The National Automobile Museum is considered one of the 10 best car museums in the USA and features an amazing collection of vehicles from the late 19th century and 20th century. The museum displays over 200 cars, and lots of associated memorabilia.
Most of the vehicles displayed in the museum are from the private collection of magnate William F. Harrah, founder of Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos, so the museum is sometimes referred to as “The Harrah Collection”. The museum opened in 1989.
Mr. Harrah collected approximately 1,450 automobiles during his lifetime — a staggering number when you think about it — which he stored in warehouses around Reno. His was the world’s largest collection of historic automobiles which were open to the public. Holiday Inn acquired his hotel-casino company and automobile collection when Mr. Harrah died in 1978. Holiday Inn announced that it would sell the entire car collection, a decision that received significant opposition in Nevada. Ultimately a nonprofit organization was formed that resulted in the construction of the National Automobile Museum. Holiday Inn generously donated 175 of Harrah’s automobiles to it, while the remainder of the Harrah Collection was sold in the mid-1980s. An additional 60 vehicles were also donated to the National Automobile Museum by private owners.
The museum’s displays are spread over four galleries:
– Gallery 1 features cars built during the 1890s & 1900s
– Gallery 2 features cars from the 1910s to 1930s
– Gallery 3 features cars form the 1930s to 1950s
– Gallery 4 features cars from 1950 onwards
The galleries are linked by themed “streets”, featuring vehicles as well as faux shop fronts from the 1900s, 1930s and 1950s.
The museum has one of the most interesting assortment of vehicles I’ve ever seen, but is especially strong in cars from the early years of automotive history, starting with “horseless carriages”. Cars displayed include those made by Auburn, Bugatti, Cord, Duesenberg, Ferrari, Jaguar, Pierce-Arrow, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, and Stutz vehicles. Additionally, there are a few celebrity-owned cars including by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne. A number of the cars in the museum’s collection have been featured in movies ranging from ‘Rebel without a Cause’ to the ‘Titanic’
Given the number of interesting cars in the collection, this post only offers a sampling of some of my favorites to give you a feel for the museum. I became very interesting in the beautiful hood ornaments and emblems used, especially in the early years of car manufacturing, and hope to explore that theme in subsequent posts on this website.
I understand that not everyone appreciates the craftsmanship and artisan quality of old cars as much as I (and many others) do, but even if you’re not an aficionado, this museum is well worth your time to visit and explore if for no other reason as a look at the role of cars in the past century.
The National Automobile Museum is located just south of the Truckee River in downtown Reno and is open Monday – Saturday from 9:30 – 5:30, Sundays from 10 – 4. Admission is $12 for adults; youths 6 -18 for $6. The Museum’s website has lots of additional information, so please check it out before you visit.
My oldest son and I spent a half day at the museum and felt rushed. If you love old cars, a full day isn’t too much to devote to this interesting place. Highly recommended!
Now for some of my favorites from the collection, arranged by year of issue.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)