Driving Bill Harrah's Personal Ferrari Powered Grand Wagoneer
Intro and Photos by Steve Natale Story by Miguel Caparros.
While visiting the National Automobile Museum (Harrah Collection) recently, I saw many amazing historic and classic cars on display, but could not help with being infatuated with Bill Harrah’s personal “driver”. A 1977 Jeep Wagoneer, fitted with a 12 cylinder Ferrari engine. The “Jerrari” reflects the personality and creativity of the man who owned it, Bill Harrah. I mentioned the car to Miguel Caparros, and he shared his personal experience of driving this very special car years ago…….
The first time I read about the Jerrari was in Road & Track's Ron Wakefield's article August of 1971 issue. I just had gotten back home to Plymouth New Hampshire from an all expences paid vacation by my former employer, the US Army. I had a lot of reading to catch up on so I startred with the latest issue of Road & Track Magzine. I saw something that seemed so wrong. There was a photo of this Jeep Wagoneer with a Ferrariesque nose and grill. Now at the time I thought what a waste of a perfectly good Ferrari in retrospect, If I had Bill Harrah's finnacial depth I would have created outrageous stuff too. When we moved to California I had a list of things to do #3 was the Harrah collection in Sparks Nevada. In 1983 my friend Bill Duryea and I drove up to Reno from San Francisco, I wanted to see the collection before it was broken up. After Bill Harrah's death there was wrangling about the collection going on with the Holiday Inn who bought the Harrah hotels and the car collection. It was just business, They saw the sale of the collection as a way to recuperate money.
I seem to have a talent for worming my way into places and meet the people that actually get things done. On this day I ran into one of Mr Harrha's son who was working on something of his own. I started to talk about the Jerrari, referring to the original 1968 Jeep Wagoneer with the Ferrari nose grafted on to the front that I had read about in 1971. He told me that car was gone and Mr Harrah had the work shop crew built another with a 1977 Grand Wagoneer. Bill and I were led over to where this very normal looking Wagoneer stood.
At that point we were picked up by one of the shop mechanics and Mr Harah's son left us in some very capeable hands, as this was one of the original fabricators for Bill Harrah. He went into detail as to the problems and fabrication that had to be done to attach the Ferrari engine to the Jeep 4 wheel drive, and the unconventional dual radiators needed as the engine was much longer that the AMC V8 that was originally fitted. After chatting for a while I just had to ask, “Can we go for a ride?” The answer was sure "if you drive and buy lunch". Done! We headed out of the shop and besides the usual Ferrari noises from the engine compartment and a dash full of Stewart Warner gauges, it just felt like any other Jeep. We caught I 80 east bound towards Fernly, ant it climbed up the like no jeep I ever drove. I was able to hold 90 during the climb with out effort. We passed Fernly in no time and were now in the Plateu that leads to Bonniville, No speed limit from here, foot to the floor and I let the Jerrari strech its legs. At 140 you can cover ground like a private plane, Elko was cumming up fast. My new found friend knew of a restaurant in Elko he wanted to eat at. The food and the altitude were taking a toll on my clarity so Bill drove back to Fernly foot plastered to the floor and hitting 150 on some down hill streches. We did go by a Nevada Trooper that turned on his lights and just as quickly turned them off, he either knew who's Jeep this was or figured by the time he got the cruiser up to speed he would never be able to catch the Wagoneer that had set off his radar at 150 +.