The Shelby Museum: A Free Tour No Motorhead Should Miss!

Shelby Museum 2005 CS6 PrototypeAmerican swagger… the kind of conviction that makes you think “You know what that blender needs? A 500 horsepower small-block V8!” Well, in the 1960’s a bold racing driver named Carroll Shelby looked at the nimble little sports cars of AC motors in Britain and had a similar thought. This eventually gave birth to the CSX2000 (Carroll Shelby eXperimental) and Shelby was kicking ass and taking names on racetracks all over the US. With Shelby’s help soon the USA (Ford) was beating the Europeans (Ferarri) at their own game: the 24 hours of LeMans!

Shelby American, at 6755 Speedway Boulevard, near Las Vegas Motor Speedway is both a factory and a museum. Arrive by 10:15 in the morning Monday through Saturday for their free guided tour and you’ll get to see some amazing metal, and learn a few things you might not have known about the man (Carroll Shelby) and his machines. This is where the current model Shelby machines are assembled, and you’ll get to see examples of each on the showroom floor, as well as the shop where they come to life.

The first Shelby Cobra

The first Shelby Cobra

The museum is home to the very first Cobra ever built, possibly the world’s most valuable sports car. This is the car that put Shelby on the map. It’s currently blue, but has countless coats of paint in a rainbow of colors. To find out the fascinating story behind why there are so many coats of paint on this car, you’ll have to take the guided tour.

But that’s not all. There’s Shelby cars from each of the last five decades. There’s a hand polished bare aluminum Cobra that shows every speck of dust and fingerprint. There’s an original 1966 model and a more recent 2007 model of the Shelby GT-H, a car that was built specifically as a rental car for the Hertz company. In the tour they reveal some of the lessons learned by Hertz and Shelby in this experiment renting 300+ horsepower Mustangs to the general public. As you might imagine, there were a few hiccups.

Shelby Series 1 (rare, 249 built)

Shelby Series 1 (rare, 249 built)

They have an example of the only car Shelby designed from the wheels up, the Shelby Series 1. They even have the red-headed stepchild of the Shelby empire – a Shelby Dodge Omni GLHS (yes, that’s the 80′s econobox, and the GLH stands for Goes Like Hell!). Many of the cars are pristine, roped off, museum beauties and the tour is both educational and entertaining.

Dodge Omni GLHS

Dodge Omni GLHS

For those that don’t make the tour, there are signs describing the cars on display, and there’s a timeline of Carroll Shelby history on the wall. It’s all very nicely laid out, and can be toured in about 20 minutes (the guided tour is about half an hour).

If you are even vaguely interested in cars, Carrol Shelby or American ingenuity in general then this tour is well worth the time, and the trip. Did I mention it’s free?

The Shelby GT-H was build exclusively as a rental car for Hertz.

The Shelby GT-H was build exclusively as a rental car for Hertz.

  • If you want to buy something with the Shelby name on it, this is the place. From $15 t-shirts to $100,000 supercars, they’ll be happy to sell you your own piece of automotive history.
  • Smile, you’re on webcam. There is a 24/7 webcam in the showroom. Your tour will pause to give the interwebs a wave. Better look your best!

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Pinball Hall of Fame: The Most Fun You Can Have for a Quarter

Pinball Hall of FameThe Pinball Hall of Fame is located in a large nondescript warehouse building at 1610 East Tropicana Avenue. There are easily a hundred pinball machines here, new and old, as well as a few vintage video arcade games. It’s like the pinball arcade you dreamed of when you were a kid. There is even a coin operated fortune teller and a “Peppy the Clown” musical puppeteer.

According to their website, this interactive museum is completely non-profit. They spend no money on advertising, heck they didn’t even spend money erecting a sign out front! Any profits above and beyond basic maintenance and operating costs are donated to the Salvation Army. This is clearly a labor of love.

Popcorn Machine at Pinball Hall of Fame 25 centsThe space is pretty basic. It’s a warehouse. Floors are cement, a plain drop ceiling hides wires, girders and pipes. Food and drink are available in the form of cold soda, candy and hot popcorn – which are sold from old fashioned vending machines for just a quarter or two.  Much like the nearby casinos, the only flashing lights and ringing bells come from the machines themselves.

Yes! You read me right, the machines are working. All of them. You can change your bills in for quarters and play any one you like. They work like they did when they were new – every light, every sound effect. “Hey Chucky, quit playing with the clock!” begged the clown in my “Funhouse” machine, plastic eyes darting around trying to follow the ball. Twenty years melted away while I played.

Dr Who Pinball Machine Information CardIt’s like an electromechanical museum, where they actually let you touch and play with stuff. Many of the machines have handwritten cards attached offering the history of the machine, numbers produced, etc. There are rare machines like the Gottlieb “Canada Dry” machine, released in 1976 as a promotional item, and available only in Europe. There are antique machines like Bally’s 1947 pitch and bat game “Heavy Hitter”. There are not only traditional pinball and pitch and bat machines spanning generations, there are also viewing galleries, shooting galleries and other historic electromechanical machines as well.

Target Roll Electromechanical Craps MachineIf you are a fan of the game of craps you definitely need to check out the Bally “Target Roll” machine. This machine was released in 1959 after it became illegal to sell gambling machines in all but a couple of US states. Cleverly disguised as a harmless pinball game, this machine is actually an electromechanical crap table! Roll a 7 or 11 on your come-out roll and the machine knocks loudly to signal that you should be paid. Roll 2, 3 or 12? Game over. Roll any other number and you have to match it. If you match, it knocks again and you start over, if you 7 out it’s game over. The “score” is random, simply there to fool the authorities. It’s brilliant!

There is also an area to the far left of the building where machines are repaired and restored. Peek here for a preview of what new games might be available soon. Last time I was in they were working on some interesting looking machines like “Safe Cracker” and “Alien Dunk.” I can’t wait to try them out.

Pinball Machines at the Pinball Hall of Fame Las VegasIf you’re old enough to remember pumping quarters into a favorite machine, they probably have it here. Drop a quarter in your favorite game – it’ll likely last longer and bring more smiles here than at any of the casinos down the street. It’s cheap, it’s nonprofit and it’s a chance to relive your childhood. It’s the most fun you can have in Vegas for a quarter, short of winning a jackpot.

Peppy The Clown Coin-Op MarionetteTips:

  • Check out their website (below) for a full list of games.
  • Quarters are available from a change machine inside, no need to bring your laundry money.
  • Unlike many places in Vegas that are open 24/7 (love that!) the Pinball Hall of Fame is only open 11am-11pm, midnight on Friday and Saturday.
  • If you can’t make it to the Pinball Hall of Fame, you can still play some of their machines. A few of their machines are on loan to the Riviera Casino, where they can be played 24/7.
  • You can bring the kids here, but you can’t just drop them off. Kids under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Website: www.pinballmuseum.org
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The Neon Museum: Las Vegas Unplugged

Entrance of the Neon Boneyard ParkLas Vegas is a city of constant reinvention. Out with the old and in with the new. Keeping up with the times means taking down 50 year old buildings and complete remodels and redesigns every decade or so. There’s always something new and interesting in Las Vegas. But what about the old, and the historic? Casinos like The Sands, where the Rat Pack was born? The Stardust, former home of the famed Aku Aku tiki lounge?

Well, The Sands was imploded to make way for the Venetian and the Stardust was imploded to make way for the (now stalled) Echelon Place. Neon Sign from the Stardust HotelBut perhaps the most iconic part of these casinos, and many others, lives on at the Neon Museum.

Flashing lights and neon signs – there is nothing that is more quintessentially Las Vegas. All over the city, bright colors and flashy animations draw people into casinos, bars and restaurants. For over 15 years the Neon Museum has been collecting and showing (by appointment) the signs that no longer light the skies of Las Vegas. The restored vintage signs displayed in the East Fremont District are a small part of the Neon Museum’s collection.

Not too far from the Fremont Street Experience, the Neon Boneyard is a storage yard at 770 North Las Vegas Blvd. There is a small, park like meeting area with a few tables where visitors gather before their tours, and a large fenced in yard that houses the many signs of their collection.

Neon Boneyard Pool Player and Assorted SignsIn the past, visitors were required to sign up and prepay for a tour at least two weeks ahead of their trip. Starting on October 27th, with their grand opening, tours will be given every half hour with ticket sales available in their shiny new (yet historic) visitor center (reservations are still recommended). Upon arrival you will be greeted by a passionate volunteer tour guide. The tour group must stay within sight of the guide, following them around a purposeful path through the haphazard piles of neon, lights and metal. Photographs are permitted, but you may only bring a camera, no bags, tripods, etc. are permitted. The guides know their signs and their Las Vegas history well, and will surely teach you something you didn’t already know about Sin City.

The signs here are, essentially, as found. Bulbs are broken, sockets are empty. Paint is peeling and surface rust is creeping in. There are bits of broken glass here and there and some signs have sharp metal edges and corners – please look, don’t touch. While some of the signs might still be operational, none are electrified. All of this, I think, adds to the charm and authenticity of the place. This is old Las Vegas – unplugged.

Tips:Neon Boneyard Arrow Sign

  • Bring a camera, sunscreen and water.
  • Wear comfortable closed toed shoes and make sure you’ve had your tetanus shots.
  • The Neon Museum is holding a grand (re)opening party on the night of October 26th. Check their website (linked below) for details.

Bonus: The new visitor center, opening on October 27th was built from the lobby of the 1960’s La Concha Motel.

Website: www.neonmuseum.org
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