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Showcasing Cars That Inspired And Transformed History At The National Mobile Museum.

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Setting Records & Standards: National Automobile Museum

Housing Historically Significant Vehicles By Bill Harrah's Collection That Broke Records, Set Standards, And Inspired

1938 Phantom Corsair [Courtesy/National Mobile Museum]

Selected one of the ten best transportation museums in the United States in the USA Today 10 Best Readers' Choice 2016 competition, the National Automobile Museum in Nevada boasts an immersive, unique experience through time, as illustrated by the 200 historic cars on display in the 10,000 square foot building.

Visitors meander through pathways – viewing the cars at all different angles - that bring them through four different time periods. View automobiles from the late 1800s, with the sounds of a blacksmith tinkering wafting through the air. Another street picks up in the 1930s, with a laid back Hollywood vibe. It's like stepping back in time, walking along boardwalks and cobblestones. Hear sirens and other modern sounds in the present-day displays. The museum breaks the mold, the stereotypes of a car museum.

But it's the cars on display that truly makes the museum something special, something everyone has to see at least once in their lifetime. These are historically significant vehicles that broke records, that set standards, that inspired... They are all from Bill Harrah's collection – the founder of Harrah's Hotels & Casinos, a man with the means to indulge in the finest cars in the world. A renowned collector.

When people think of a car collector, the think of sports cars, muscle cars, maybe cars featured in films... Harrah's collection was different. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the collection is priceless. The stories and historical importance of each vehicle highlight man's creativity and innovation. It's an adventure ranging from 1892 through the late 1970s.

One of the most historically significant American-built automobiles is – no surprise – on display at the National Automobile Museum: The 1907 Thomas Flyer, the car that won the 1908 New York to Paris Race. It was a 22,000 mile race around the world that took 169 days. The Thomas Flyer was the only American car entered. The feat was so remarkable, the car has recently been archived in the Library Of Congress.

Guests Gather Around The Vintage Cars [Courtesy/National Mobile Museum]
Father And Son Listen To History [Courtesy/National Mobile Museum]

“At the time, European auto manufacturers were way ahead of us in engineering,” said President & Executive Director Jackie Frady. “The American auto industry was very young at the time. But the Thomas Flyer proved that American cars were powerful, strong and very capable. It proved that cars in general could be used as year-round transportation and were reliable for long distance travel. It made a real mark on the industry and proved that cars were here to stay.”

While the Thomas Flyer wasn't necessarily known for speed, it was its endurance that truly made it extremely impressive. It was mechanically sound enough to make the long trip, including traveling off-road, through deserts, up mountains...

That's not to say that the museum isn't full of fast cars. Another famous vehicle in Harrah's collection was the Dymaxium, designed in 1934 by Buckminister Fuller. The three-wheeled car was “way ahead of its time,” noted Frady, able to go up to 120 miles per hour. It was Fuller's idea of what a car of the future should be, designed for increased fuel efficiency and top speed. Only three were built, and the museum has the only one that's still in existence.

“You're seeing cars that may only have one build, unique designs,” said Frady. “You're seeing beautiful works of art, worth millions of dollars. You're seeing cars that made historical marks. You're seeing history, marked by cars, by invention. It's a remarkable collection, including the 1892 Philion, America's oldest known automobile.”

Having spent almost 20 years at the National Automobile Museum, Frady has definitely grown attached to the collection. And while she loves all of the cars in the museum, there are definitely some that stand out to her, including the 1938 Phantom Corsair, a prototype automobile designed by Rust Heinz.

1907 Thomas Flyer, Winner Of  The 1908 New York To Paris Auto Race [Courtesy/National Mobile Museum]

“It's so ahead of its time,” she gushed. “It doesn't have door handles. You actually open the doors with hidden buttons. It's sleek and low and long. It almost looks sinister. But it's sexy at the same time Some people have recalled to it to a car that Darth Vader would drive. It's the ultimate in design.”

Frady has been involved with the museum since the idea of forming a museum began in the 80s. It opened in 1989 and she became the director in 1992. She had been working in finance and administration at Harrah's Corporation at the time when talk started of opening an automobile collection, of creating a non-profit.

The collection had grown very important to her and being able to raise money to save, preserve and share the collection was a dream come true for her.

What had made Frady so passionate about the collection she'd seen was her interest and appreciation for cars, which started during her childhood in Southern California.

“I grew up during a time of true car culture,” she recalled. “Your car was your identity. Cars were cool. Muscle cars were fast and hot. I had the appreciation from that standpoint. But I had never seen anything like his collection. To work around such magnificent pieces is an exceptional experience.”

Recognized as one of the finest car museums in the United States, a trip to the National Automobile Museum is “a trip worth taking,” said Frady, “and an experience worth having.” Guests can explore the museum at their own pace, studying each car and imagining not only how it feels to be behind the wheel of some of these one of a kind vehicles, but explore the story behind the car itself.


Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

William Kent Campground

Make Sure To Stay At:

William Kent Campground, conveniently located on Lake Tahoe's west shore, a few miles south of Tahoe City. It straddles the highway and features not only a large area in which to camp, but also a day-use area that is popular among visitors.

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