Former Imperial Palace Rarity: 1915 Ford Coupelette

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Believe it or not, folks used to need a break from gambling at a few of Nevada’s most famous casinos.  While the opportunities are varied and amazing now, guests at Harrah’s and The Imperial Palace back in the day could spend countless hours wandering around the massive collector car displays between bouts of blackjack.  Now, decades later, some of those cars from those mostly disbanded collections pop up from time to time.  Take for example this rare 1915 Ford Model T coupelette for sale on Barn Finds Classifieds in Roanoke, Virginia.  Is this uniquely styled and ultra-rare Model T variant worth the $32,500 asking price decades after its casino residency and a subsequent number of years hidden in storage? 

It doesn’t take a genius to see that casinos generate a lot of profit.  While the recent trends have casinos dropping a lot of cash on events and activities to entertain the whole family, in the not-too-distant past the emphasis was on providing off-time entertainment for the typical gambler.  Those old-time gamblers were less likely to bring their families with them to Vegas and were predominately the folks that would love to look at a sea of old cars.  Therefore, casino magnates like Bill Harrah of Harrah’s Casinos and Ralph Englestad of Imperial Palace (a guy with a very interesting history) were able to indulge in their automobile-collecting passions on a scale that is hard to imagine today.  Or, they had an excuse for their extravagant spending on their automotive passions.  Take your pick.

Sadly, when these titans of the gaming industry passed, their collections were scattered to the winds.  Harrah’s museum had 1,450 cars at its peak and many of them were unbelievably desirable examples of America’s automotive history.  When the company was purchased after his death, around 300 of the best of the best were saved to form the core collection of the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.  The rest were auctioned off in sales that are legendary in our hobby’s history.  When Englestad’s collection was broken up, some cars went back to the owners who lent them to the collection for display, and others were auctioned off.

The 1915 Ford Model T coupelette was one of the cars from the Imperial Palace collection.  The car is a very interesting variant of the famed Model T.  We all know how Henry Ford kept his focus on lowering the price of the car so that everyone could afford one.  He did so by streamlining manufacturing to the point he controlled the production of the cars from raw material to finished product.  It would make sense for Ford to produce only a few body styles and to focus on making their production more economical.  Mysteriously, Ford had a tradition of offering a number of models that didn’t sell very well.  This went on until Henry Ford was no longer in control of the company.  If anyone can explain this policy, please share your thoughts in the comments.

As for the coupelette, Autoweek did a very good job discussing the history of this particular body style in 2002.  The article states that just 2,417 of this body style were built in a year where Ford produced hundreds of thousands of more pedestrian Model Ts.  The car’s dowdy styling, complete lack of rear visibility, and its premium price were obviously obstacles for even the most silver-tongued devil of a salesman to overcome.  It only lasted for one more model year.  So why bother in the first place?

Regardless of Ford’s baffling reasons for marketing such an unusual and unpopular body style, rarity drives the price up when collectors go looking for a distinctive vehicle to call their own.  In a sea of common Model Ts, a couplette is a major prize for a bonafide T junkie.  The car you see here is typical of a car that has been on long term display.  There is some corrosion here and there, and the paint seems to have lost a bit of its luster.  There is some wear on the interior upholstery as well.  The good news is that the seller has returned the car to running and driving condition.  You can also bet that the car is relatively free of reproduction parts given the overwhelming number of years that it has been in storage.  The only obvious issue is that the car sports a 1922 vintage engine.

The asking price of this Model T is a heady $32,500.  While the rarity of this particular model of Model T is unquestioned, it is hard to determine of the price is market correct.  It may be high, or it may be a bargain.  Only a Model T expert could say for sure.  These couplettes just don’t come on the market that often.  This may be a case of a buyer wanting this particular body style to pay whatever is necessary to add a coupelette to their collection.  If there are two of those collectors, then they may go well past the asking price in a hurry.

Why do you think Ford made such an unusual Model T?  What do you think a fair price would be for this rarity?  Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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  1. HoA Howard AMember

    While I too am saddened these collections are being disbanded. Someone will get a nice car, but it shows the general interest of the hobby is waning. This is what was called a “Doctors Coupe”. Many of us may not be here if it wasn’t for this car. It greatly improved the time it took over “Old Dobbin”, and many lives in rural areas, were saved. I’m sure it’s why it was at the museum in the 1st place. Better check the innernet on how to drive the dang thing. I’ve shifted practically every transmission known man, except this. ( I could figure it out).

    Like 21
  2. bobhess bobhessMember

    Late ’60s and early ’70s we lived in Nevada and made numerous trips to go see the museum in Reno. Never did see all of the cars but did get into the restoration shop one time. Amazing to see that many rare cars in one place. To make it even more amazing was the two complete 1800s trains, one passenger, one freight, in the parking lot. With a Ford Trimotor airplane hanging from the ceiling what more could you ask for. Probably saw this old guy there but it’s hard to remember considering the pure number of Model Ts displayed.

    Like 18
  3. Greg in Texas

    So it’s an early ‘hot rod swap’ with a 1922 later engine in it? That’s kind of interesting if so. Basically a horse buggy without the road apples. Perhaps we should be bringing back the horses at this stage, but the pavement is too hot.

    Like 3
  4. Jay E.Member

    Visited the Harrahs museum many times as a kid. I thought we always had to leave too soon. So many cars! One entire warehouse house of what was said to be every version and year of model T and A made. Dozens and dozens of them. To me they pretty much all looked the same, but it made an impression and in the years since I have owned quite a few. At one point there was even a P-38 lightning stuck out back, which I think became the Lefty Gardeners White Lightning, now the Red Bull Lightning.
    This T is priced too high for the current market, museum or not.

    Like 6
  5. jim

    Yep too far in yesteryear to have that much value

    Like 2
  6. z1rider

    Regarding the body style. At the time this one hit the road, Ford was still using outside suppliers (several in the Detroit area) for complete bodies, so the offering of this style may have been the brainchild of the company supplying it. As long as it could be dropped onto the frame in Fords assembly operation as easily as any other body then there was little reason not to offer it. If they were only built after a dealer order for that body style was received then Ford would have little to no risk.

    As for the price, if this was a perfect restoration with all of the correct parts for that year model then the price might be reasonable. But it is just not that nice, and there is just too much wear and tear showing. Also the coil box, mounted on the engine is not correct. That was only used for the 26-27 model year. This one should have the coils mounted on the passenger side of the firewall.

    Like 9
  7. Steve

    I remember going to see the Harrah’s car collection in Reno (and saw Totie Fields in the flesh…remember her?) and was in awe at the number of cars there. There was also a shop outside the showroom where you could see vintage cars being restored. What a shame that Bill Harrah didn’t have the foresight to make sure the collection was kept ‘as is’ when he passed. I also remember the Imperial Palace collection, it didn’t compare to Harrah’s.

    Like 6
    • Steve

      *Sparks, not Reno.

      Like 2
  8. William R Hall

    Now there is no way you can even think of putting a large public collection like Bill Harrah had. The corporate masters who control everything would consider a huge waste of money. I don’t see anyone out there with a large Pile of cash doing anything for the public to enjoy and learn.

    Like 6
    • Darryl T

      Garbage collector Harold LeMay managed to acquire some 3,000 cars in Parkland WA before his death in about 2000. His family displays about 500 at one site and another 300 a mile away plus has hundreds more in storage, and donated 600+ to the nearby America’s Car Museum, most of which were subsequently sold. When I worked there the most fun job was going to some remote warehouse and pulling out cars. Can’t believe I actually got paid to do that.

      Like 0
  9. yachtsmanbill

    So lets say that since the coupelette is a rare model, (it is) and its a decent restoration (appears to be) Ill give it an “8” on a 1-10 scale. Its probably not that close, but we’re talking apples and oranges. The electric starter engine (WAY incorrectt regardless of the year) hacked up dash board/ firewall. Home made upholstery job on the seat and ELECTRIC TAPE wrapped around the hard rubber steering wheel (maybe wrong steering column too) pushes this over the cliff into “restorable” condition at best. JMHO

    Like 4
  10. Jo

    I like it. That’s something that I could take mom out in. If she were still alive.

    Like 0
  11. terry furness

    Coil box on the engine didn,t come out till 1926. No buttons on the seats ? New top needed ,stupid rear window Rear kerosene tail lite , didnt come our till 1916 etc $$$$ Joking

    Like 0

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