there’s this two-engine 4WD Citroen 2CV, the 2CV Sahara. It was originally designed to be used in the Northern Africa by the French Colonies but also used in Switzerland and Spain to get up Alpine roads in icy conditions.
This Beetle is more than meets the eye. This Beetle has a flat four engine, Porsche Spyder brakes and a 911 transmission. And most of the body is made out of aluminum. They even rigged up the original speedometer to act as a tach to make it look stock. Imagine getting walked by this on a Saturday night.
This a 1912 Mercer Raceabout. This is back in a time where it seemed like every other person had a car company and everyone was racing. The Raceabout won 5 out of the six races it entered in 1911 and set record after record.
These stories are why this museum us so cool, this is a Cunningham V3. Cunningham was a company known for its hearses and opulent formal cars. This V3 was an exercise in what they could do if they built race cars. The car broke time distance records and was inspected by the AAA to prove it was a stock chassis. Then they built a couple replicas for customers, but mostly stuck to hearses and formal cars.
Along with an incredible collection of Porches, more at the end of the story, the Revs Institute also had a couple Lancias! This is a Lamabda, one of Lancia’s earliest cars. The car came with a V4 and was well known for handling corners better than most of the other cars of the period. In the background is a photo of a Lambda with Mussolini riding in it.
While the Porsches and Lancias are amazing, this Mercedes SSK was incredible to see. This is one of those cars you read about and see in photos, but never really expect to see. This was basically a shortened version of an early car, made for racing that also doubled as a road car. There were only 31 of these SSKs ever made and I’m not too sure how these original cars manage to still be around. But this is one of those cars that was so iconic it has been forever preserved as one of those VW replica cars that show up at car shows every so often.
One thing about this museum is that you have to purchase your tickets ahead of time before arriving at the door, and it is open on specific days and times. That might sound a little odd, but it’s for an awesome reason.
These cars aren’t roped off. You can walk right up to them and examine them up close and see every detail. They only allow a set number of people in per day so the museum doesn’t get too crowded where everyone is tripping over themselves and around multi million dollar cars.
And you have two choices when purchasing tickets. You can either select to be a part of a tour group where a docent will lead you around and give you every last detail on every car. If you’re really into the details, that is the way to go. But we opted for the self-guided tour because we like jumping around. But even if you go self-guided, there’s still docents around the museum in almost every area that will tell you about the cars in their area. Either one you choose, you’ll get an amazing history lesson about the cars in the collection.
This looks like a just another big swoopy grand tourer from the ’30s, but it’s packing a massive secret. The chassis of this car is basically the same chassis that Alfa Romeo ran on their Grand Prix car with a supercharged inline 8 powering it. Gorgeous and fast.
When you think of Lamborghini now you think flat, angular and fast. But you look back to the 350GT and realize where Lamborghini started. This is the first model Lamborghini ever made, and it looks just as good as anything they’ve made since.
The Lancia Aurelia is among the class of iconic Italian cars. Maybe not known like Ferrari or Lamborghini, but for Lancia fans, this is one of the cars that shows up everywhere because it was a successful race car before the Fulvia, Stratos and mighty Delta.
While the road cars are some of the most impeccable and rarest cars out there, it’s time to take a look at the race cars the Revs Institute has within their walls.
And what a car to start with. This is one of the five Mercedes that started the 1914 French Grand Prix. If you’re interested in world history, 1914 will ring a bell because in July World War One started. This car, from Germany, raced in June, in France less than a week after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. This car did not finish the race do to engine problems, but Mercedes did go on to win the race with a one-two-three sweep.
Fast forward about 40 years and this Lancia D50 is now the car that worried the Mercedes Grand Prix teams. Although the D50 never really dominated like it should have, it nevertheless still made it’s mark in the few races it participated in.
Lancia ran into some heavy financial problems causing the D50s to be handed over to Ferrari for testing and renamed the Ferrari Lancia D50 then Ferrari D50. Then in 1956 Juan Manuel Fangio won the championship with a Ferrari D50.
It’s not rare for race cars to have incredible histories, and this Ferrari 166 is packed with history. It won the 12 hours of Montlhery and set various speed records, then it was purchased by Briggs Cunningham and became the first Ferrari imported into the United States.
But this Mercedes W154 might outshine the Ferrari just because of the incredible might of the Mercedes teams back in the late ’30s.
I don’t fully remember the story, but this car raced in Yugoslavia in the 1939 Belgrade Grand Prix, on September 3. The day Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. The car was then hidden away somewhere in Yugoslavia, and was eventually found by the Russians. The Russians then loaded it onto a train planning to take it back to Russia. Somewhere along the way the train stopped, and the next day the flatbed where the cars were was now loaded with food. The car then disappeared again. until it was found, restored and now resides here.
The engine is a supercharged V12 making around 480 horsepower. Almost all the cars in the collection are driven throughout the year to keep them healthy and active. This car was converted to run on race fuel, which sounds odd until you hear what the car originally ran on. Methyl alcohol, nitrobenzene, acetone and sulphuric ether. The crew had to wear gas masks to fuel it, and the fuel system had to be emptied after every use or the mixture would eat its way through the fuel lines.
Like the W154, this Vanwall has the engine in front of the driver. The Vanwall was the front-engine Grand Prix car to win a race before teams (Cooper) started racing cars with the engine behind the driver.
The Cooper family decided to make small, lighter cars with engines in back to balance the cars more. Cooper won the championship in 1959, the first time for a rear engine car, but Coopers were starting the rear engine revolt as far back as 1957s. Once 1960 came around, it was looking like front engine cars were about but dead. And 1961 all the top teams were racing rear-engine cars. And as they say, the rest is history. This being one of the first cars to start the revolution by winning the first race in 1958. The first of the rear engine era.
Almost every car in the museum is driven at least once a year, but this is one of the cars that doesn’t move. And it’s not because it’s priceless, they aren’t too worried about that, it’s due to the cracked frame. And this car has an incredible history. This BRM won the Constructor’s Championship and the driver’s championship with Graham Hill in 1962. But the car was still racing in 1965 racking up over 20,000 racing miles, which is unheard of in today’s era of racing.
Normally this is where Dan Gurney’s Eagle F1 resides. Which famously Dan Gurney raced to become the second American to drive an American car to a win in Formula One, although he also did this in his own car. That particular car was out on loan, so instead this is the car Dan Gurney raced at the 1967 Indy 500.
This Arrows from 1988 is cool, but the coolest part is that little bit of carbon fiber under the mirror. The car showed up for tech, but was denied because the mirrors didn’t fall in line with the silhouette of the car. So they just added the carbon wings to make them fall inline with the silhouette. A bit of a cheeky move on Arrow’s part.
I mentioned Briggs Cunningham earlier with the Ferrari, but his name is more synonymous with his own cars. Cunningham always wanted to win Le Mans, his cars were almost built just for Le Mans. This is a C4RK that raced at Le Mans in 1952 and took a powerful lead but got stuck in the sand and lost hours of time. It finally got back on track, but then had to drop out due to engine trouble. But its pace was quicker than the winning Mercedes.
One of the reasons I wanted to come to the Revs Institute is because of the massive Cunningham collection.
Cunningham’s last attempt at Le Mans was with the C6R, with a new Offenhauser engine instead of a Hemi. Cunningham’s cars finished 3rd in ’53 and ’54 after Jaguar started using disc brakes that changed times forever.
Cunningham eventually gave up and became the leader of the US Jaguar Competition Program. His attempt at Le Mans with his own company was a valiant attempt and he still managed a couple podiums with his cars. Later, Ford would go on to win Le Mans with a full out assault with 13 GT40s in their first win in the 1966 running. So a small team from Florida managing to win a couple of podiums is a pretty good result in the end.
Cunningham later raced this car at Le Mans in 1961 to an 8th place finish. This is the famous Maserati Tipo Birdcage.
The birdcage name came from the uniquely built frame that was made up of over 200 finger sized tubes. No Birdcage was the same because of the welders building them and how the customer wanted it to be built. The frames themselves weighed about 70 pounds.
This is a 1935 MG nicknamed Leonidis. This car was one of the cars that raced in the female class in the 1935 24 Hours of Le Mans.
This car didn’t look like this originally, but after a crash in 1937 the new owner, Miles Collier, decided to rebuilt it and then dominate in the American Racing Club of America.
Like many of the other cars, this car raced again at Le Mans in 1939 but dropped out due to a failure in the fuel tank.
Scarab was one of those companies that had good ideas and intentions, but the timing just didn’t work out. Basically, Scarab was started because the owner of the company, Lance Reventlow, knew that privateer teams never really got the highest quality cars from other manufacturers. So he decided making his own car would be the best bet. As most American race cars in the time, he put a bored out Chevy small block in his car, but this is where the timing comes in. In Europe the engine size was capped to 3 liters, but Revetlow’s Scarabs were around 5.5 liters. He tried a four cylinder engine from Ofenhauser, but the added weight and lower horsepower only hurt the car. So Scarabs never made it internationally, although they dominated in the States.
You can’t have a racing section without a couple GT40s. Everyone knows the story, Ford wanted to buy Ferrari, Ferrari said no, so Henry Ford II decided to beat Ferrari at their own game, Le Mans. Of course Ford went on to win four years in a row and Ferrari has never won Le Mans overall again. The the light blue GT40 has an odd history because it has two serial numbers. Since back in the day it was common to switch parts from car to car, or just switch serial numbers. That car raced at Le Mans in ’67 and DNF’d, but went on to win the 12 Hour of Reims later that year. The darker blue GT40 was owned by Grady Davis, a Gulf Oil vice president, it was actually his road car. But he had it converted to a race car and raced at Daytona were it finished sixth and then at Sebring where it DNF’d.
And one the Ferraris the GT40s beat, the 250LM. Unlike the GT40s, this car did not race in any major races, but was used as a street car and then used for smaller club racing.
This is a Fiat 600 that has been massaged by Abarth, but not the same Abarth that does the Fiat 500s today. The real Abarth before they were purchased by Fiat. The tiny little cars dominated the SCCA ranks during the early and mid seventies with their low weight and high, for them, horsepower.
This the Revs 2 liter display. Each car has a different layout and different body construction. The Porsche is mid engine with a fiberglass body. The Alfa is front engine with an aluminium body and the Simca is rear engine with a fiberglass, aluminum mix. All cars were successful in there time and classes.
The Alfa won its class in the 1964 12 Hours of Sebring. It seems like you really can’t go around any corner here without a car that raced at Le Mans or Sebring.
This Simca was a was partnership between Simca and Abarth to make something a little more racey for Simca. The earlier 1.3 liter version did pretty well, but the bigger 2 liter version wasn’t the best for long distances, but ended up being pretty well suited for hill climbs.
Before we made our way into the best room at the museum, I have to end the other race car section on one of the oddest race cars ever. Not this one, but it’s brother. This Cadillac raced in the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was driven by Sam and Miles Collier, the uncle and father of the owner of this collection, with their teammate and owner, Briggs Cunningham. The French crowd was amazed at the big V8 Cadillac racing alongside the smaller, sleeker, European sports cars of the day. The Cadillac managed a 10th place finish and won the hearts and minds of the French crowd. But it didn’t get the same attention as the other team car.
Enter, Le Monstre. The rules for Le Mans stated that the bodies of the cars could be in whatever design the owners wanted, as long as the underside of the car was stock. Cunningham took that the rule and ran with it. This car is the same as the car above, underneath. Basically a bone stock 1950 Cadillac with some minor tweaks here and there for racing. The scrutineers examined the car for hours to be sure that it was a Cadillac.
Cunningham thought that as long as the car was flat, it would be faster and lighter, and it was. The car had a faster top speed than its teammate, but due to a brief spell in a sand pit and losing all gears but high, the Le Monstre finished 11th place, behind it’s normal counterpart.
The French were amazed by the Cadillac team, not just because the cars were so foreign, but because they actually put up a decent fight and both finished. It also proved that American cars can race in the top ranks of European racing, even though it would take another 16 years until one won Le Mans overall, and even that car was part British. And as we saw earlier, Cunningham would keep coming back with his own cars and came close to winning so many times.
And now the fun begins, Porsche. The The Revs Institute has an incredible collection of Porsches, probably right up there with Stuttgart itself. And even Stuttgart is jealous of one of the cars in the collection.
And the car Stuttgart is jealous of? It’s on display with another car it raced along side with in 1954 Carrera Panamericana. This is the Porsche 550 Coupe, 550-01. The first ever purpose built Porsche race car.
This car raced at Le Mans and finished second, even though the officials deemed it a tie, the other car, 550-02 covered more ground and was deemed the winner. The cars then went to Mexico to race, and then disappeared. This car was eventually rediscovered and later joined the collection.
This car raced at Le Mans, the Carrera Panamericana, 1000-Kilometer Race in Buenos Aires and Sebring. It proved Porsche was serious about racing, and it started a dominance that is still going strong some 60 years later. And this is the car that started it. The body isn’t original, but the running gear and engine are still original. This is probably the most important Porsche in Porsche and racing history. And it’s here.
After the 550, Porsche made the 550A, one of their most iconic cars. Mostly due to the fact that James Dean had a 550. I’ve seen so many replicas of this car, it was cool to see an actual 550 in person.
The 911R was Porsche’s attempt at racing in the GT class in the ’60s. But like a lot of other manufacturers, Ferrari being the worst, Porsche tried to cheat the system with fake numbers and different serial numbers. A company had to make 500 road cars to race, and the 911R never made those numbers, only 23 were made and never really raced in class competition. This car went rallying and won the the Tour De France and Tour of Corsica in 1969.
The history in this museum is amazing, and some of the cars themselves have incredible history. This car raced at Spa, Nurburgring, Targa Florio, Le Mans and Goodwood. Jo Bonnier raced it, along with the person who has the coolest name in racing, Wolfgang von Trips.
Truthfully I was more interested in the 718 RSK on the pedestal, but the white Carrera, just out of focus, was the most winningest Carrera Speedster of all time. It dominated the SCCA scene in the ’50s.
Not only is this one of the first two 911s to come into the United States, but it is also a class winner at the 24 Hours of Daytona. The car was purchased from Brumos Porsche and was almost instantly turned into a race car, even though most though it was a bad idea. It made second place in class at Sebring and enjoyed a lot of success in SCCA racing. This is the first 911 to win a road race, and it wasn’t even a factory-backed car. It still has the original transmission and engine from Daytona in 1966.
This 914 raced in one the wildest races I’ve ever heard of. I didn’t even know it was a real thing for the longest time. This car was a part of a one-two-three finish in the 1970 Marathon de la Route at Nurburgring. An 86 hour race. Three and a half days and over 18,000 miles of racing at one track. I don’t know about you, but I believe that needs to make a come back.
And now we start getting into the really good stuff, the prototypes. While the 910 is the most extreme Porsche prototype race car, it is also one of the best looking. This car won the 1000km of Nurburgring in 1967, the race Porsche had been trying to win for around 10 years.
This 906 came before the 910, and it just looks so much more menacing and edgy.
At last we come to the full out, maniac Porsches. This car doesn’t show up on their website, but judging by the numbers, this appears to be the 908/02 k Flunder that finished 2nd in the 1969 1000km of Nurburgring with Rolf Stommelen and Hans Herrmann at the wheel.
This might be my second favorite Porsche in the collection, the 908LH.
The 908s didn’t have the best start, they started racing along side the then dominating GT40s and also suffered from mechanical problems. But Porsche still pushed on. This car won Spa in 1969, came in second at Monza, and went out to Daytona and won Porsche the world Championship that year.
One of the reasons I love this car is because of the simple green nose to set it apart. So simple but still so cool.
While the aerodynamics look cool, the car itself wasn’t so perfect. If you have the game Assetto Corsa, this car can be downloaded. If you were to drive this car in the game, you’ll notice it starts to weave back and forth at high speeds. That’s not a game glitch, this car truly weaved at speed. Nothing like a car that has its own mind at 200mph. But it sure looks good.
Possibly one of the most recognizable Porsches after the 911, is the 908/3. This was Porsche’s all out attack on the fast and twisty races, mostly Targa Florio and Nurburgring. The car was built with mostly titanium giving the space frame a weight of 48 pounds and the body weighing about another 26. Altogether the car weighed 1200 pounds. It was a lightweight and took down anything. 908/3s won 75% of the races they entered. Targa Florio and Nurburgring being the main races.
Many thought the cars would just break because of the lightweight nature of the car and dealing with the harsh demands of racing, obviously they were wrong. But some 908/3s did break, including this one at the 1971 1000km of Nurburgring. But the car still managed to finish second. And it was driven by Pedro Rodriguez, who I regard as one of the best drivers of all time. Fun fact, Rodriguez won the 1967 South African Grand Prix but the organizers didn’t have the Mexican national anthem so they played the Mexican hat dance. He carried a record with the Mexican national anthem from then on.
And here we are, the reason I came to the museum, the Porsche 917k. I chased the Lancia Delta S4 for years until I saw one, the 917k was the next car on my list that I just had to see. And this might be the most period correct example there is.
This is Porsche 917-019, it raced at Spa, Brands Hatch, Daytona, Monza, Sebring and Watkins Glen. It didn’t have the best finish rate, DNF-ing in five of those races. And then there’s the names of the drivers- Brian Redman, Vic Elford, Denny Hulme, Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep. The last two being the pair that won Le Mans in 1971, although not in this car.
The last time this car raced was at Spa in 1971 with Marko and Lennep at the wheel, and it hasn’t been touched since.
Usually when you see a 917k, they’re in prefect condition and beautifully restored, but this car is different. This car is perfect. It feels like a step back in time to 1971 in Belgium.
The 917ks raced in 1970 and 1971 with two teams that mostly dominated every major race they entered. The Martini team and a team owned by John Wyer, better know as the Gulf team. Two of the most famous sponsors in endurance racing both racing one of the most famous and dominate cars in endurance racing.
Like any race car, the 917k was all about weight saving, the car itself weighed 1760 pounds. To save any pounds, or fractions of ounces really, they could save, Porsche cut holes in the head of the key.
The shift knob was made out of laminated birch. Even though it’s race car, you still need a little touch of class.
For anyone like me that might be obsessed with the 917k, here’s a small (not really) photo dump of this amazing car.
I probably spent just as much time around this car as I did in the whole museum. Just seeing a car that I’ve been so obsessed with was great, but also seeing it in its original unrestored glory was overwhelming. Also not a bad way to spend a birthday.
The Revs Institute also has a small window you can peek through to see what’s going on in their shop. Also I have to say, follow their Instagram, @therevsinstitute. They often do lifestreams in the morning through the garage and sometimes do some after hour tours of the museum. It’s worth checking it out. If you ever find yourself in Florida and you’re around Naples, get yourself a ticket and spend a day in this collection. The ticket is good for all day too, so you can leave and come back. The history and cars here are absolutely amazing.