Automotive Treasures Selections from the Joel E. Finn Collection


Automotive Treasures: Selections from the Joel E. Finn Collection is a temporary exhibit at the Revs Institute. The Joel E. Finn Collection of Art and Automobilia consists of objects and artifacts that come from or represent major events in motor racing history between 1899-2000. The overall collection contains blueprints, correspondence, documents, entry lists, photographs, posters, race programs, and trophies.

The current selections on display include significant pennants and race posters, some of Finn's favorite items, and several photographs that show the breadth of the collection. The selected items encompass a variety of subjects ranging from historic Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) maps, lap charts, and trophies to the illustrious Vanderbilt Cup Race photographs, posters, and an official race program. Other highlights of the exhibition are period automotive advertisements and international race and auto show posters.

These historically significant art pieces and automobilia demonstrate the automobile's enduring impact on art and society. During the first half of the 20th century, automobiles were changing the social landscape, urban infrastructure, leisure activities, and created a new sphere of competitive racing.

Highlights of the Exhibition

The following video showcases the temporary exhibit Automotive Treasures: Selections from the Joel E. Finn Collection at the Revs Institute.

Joel E. Finn

Joel E. Finn (1938—2017) was an award-winning author, race-car driver, and a noted motor racing and auto historian. His love of cars began when he acquired a Model T at the age of ten and continued throughout his lifetime.

Finn raced for 55 consecutive years at Watkins Glen and on many other tracks across the United States and Europe, achieving great success in Cooper, Chevron, and Lotus cars. He was known for tracking down, acquiring, researching, restoring, and even racing the legendary Mercedes W-154 and the Maserati 8CTF.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Finn wrote numerous highly-regarded books on Ferraris, Maseratis, and 20th century American road racing. His book Caribbean Capers: The Cuban Grand Prix Road Races of 1957, 1958, and 1960 won the prestigious Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot Award for Outstanding Book of 2011 from the Society of Automotive Historians. He also served as the President of the Harrah Auto Collection, now the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada, as it transitioned into a public museum.

Finn was one of the country’s leading auto historians; his work and collection has enabled auto connoisseurs, historians, and future collectors to research and understand the significance of the automobile.

“The automobile has been the subject of sporting interest from its inception with the car’s speed…being the focus of greatest interest and the prime measure of its quality.” - Joel E. Finn, American Road Racing the 1930s

The World of Racing

“Since the invention of the wheel, man has never ceased to try and go faster than the other fellow.” - Keith Ayling, Gas, Guts and Glory

The first true motoring competition was on July 22, 1894 when 21 cars raced from Porte Maillot in Paris to Rouen, 80 miles away.

These types of early competitions would come to inspire road races like the Targa Florio in Sicily, endurance races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and circuit racing like the Grand Prix in Belgium. Racing is not only a European movement, as it crosses continents and oceans.

There have been grand prix in Cuba and Peru; Formula 1 racing in China, Japan, and Australia; and rally style racing in Africa. Influenced by regional and local cultures, racing and motorsports are a global phenomenon.

The Cuban Grand Prix would only be held three times: in 1957, 1958, and 1960. Many of history’s prominent drivers participated such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Masten Gregory, Phil Hill, Stirling Moss, and Carroll Shelby. The races were plagued with accidents and political unrest that would ultimately put an end to the international race.

The Targa Florio road race was held annually from 1906-1973 on the winding mountain roads of Sicily near Palermo. After several crashes, two of which were fatal, the race was discontinued.

Testing the Limits

Automobiles allowed drivers to take part in a new form of competitive racing. Races such as the Indianapolis 500, Monaco Grand Prix, and New York to Paris race tested the limits of drivers and their cars.

Auto Advertising

As the automobile became more significant to everyday life, so too did the advertising and marketing for all things auto. In addition to ads for specific cars, there are ads for auto businesses, events, and parts.

In the early 1900s when automobiles were still new to the public, auto advertisements focused on utility and capability. As marketing strategies evolved, advertisers sought to influence and shape public perceptions. Ads were influenced by artistic trends, public happenings, and celebrities. Advertisements can now serve as a reflection of historical events, public attitudes, and consumer demand.

"The automobile tells who we are and what we think we want to be... It is a portable symbol of our personality and our position..." - Pierre Martineau, Director of Research at the Chicago Tribune, 1957

The history of the auto show stretches from the early 20th century to today. Auto shows allow a variety of car manufacturers to introduce new car models, inventive design, and innovative technology to the public, auto journalists, and car enthusiasts.

William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. Cup Race

The first major international automobile race in the U.S. was the William K. Vanderbilt Jr. Cup Race in 1904. William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. created the race to inspire innovation within the U.S. auto industry.

Even with negative publicity and resistance, large crowds attended the 1904 race on Long Island. Drivers were immediately concerned about unruly crowds on the public roads, and in 1906 a spectator was killed.

Conflict soon arose between two race-sanctioning bodies, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the Automobile Club of America (ACA). In 1908 and 1909, the Vanderbilt Cup struggled as European teams were lured to the ACA's race in Savannah, Georgia leaving stock cars to race on Long Island.

In 1910 crowds returned, but the race was plagued with injuries and death. The Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island was over, until its brief revival in the 1930s.

Vanderbilt Cup Race

The first international road race in the U.S. was the William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. Cup Race. Held on Long Island, NY from 1904-1910, it inspired innovation and development for automobiles and highways.

Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA)

ARCA was founded in 1933 by Barron Jr., Sam, and C. Miles Collier along with their friends Thomas Dewart, Allen and Langdon Quimby, George Rand, and Briggs Cunningham.

In 1929, the group began racing on the roads at the Collier estate, Overlook, in New York. In 1930-1931 the group began calling itself the Overlook Automobile Racing Club (OARC). In 1933, Sam and Miles Collier raced in the Alpine Trial, inspiring them to bring the European style of road racing to the U.S. To be successful the OARC changed its name to ARCA.

The following years brought ARCA great success, and on October 6, 1940 ARCA held the legendary World's Fair Grand Prix. Largely due to World War II, this was ARCA's final race. Reinventing the sport, ARCA revived amateur road racing in the U.S.


The Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) founded in 1933 by C. Miles and Sam Collier, with Thomas Dewart, revived road racing in the U.S. after World War I. ARCA held its last event on October 6, 1940.

Indianapolis 500

The Indianapolis "Indy" 500 is one of the world’s most famous motor racing competitions. It is part of the unofficial Triple Crown of Motorsport along with the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix.

Carl Fisher built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a testing facility for car manufacturers. After its completion in 1909, the first auto race was held. The track's surface of crushed rock and tar was less than ideal and brought the race to an early end.

Fisher resurfaced the 2.5-mile oval track with street-paving bricks and 5 months later the inaugural Indy 500 took place on May 30, 1911.

The 1911 Indy 500 was a milestone in motorsports history and for over 100 years it has been a story of innovation, bravery, triumph and tragedy. It inspired a unique style of racing and has pushed manufacturers to their engineering and design limits.

Indianapolis 500

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909 as an auto testing facility. In 1911, the inaugural Indianapolis 500 was held on the 2.5-mile brick track known to fans as “The Brickyard.”

The Auto Effect

Since their creation, automobiles have had an enduring impact on society. They have changed the way people live, travel, work, and play. What would your life be like without a car?

The Winner’s Circle

“Over all these years, I have had the opportunity to meet many winners in many fields…and it is only those who have won with integrity and care…who have become universally regarded as successful.” - Sir Jackie Stewart

Tin Toys

In the mid-1800s, tin toys first appeared in the United States and soon spread to Europe. These early toys were hand-painted, and by the 1890s lithography allowed for more complicated designs.

The Impact of the Auto

As automobiles became more widespread in society, auto themed accessories also gained popularity. In addition, new auto parts, oils, and innovative automotive themed inventions were created.

With Gratitude

The Revs Institute would like to thank Mrs. Ann Finn for her instrumental assistance in acquiring the Joel E. Finn Collection of Art and Automobilia. Without her dedicated efforts this exhibition would not have been possible.

The exhibition is dedicated to Mrs. Ann Finn and in memory of Mr. Joel E. Finn.