Touring the museum

Our arts editor and friends take a tour through the National Automobile Museum

Photo by David Robert

“This thing is bad-ass,” says visitor Paul Walkingstick.

The slick, jet-black vehicle parked inside Gallery 3 of the National Automobile Museum looks as if it could come to life any moment. You almost expect the engine to begin revving menacingly, its headlights glowing and its tires screeching. Even in its idle state, you can feel its ominous presence.

“It’s the original Batmobile,” Paul continues. “It’s a 10 on the cool scale.”

The “bad-ass” vehicle was a 1938 Phantom Corsair, an experimental model coupe designed by Rust Heinz, a member of the H.J. Heinz family. The six-passenger coupe had doors without handles, but they could be opened at the touch of buttons located on the outside and on the instrument panels. And it did look like the type of automobile the Dark Knight would choose to fight crime.

I had invited my husband, Dave, and our friend Paul, a regular visitor to and occasional resident of Reno, out to the National Automobile Museum on a warm Saturday afternoon. They had never visited the museum before, and I wanted to see what they felt it had to offer.

We walked through the museum’s four galleries, each one containing vehicles from a particular era in car making (1890-1913, the teens through the 1920s, and so on), and examined the historical memorabilia that decorated each room. We all saw automobiles that caught our interest, and Dave and Paul were particularly amused by the earliest versions of the automobile, commenting in jest that they looked like they were powered by espresso machines.

Gallery 4 showcased cars from the later half of the 20th century, and this seemed to be the part of the tour they enjoyed the most. Paul said he prefers the cars made during the 1960s, especially the convertibles, the “muscle cars,” the Corvettes and the Camaros made between 1967 and 1969.

“I love that entire era,” he said. “They were actually trying to be futuristic and experimental. During that age of experimentation, they were also going for maximum horsepower, or power in general. And they’re still around, unlike the cars they’re making now that won’t be around in 30 years and aren’t made to be.”

Although Paul said he’s not much of a Porsche fan, he liked the red 1964 Porsche 904 GTS that was on display as part of the Porsche Passion exhibit.

“God, that’s a nice car,” he said of the red racecar. “I’d like to have a Le Mans. I’ll have to work on that.”

After the tour, Dave and Paul agreed that they were impressed by what they saw.

“I never knew it was this cool," Paul said. "I went to the one at Harrah’s Automobile Museum back when it was [near John Ascuaga’s] Nugget, and I thought I saw what they had to offer. But it is displayed a lot better here."