Friday, April 27, 2018

Viewing automotive legends at The Revs museum

The 1950 Cadillac Series 61 coupe that came in 10th at Le Mans in 1950
still amazes with its apparent stock condition at The Revs Institute museum.
The Trabant was not on display the day my wife Bonnie and I visited The Revs Institute in Naples, Fla. She was disappointed. I had to laugh.

Surely one of the most prestigious automotive museums on the planet, The Revs posts on its website a list of cars Not On Display, updated weekly, with a brief explanation for each absence.

The Trabant — an infamous, much derided little East German peoples' car built of questionable materials — was in the shop the day we visited.

What was on display was The Revs' carefully curated collection of legendary examples of automotive majesty: including Porsche, Bentley, Ferrari, Duesenberg, Bugatti and my two favorite Cadillacs of all time.

Signage at The Revs is complete with the human story behind the cars,
as well as the technical specifications and period photos.
These are the vehicles I've read about and studied in books all my life. At The Revs they are displayed without barriers, usually in running condition, often just as they last raced and alongside photos of them in action.

"Revs" may refer to revving motors, but for me it could just as well stand for "reverence." The museum left me in awe.

You must make reservations in advance to visit The Revs, which is open only three days a week. You are handed a map of  "Suggested Gallery Tour Routes" if you choose to walk around yourself rather than with a guide.

And here it is, The Monster Cadillac that took 11th at Le Mans in 1950.
It looks boxy but the shape was proven in a wind tunnel.
You'll find knowledgeable, uniformed docents standing in each gallery, prepared to answer your questions. It's clearly a privilege to visit.

Make your reservations for as early an hour as you can, because the museum closes at 4 p.m. and our three-hour stay was much too short.

Way too short! On leaving I realized I had failed to spend any time examining the museum's self-proclaimed "flagship" car, the 1939 Mercedes W154, one of the Grand Prix Silver Arrows.

You must see The Monster from above to recognize its gentle curves.
I was more excited to see the Briggs Cunningham Cadillacs that showed the French what American horsepower could do, at Le Mans in 1950 (the year of my birth). Car crazy American kids my age know the story.

Cunningham brought two Cadillacs, one looking nearly stock and one dressed in custom aluminum bodywork that looked boxy but had been designed with the help of a wind tunnel. The French dubbed the coupe "Petit Petaud" (Clumsy Puppy) and the aluminum car "Le Monstre" (The Monster).

Both cars looked like sure losers amid the Ferraris and other sports racing cars lined up for the traditional Le Mans start (drivers run to the cars, start them and race off).

The Monster's paint scheme disguises some of its streamlining.
The car looks massive but was narrower than the stock Cadillac.
Only one of the team's four drivers had ever raced at Le Mans before. When driver Sam Collier reached the the Cadillac coupe he found that the door had been locked! Then, on lap two, Cunningham slid The Monster into a sand bank. It took him 20 minutes to dig it out.

Yet the Cadillac coupe went on to finish 10th, only a few miles per hour off the winning pace in the 24-hour race. The Monster came in 11th. As far as American kids my age were concerned, the Caddys were winners.

Custom job though it was, they found room for a Cadillac logo on The Monster.
Read John Lamm's article about the Cadillacs at Le Mans in 1950.

We'll have to return to The Revs, if only to see the Trabant.

Cockpit of The Monster. Central dial was a tachometer topped with
a chart that showed how rpm translated to mph in each gear.
Look at it long enough and it actually gets easy to read.
The Americans adopted the French nickname for the Cadillac coupe.
It translates as "Clumsy Puppy." The Americans were popular at
Le Mans because they kept their sense of humor despite setbacks.

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