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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Going, going, gone! The oral history of the most monumental classic car sale of all time (Part I) | Hagerty Media

Note: This is the first story in a multi-part series running on Hagerty Insider . Sign up for the Insider newsletter to get a deep dive into the collector car market every Sunday.] For serious collectors of vintage cars, the calendar is filled with top-flight auctions, many of which could vie for the title of most important.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/harrahs-oral-history-classic-car-sale-part-i/
27 REPLIES 27
Flashman
Instructor

"Summers Brothers" or Smothers Brothers?
OldCarMan
Advanced Driver

Smothers Brothers were a big deal back in the day. Google and Wikipedia it.
Corkola
Intermediate Driver

I was lucky enough to see this collection before it was sold off. It was very impressive, a little of everything and a lot of very nice things from his personal Ferrari TdF to a Ford Trimotor to the classic yacht Thunderbird.
RJMatt
Intermediate Driver

I also saw the collection, both old and "new". I loved going through the old museum, but just didn't have the time to see even a part of what was there.
OldCarMan
Advanced Driver

No mention was made of the annual swap meet there. My boss had a chrome shop destroy his 4 knockoffs from a 1928 Lebaron-bodied Imperial. He was able to find another set there.
Iso_Grifo
Advanced Driver

So his collection had ten times the cars as Jay Leno's and he had 125 people working on it. That's just really hard to imagine as being real! Good article.
Tim
Instructor

I'm glad I had a chance to see at least some of the cars before the collection was dismantled. I'm not sure what portion it was, but it was hundreds. It was almost car overload.
rpatston
Pit Crew

When I was a kid, My grandfather was friend with Bill Harrah. My grandparents lived in Sparks Nevada and my siblings and I visited regularly. We always went to Bill's car collection, and several times getting a personal guided tour by Mr. Harrah himself. He was such a nice man, and would encourage me (I was the most enthusiastic car kid) to duck under the ropes and sit in these cars in the collection. My fondest memory of those visits was getting in and out of every one of the Ford GT40's in the collection! I grew up the days of CAN-AM racing, Laguna Seca and the west coast racing scene so the GT40's were like a light and I a moth!!! Someday I need to dig all those pictures out, what great memories!!!!
Iso_Grifo
Advanced Driver

I'd like to see an article on the opposite of Mr. Harrah's loving care-taking of his massive fleet of collector cars. How about one on the fate of all those cars collected by somebody like the Sultan of Brunei (or somebody like him) where there's acres of classic and unique exotic cars left to bake and deteriorate in the desert, lost to the world forever -- maybe.
LMK
New Driver

It'll be difficult and sad to see but very interesting...
gfviperman
Intermediate Driver

Was also lucky enough to view this collection in Sparks. Mind boggling!!!
So many Pierce Arrows in a row made them look ordinary.

The Bugatti Royale was the king!!!
avideo
Intermediate Driver

One more thing about Bill Harrah. He always treated his suppliers and employees just great. My parents owned an office supply wholesale company; and were suppliers to most of Bill's casinos.
I clearly remember an early winter weekend when our family stayed in a Junior suite at the Lake Tahoe casino; and got a front row table to see Sammy Davis Jr do a show in the South Shore Room. All courtesy of Bill Harrah and his management team!
Also back then - the early 1960s - my brother and I were also collecting silver dollars - which they still used in the old slot machines. We would pool our money and get a $100.00 bag of silver dollars from the casino cashier's cage - and cherry pick the ones we wanted. Often going through several bags before we ran out of money to buy more.

LMK
New Driver

I really found this story extremely interesting and am looking forward to Part 2..
Musco03
Pit Crew

I guess I can join the club of people who were lucky enough to see the collection.
On a Road trip we stopped by the collection and had no idea of its SIZE and like others have posted, just overwhelming! Especially the collection of Fords. Great memories.
Jeff2
New Driver

During the summer of 1972 or 73 my wife worked at the collection. I would pick her up after work and toured the museum several times. On occasion I would run into Mr. Harrah. It was so sad to see the most wonderful collection in the world dismantled. The Duesenberg's were fantastic, the level of detail they went to in the restoration process was very interesting. I taught school at the time in Kansas. We would go to Reno for the summer because my sister lived there and work for the summer. My sister worked for in the offices for Harrah's.
OHCOddball
Intermediate Driver

Goes to show you that everyone needs to have a PLAN. Everyone thinks they have more time than they do.
mwmyers91
Detailer

mind blowing in so many ways, sounds like it should be a movie with all the cars, wives, and money.
Zephyr
Advanced Driver

What I remember most about touring the collection is walking into a gigantic building with cars seemingly stretching to the horizon, spending hours looking at them, and at the end having a guide say "now, in the SECOND building we have..." .
roadio55
Intermediate Driver

I grew up aware of the Harrah collection, but it was gone before I ever made it to Las Vegas. I always wondered how it just disappeared. Thank you!
farna
Detailer

I never got to see the Harrah's collection. There was a relatively large collection at The Imperial Palace back in the early 80s when I was sent to Las Vegas for some training (USAF) though. I did get to see that. They still had a few cars at the IP in Biloxi when I was stationed at Gulfport CB Base (as an instructor -- combined services school for construction, CBs ran it), but were in the process of selling that collection off too. Just a few cars in the lobby in Biloxi around 2000. They had about 200 cars on rotating display in the early 80s and 90s out of a collection of around 1000 cars, closed in 2017 with only 65 or so cars (as a classic car dealer, not really a museum -- everything displayed was for sale).
bv135
New Driver

I first met Bill in about 1950, after one of the Horseless Carriage Tours around Lake Tahoe that he used to put on. He got along real well with my step father who was an avid Pierce restorer. I remember when we rode to tour his museum in his 49 or 50 Merc Woody that he put a Hemi in. Smoked the tires all the way to the airport. Got to meet Ed Cattlett and Bob Giroux that were his restorers back then. After that it was off to his home on So.Virginia St with his wife Sherri. He asked what I like doing, besides pollishing the brass on our Pierce, I said I collect coins. About an hour later doorbell rings and Bill had them send over a 1888 Carson City silver dollar which he gave to me. Years later after my step Father died he sent a big semi down to our home in san Carlos and purchased our 1910 Simplex, 1914 Pierce Roadster, aChrysler Thunder Bolt and an 05 Autocar. He was a fine gentleman and he even hired my brother after coming out of the service to work in the Lake Tahoe Hotel. I still have 2 slot machines he gave me along with the Silver Dollar and all the great memories.

tigercat
Intermediate Driver

What a great man who through his entrepreneurialism and financial success did for the automobile what even as a gearhead I think was fanatical. This guy would have been more at home spending his days with Jay Leno and Tim Allen while someone else ran his enterprises. Wish I could have met him but he died a few years before I had enough money to get into real hot rodding / road racing and ran the same roads. People thought I drove too crazy fast but I bet Mr. Harrah would have appreciated and loved the competition.
birkinsuper7
New Driver

During the summer, I worked at the Rumford Press in Concord NH in 1961. They published dozens of different magazines including the Atlantic Magazine. In that magazine, I read an article about the Harrah Collection and William Harrah. That article was the genesis of one of my lifelong "bucket items" list: to see that collection in Nevada someday. Between 1961 and 1965, I floundered aimlessly with college, joined the Army Reserves because the draft was breathing down my skinny neck, and then worked various jobs including burying telephone lines, inspecting asphalt paving, finance company collection, retail sales, and finally back to Rumford Press. In 1965, finally landed a job at a company where I aimlessly migrated into computer programming, got married, successfully competed in SCCA TSD rallying, got divorced, changed companies a few times until I landed at Digital Equipment Corporation in 1974. In 1976, I had just sold my house, finished a huge project at work, had six weeks vacation/compensatory time, and had secured a new position at work. I planned a six week solo motorcycle trip that would check off some bucket list items including visiting the Harrah Collection at Sparks and visiting all the lower 48 states. 5/15/1976 I departed on my nearly new Honda 400F and returned tired and fulfilled covering 12,000+ miles my Memorial Day.

I have visited more than fifty car/motorcycle museums and the only two that came close in it scale and grandeur were the Barber in Leeds AL and J B Nethercutt Collection in Selma CA.
Bigmorris
New Driver

I visited the museum several times in the early 70s. After the first visit I learned that I couldn't look at each automobile. After the second visit I learned how to run through a museum and stop only at the best of the best.
I remember telling my mother to "come over here and see what $1,000,000 worth of cars looks like". I was referring to to a row of 11 Duesenbergs. I also saw 26 Duesenbergs at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas.
Maestro1
Instructor

I had the priviledge of seeing the collection. I was flown in from Northern California and spent two days viewing the cars (not enough time!) I won 't forget it. I did not meet Bill Harrah. Thank you for this. And the memories............
RJA
New Driver

I grew up in Reno and whenever we had company, a visit to the Harrah's auto collection was normally on the to-do-list. Needless to say we visited numerous times and each time I was in awe of not just the collection itself but also with the many specialized restoration workshops right there on the premises. The paint, body, upholstery, fabrication, etc. areas were all part of the tour. You saw vehicles in various stages of restoration from the time they were acquired until they were put on the display floor fully restored. I remember, as a US Forest Service employee, our daily commute from Reno to the fire lookout station in Dog Valley and seeing Harrah's performance cars out for their weekly cruise pass us at a very high rate of speed (at the time Nevada didn't have speed limits) - very impressive. I believe the Harrah's collection is what started my appreciation for vintage, classic, antique and performance cars. My thanks to Haggerty for this article - it brought back many fond memories and I look forward to the next article in the series.
JSievers
Detailer

I got to see the old collection and it was overwhelming. There was building after building filled with hundreds of cars. There might be five or more versions of any given vehicle ranging from totally dilapidated to concours quality. The number of rare and one of a kind cars was amazing, and many of those wound up in the National Automobile Museum. The world will never see anything like the Harrah collection again, and I feel privileged to have seen it.