Today’s Nice Price or Crack Pipe Centaur was once part of Bill Harrah’s renowned Reno car collection. Could that, and its remarkable weirdness, make it easily worth its asking?
Upon reflection, I think the most amazing aspect of last Friday’s odd bodkin M52-powered 2005 Subaru WRX was the consideration of which group it would piss off more—those who are bully on Bimmers, or the WRX wonks. It’s a question for the ages.
Not quite so perturbing was the consideration of that Frankencar’s price. At $15,000 it was obviously cheaper than what its replication would demand, but considering the vitriol spilled over that one’s mere existence, why would anyone want to make another? In the end, the BMWRX bombed in a 72 percent Crack Pipe loss.
In Greek myth, a Centaur was an odd creature. Half man and three-quarters horse, they supposedly lived in the wild forests of Thessaly and in Greek legend were representative of uncultured barbarians unencumbered by the laws and mores of polite society.
Bill Harrah was an individual who also skirted the laws. Harrah grew up in Southern California, and upon graduation from college at UCLA, began working at the family’s various businesses. A few of those businesses, like their bingo parlor, employed games of chance. Gambling was illegal in California, and the ‘Reno Game’ as their game of chance was called was shut down by the Man on more than one occasion.
Harrah claimed the pressure put upon him to keep the cops at bay and the politicians happy wore him out and so he pack up and moved to a more conducive clime in Reno, Nevada, where gambling was allowed. There the business flourished and Harrah made millions.
A lot of that money went into Bill Harrah’s other passion, which was car collecting. At the time of his death in 1978 he had amassed what is generally considered to be the world’s largest individual collection, totaling around 1,470 vehicles. Jay Leno is constantly trying to outdo that number, but still has a ways to go.
When Harrah died, the collection was sold to the Holiday Inn Corporation, as part of the hotel and casino concern. Despite having started out in the ‘Motor Lodge’ industry, Holiday Inn really didn’t have any interest in maintaining a massive car collection and quickly announced plans to sell off every single car and truck. Those included Elvis Presley’s 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, The JFK Continental, and Bill Harrah’s own Ferrari-powered Jeep Wagoneer, the Jerrari.
One of the cars sold during the dismantling of Harrah’s collection was this 1968 Centaur, a specially-built two-seat sports car apparently constructed on a Corvair frame and sporting a two-carb flat six from Chevy’s iconic rear-engine marque.
Now, a bit of history here: I visited the Harrah Collection when I was a kid and while I did see the Chrysler Turbine car being moved from one building to another under its own power (a sound you never forget), I don’t recall the Centaur having been on display. If I had, being a dumb as a rock kid, I probably would have mistaken it for a Ford GT40, a sports racer the Centaur’s creators were obviously attempting to emulate.
There’s a lot of GT40 in this design, however the details are all a bit wonky. The windshield is much flatter than in the Ford, likely the result of it being a Corvair piece rather than something bespoke. The nose is obviously much longer too, and sports a pair of seven-inch sealed beams in sugar scoops rather than the Ford’s Perspex-covered rectangular units.
The back end is a bit mores successful, however the louvered cover over the transaxle looks like it was pulled from the neighbor’s A/C unit. The Moon disc capped wheels also sit in a bit too far under the bodywork for comfort.
The interior looks to be complete and in pretty nice shape. A pair of deeply dished buckets face a leather (or vinyl) clad dash upon which has been fitted a set of Stewart Warner gauges. A modern and nastily yellow head unit mars the center console, but that’s an easy fix.
The seller says he obtained the car in 1989 and has since then rebuilt the engine, brakes, and fuel system. The car is noted to be a ‘prototype’ and not a kit car, and is offered with a clear title in Pasadena, California, amazingly just three miles from Harrah’s original home town of South Pasadena. I should note that it’s also remarkably close to me, and it’s taking all of my will not to risk divorce by buying this amazing if only trivially historic car.
The question for you is, should I? After all, the asking is $6,500 and that’s a lot of cheddar I don’t necessarily have. The car comes with its Harrah Collection certification and is obvioulsy something that would drop jaws at any Cars & Coffee meet-up. Would that $6,500 however, be too much to drop?
H/T to Robert Crawford for the hookup!
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