#Romanovs100: Europe’s grandest car park owned by Nicholas II
While rich Russians had enjoyed motorized vehicles since the 1890s, it took the royal family some time to catch up. Imperial Household Minister Vladimir Frederiks invited the Tsar for a ride in his French Serpollet in the late 1890s, but that didn’t go well: the car broke down and had to be towed away using horses.
Years later, in 1904, Prince Vladimir Orlov visited the Royal Residence in his luxurious Delaunay-Belleville – a car that would become a favorite with Nicholas II. “Car trips would take place nearly every day… He wouldn’t leave the driving seat since then,” Alexander Mosolov, Frederiks’ subordinate, later said on the Tsar’s love of cars.
In autumn 1905, Nicholas II ordered Orlov to buy “two or three cars” for the Romanov family and staff: a Delaunay-Belleville and four Mercedes. In the future, Nicholas II would always favor open cars, stating that his people should be able to see their sovereign – a nightmare for his security services.
That same year, the foundations for a 964.8 square meter garage were laid in Tsarskoye Selo. Another garage was built in Peterhof and then in 1911 – a garage for 25 cars was added to the Royal Crimean residence in Livadia.
In 1907, to control the immense spending on cars and maintenance, the Imperial Garage was given an official status, becoming part of the ministry with Prince Orlov at the helm. This meant that the entire garage was no longer funded from Nicholas II’s personal finances, but by the state.
The Tsar’s most expensive car, his four-meter-long Delaunay-Belleville, cost around 30,000 rubles – at least 5-6 times more than an average car. To compare, a factory worker earned 1.5 rubles for a day’s work.
The Delaunay-Belleville 70 S.M.T. was especially designed by French manufacturers for Nicholas II, with S.M.T. standing for ‘Sa Majesti le Tsar’ – only four such cars were ever made. It was unique because it could start from within the cabin – reducing the risk of an attack on the emperor. The car started in silence and could drive for hundreds of meters on compressed air alone, before the engine ignited.
The Tsar’s only son and heir to the throne, Alexei Romanov, was among the first to try Peugeot’s attempt at a “people’s car,” the Bebe, a 2445x1140mm design by Ettore Bugatti. Alexei was just 10 when he got his own car and he was only allowed to drive it slowly in the park near the Alexander Palace – all preventive measures because the boy suffered from hemophilia, meaning that any bruise could potentially kill him.
For brutal Russian winters, the family’s trusted driver, Frenchman Adolphe Kegress, designed (and patented) a half-track car – the Kégresse track. It was later adapted for military use in the Russian Army.
Even the Imperial Train was equipped with a ‘moving garage’: while at first, a platform was used to transport the cars, a special covered carriage was later built.
#Romanovs100 follows the private lives of the Russian Imperial family through a vast collection of photos they took of themselves and their circle. The project will run until mid-July on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, marking 100 years to the day since the family and their closest staff were executed by the Bolsheviks.