Revs Institute for Automotive Research showcases auto excellence

Many of the cars in the museum are displayed without any barriers separating them from visitors.
Many of the cars in the museum are displayed without any barriers separating them from visitors.

The Revs Institute for Automotive Research in Naples, Fla., is an unparalleled automotive collection of more than 100 outstanding, often one-of-a-kind vehicles, several of which are unrestored and nearly priceless. Walking through the four exhibit areas gives the visitor a snapshot of automotive history from 1896 to 1995. In the words of founder Miles C. Collier, “The objects here are a testament to all that’s great in the human mind and spirit.”

Collier is the grandson of Baron Gift Collier. His father, Cowles “Miles” Collier and his uncle, Sam Collier, were early members of the Sports Car Club of America. Sam died while racing a Ferrari in the 1950 Watkins Glen Grand Prix. Miles was given the Sports Vintage Racing Association Driver of the Year Award in 1984 for racing a Porsche Speedster.

The museum was founded in 1986 when Collier acquired the Briggs Cunningham Automotive Museum collection from Briggs Cunningham, Jr. Cunningham was a friend and classmate of Sam and Cowles “Miles” Collier, according to a biography by Phil Allen. Cunningham bought the first Ferrari racing car in 1949 and it is still part of the museum’s collection. In 1950, Cunningham raced two Cadillacs at Le Mans, one a hardtop coupe and one fitted with a handmade, aerodynamic aluminum body that the French quickly dubbed “Le Monstre.” He then designed several iterations of Cunningham racecars, and the museum has the Cadillacs and numerous Cunningham cars in unrestored condition.

One of the museum’s most amazing cars is its 1939 Mercedes-Benz W154 Grand Prix (Silver Arrows) car whose supercharged V-12 engine delivers nearly 500 horsepower.

Collier has long been interested in preservation, which is why so many of the automobiles are in original condition. He formed the Revs Institute in 2009. The name stands for Researching the Evolution of Vehicles in Society, but Revs also connects to the car culture because of rpm, or revolutions per minute. In 2011 it acquired the Karl Ludvigsen library of 7,000 automotive books, 300,000 photographs and hundreds of research files, according to the museum’s brochure, and began an affiliation with Stanford University called the Revs Program to offer an academic focus on the automobile. The Institute also has the complete archive of Road & Track magazine and it preserved and digitized the collection for research.

The Revs Institute is undoubtedly one of the top automotive museums in the world, and a visit is an experience like no other. Almost all of the cars are working models that are periodically driven and sometimes exercised on the track. Collier believes that the vehicles should be experienced without ropes or barriers. A few vehicles are mounted on low stands, but most sit on the floor. It’s astonishing to see some priceless vehicles presented in this fashion, and I noticed that most visitors talked in hushed tones as if they were in a place of worship. Seemed fitting.