Bill Harrah, the prominent gaming pioneer and founder of Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos, was a huge collector of automobiles. Harrah’s Automobile Collection was the largest and historically significant collection in the world, reaching approximately 1,400 vehicles. After Mr. Harrah’s passing in 1978, Holiday Inn purchased Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos and Harrah’s Automobile Collection in 1980. Holiday Inn announced the plans to sell the collection. Due to public outcry in Nevada and across the nation, Holiday Inn donated 175 cars and the research library to the future National Automobile Museum. In the 1980s, it was the largest corporate philanthropic gift in America. With donations from the City of Reno Redevelopment Agency, the State of Nevada, and many individuals and organizations, the National Automobile Museum opened its doors to the public on November 5, 1989.
In the lobby, there is a 1981 DeLorean LK Sport Coupe. This iconic automobile is known not only for its winged doors, but for its starring role in the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy. Fitting that the National Automobile Museum opened on November 5, which was the same date in 1955 that Doc Brown came up with the idea for the flux capacitor in the movie. The particular car on display is one of two 24-karat gold-plated DeLoreans. It was part of a promotional campaign for American Express “Gold” cardholders, appearing in their December 1979 American Express Christmas catalog for $85,000. A minor dent like a door ding would cost $24,000 to fix in the early 1980s.
The museum is sectioned into four galleries: 1890s to 1910s, 1911 to 1930s, 1930s to 1950s, and 1950s and Beyond. Watch the video to take a look at even more cars.
In Gallery 1 – 1890s to 1910s, here are some cars of interest:
1892 Philion is one of the oldest American-built cars in existence. Achille Philion, a showman, patented his design in 1892. Powered by steam, this carriage was on public display at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. A chauffeur had to sit behind the boiler to oil and maintain the steam. Steering could be controlled from the front or the rear of the carriage. This baby could top speeds of 8 mph.
1908 Franklin “G” Brougham was developed as an all-weather car for city driving. Improvements in the engine to a new concentric valve and dome-head cylinders allowed for an increased 16 hp. The short wheelbase eased control for heavy city traffic of the early 1900s. Features of this car included acetylene gas lights lit by the driver with a match and wicked oil lamp lights that were also lit by a match, but were also removable to use to illuminate your way to the house or office.
1910 Franklin “D” Touring was a car made for passenger comfort and long drives so the car needed to be light and flexible. To do this, laminated ash frame, aluminum body panels, full elliptic springs, and a light air-cooled engine were used. This new fan cooling system and spark advance lever, which eliminated the use of an automatic magneto regulator, were improvements from the prior models.
In Gallery 2 – 1911 to 1930s, here are some cars of interest:
1912 Rambler 73-4CC Cross Country, priced at $1,550, had a 4-cylinder engine with 38 hp. This particular Rambler 73-4CC Cross Country can be seen in the movie “Titanic”. It was used during the scene when Rose and her family arrived at the Titanic with their luggage. The Jeffrey’s Rambler was one of the world’s second mass-produced cars in 1902. It was produced a year after Oldsmobile and a year ahead of Ford.
1912 Baker “V” Special Extension Coupe was made by the Baker Motor Vehicle Company, a manufacturer of electric automobiles. Introduced at the 1900 National Automobile Show, it attracted a lot of attention for its exterior appearance and lightweight construction. It was best suited for city driving since it needed to be recharged every 50 miles. It was popular with women due to its silent operation and ease of starting and driving. This particular Baker was donated to the Museum by Andy Griffith, movie and television star of shows like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock”.
1921 Ford T Kampkar was a car before it’s time, 50 years before the first RV. The car featured seats for six adults, sleeping room for four, a folding table, two-burner stove, 8-gallon water supply, stowage space for blankets, clothing, and food in several lockers, and cooking and eating utensils in the small trunk. This particular body style was engineered by Samuel Lambert of Lambert Pharmaceutical Company (makers of Listerine Mouth Wash).
1922 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Boat Tail Speedster shows the sky was the limit when a customer wanted a unique look. The body could be constructed with any suitable material like aluminum, steel, German silver, wood, wicker, papier-mâché, and even fabric. This particular car was assembled with full sheets of solid copper, .065” thick, to avoid welded seams and rivets on the body and fenders. Restored by Tom Batchelor and friends of Reno, NV, it is outfitted with a 454-cubic inch, 6-cylinder engine.
Gallery 3 – 1930s to 1950s
1956 Mercedes-Benz Type 300 SL (Sport-Light) Sports Coupe was built by Daimler-Benz in Stuttgart, Germany. Priced at $7,395, it came with a fuel injected, 6-cylinder engine with 240 hp. After a ten year hiatus from sports cars, this 1953 300 SL had a light frame but very stiff lattice structure of thin welded steel tubing. The outer body was very light since the lattice structure bore all of the stress. The engine was developed from the 300 S model and mounted at an angle to provide better driver view. It was first tested at 1953 sports car races and went on to win the Swiss Grand Prix, 24-hour Le Mans, German Grand Prix, and 3rd Carrera Pan-Americana in Mexico. It went into production in 1954 and included improvements resulting from the racing experience. The 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gull Wing Sports Couple (displayed at museum) has a 6-cylinder OHC fuel-injected engine outputting 240 HP, top speed of 146. Custom fitted luggage was included with the car. This particular car entered 1959 Bonneville Salt Flats Class D speed trials and set a new record at 143.769 mph. Production ceased after 1957 and it was replaced by the 300 SL Roadster model.
This museum is a must-see whether you are a gearhead or not. It is one of the only places where you can see history in the making all under one roof right before your eyes.
For more information:
National Automobile Museum
10 S. Lake St.
Reno, NV 89501
Parking: Free parking in lot
Hours: Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors (62+), $4 for juniors (6-18), Children 5 and under are FREE