by Johnny Miles
“What can you say about a given car in one minute?” – For Ralph Stoesser, an 18-year docent at The Revs Institute, this is the fundamental challenge in leading a tour of the museum. Within 120 minutes, a docent must cover not only the 115 cars that reside at the museum, but also how those vehicles advanced technology, transformed 20th century society, and changed the history of motorsport. A quick glance at The Revs Institute’s expansive library stacks, where one can find a whole book devoted solely to the particular Cunningham C-4RK on display a few yards away, effectively illustrates how much knowledge has been culled to create the two-hour tour.
Out of a desire to delve deeper, three docents, Ralph Stoesser, John Fritz and Maddy Cardinale, have devoted over a thousand collective hours to researching and writing two brand-new ‘Immersion Tours’ that will be offered at The Revs Institute for the first time this month. One focuses on the first 25 years of Porsche, the other on Design & Styling. If the normal docent tour is a survey class in automotive history, the immersion tours are graduate level courses in a specialty field.
Porsche is a natural area of focus for The Revs Institute. Housed within its walls are the Miles Collier Collections, which include the most complete and historically significant private collection of early Porsches in the world. Stoesser points out that The Revs Institute offers a better immersion into Porsche’s first 25-year history than even the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, as the factory rotates their collection of early cars on display. Only in Naples can you start at the very first purpose-built Porsche race-car and in one room see every type of important Porsche race car through the 1971 917K.
For Fritz and Stoesser, Porsche’s tagline “There is No Substitute” is not a marketing slogan, it is a fact of life. They are particularly excited about their Porsche tour because they see at as a potentially valuable resource for the Porsche community. In their long tenure as docents at the museum, they’ve observed that the majority of museum visitors are less and less interested in the highly technical aspects of the vehicles on display. As a result, the standard docent tour has evolved to focus more on stories of the cars. However, with their new Immersion Tour, Fritz and Stoesser will be able to better cater to the rabid Porsche enthusiasts like themselves. If you relish learning (or perhaps already know) that an early Fuhrmann 4-Cam Porsche motor has a crankshaft comprised of 327 pieces, then this is the tour for you!
Mike Grebing, the manager of the museum’s maintenance and restoration facility, even went through each Porsche with the docent team to provide them with a deeper level of understanding about how and why these cars were built the way they were. For example, if you haven’t wrenched on a 906 yourself, you’d be unlikely to know that they don’t have drain plugs, on their dry-sumped oil tanks. This is not because they don’t need any oil changes, but rather because the engineers simply assumed that anyone running these cars would simply rebuild the engine, with fresh oil included, after each race.
While Fritz and Stoesser have spent a tremendous amount of time ensuring that the accuracy of every one of their talking points, even down to the correct pronunciation of Ferdinand Piëch’s last name (Pee ehh kha), Maddy Cardinale joked with them that her task is far more difficult. While they are presenting facts, Cardinale’s Design and Styling Tour is rooted in her subjective assessment of aesthetics, and she remarked that “it is very difficult to sell your opinion.”
Cardinale’s expertise in the field comes from a lifetime of personal appreciation for and study of great design. Like a true art critic, she confidently explains that “my eye is my best guide. I can’t double think it.” To write the tour, Cardinale also spent months and hundreds of hours researching the history of design, along with the specific designers and coachbuilders responsible for the works of automotive sculpture on display at the museum. In her two hour tour, Cardinale presents twenty vehicles as individual case studies in effective design and then weaves them all together to convey the larger history of automotive styling and design.
Some cars are obvious candidates for inclusion in the tour, most notably the 1938 Figoni et Falaschi Delahaye that the docents all agree is the most “stop-you-in-your-tracks” vehicle in the collection. However, Cardinale has made sure to include other cars like the 1939 James Young Bentley 4 1/4 Litre, that reveal their mastery only upon closer examination.
While it’s hard to choose a favorite, she always returns to the McLaren F1. She is particularly excited to share with her audience the many insights she gleaned from an in-depth discussion with Peter Stevens, the designer of the F1, at a recent Symposium at The Revs Institute.
While the Immersion Tours might seem to be of interest only to those with the same niche interest, Cardinale has made a specific point of designing her tour to appeal to non-car enthusiasts as well. Indeed, her passion for the subject is infectious.
If you come to The Revs Institute and take one of the Immersion Tours, you’ll be lead through the collection by the very same docents who researched and created the tours. While it would have been easy for them to draft up a list of talking points for anyone to deliver, this would have gone against Ralph Stoesser’s unofficial mantra for the docents, which is “no canned speeches.” It is for this same reason that the museum does not offer any pre-recorded audio-tours. While they don’t explicitly describe themselves as such, the docents at The Revs Institute are teachers, and they have an innate understanding that the most effective teaching and learning takes place face to face.
Even if you’re not a devoted Porsche anorak or passionate about design, we hope you’ll sign up for an Immersion Tour anyway, as the best teachers, not the most appealing subjects, usually make for the most memorable educational experiences.
The Design & Styling Immersion Tours are currently scheduled for the last Tuesday of every month, and the Porsche Immersion Tours are scheduled for the last Thursday of every month. Tickets for both Immersion Tours are available here: https://54944.blackbaudhosting.com/54944/sslpage.aspx?pid=196