Nestled on the bank of the Truckee River in Reno, Nevada, the National Automobile Museum has a view of Harrah’s Reno Hotel and Casino just on the other side. The high-rise casino hotel is a mark of Bill Harrah’s success as a prominent gaming and hotel pioneer while the museum is comprised largely of cars from his once-massive collection and illustrate the impact of the automobile on American society.
Harrah collected the largest and most historically significant collection of vintage, classic and special interest vehicles, race cars and horseless carriages. At its peak, the collection included approximately 1,400 vehicles.
Holiday Inns purchased Harrahs hotels, casinos and car collection in 1980, shortly after Harrah’s death in 1978. There was a tremendous outcry from the car community and the public that the collection would be broken up and sold, so Holiday Inns donated 175 key cars to the would-be museum. The remainder were sold at three huge auctions.
Today, the museum takes visitors on a journey through time with authentic street scenes dating to the turn-of-the-20th century and guiding visitors through the permanent collection of 200 cars.
Among the cars displayed is a 1892 Panhard & Levassor Voiturette, 1917 Monroe M-3 roadster, 1938 Phantom Corsair Experimental six-passenger, a 1955 Ford Thunderbird, and celebrity cars like the 1949 Mercury James Dean drove in Rebel Without a Cause.
The museum also features the 1907 Thomas Flyer that won the 1908 New York to Paris auto race and recently was included in the National Historic Vehicle Register.
Sprinkled within the cars and galleries are early automobile advertising signs, car badges, emblems, as well as gas pumps and vintage clothing. The clothing collection features several gowns from the late 1800s and early 1900s, hatpins, hats, jewelry, evening bags and pouches.
In addition to viewing the collection, the museum encourages guests to interact with galleries by honking the antique “ooga” horn, or by putting on a period hat and coat to pose for a photo with an antique car. Other interactive displays include an engine essentially cut in half, allowing visitors to see how the internal components of an engine work together and move.
The museum is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas days, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with exception to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum suggests two hours to see everything and same-day re-entry is allowed.
Photos by Nicole James