The Comrade of Ecstasy: Lenin’s Rolls Royce

How do you give the example and show the masses that bourgeois tendencies are irreconcilable with Socialism, with a proletarian dictatorship and with Communism? Apparently, you dump the Benz and buy yourself a Rolls Royce. At least, that is what Vladimir Lenin, the father of the Russian Revolution did in 1922.

Let’s take a step back. The oldest photo of Lenin in a luxury car that I have been able to find is the one below, which depicts the Russian revolutionary with his wife, Nadezhda and his sister Maria after the Red Army Parade at Khodynka Field in Moscow. It dates May 1st, 1918.

Lenin with his wife and his sister Maria in a Car After the Red Army Parade at Khodynka Field in Moscow. Photo by P.K.Novitsky or G.P.Goldstein (1 May 1918)

Just two days later, the Soviet government passed one of its first acts ever, with the decree of 3 May 1918 that expropriated about 2,500 cars from the bourgeois members of society. These vehicles were then all passed on to prominent party leaders for service as well as for private use. To give an historical perspective, this predates the October Revolution by about six months.

Among the liberated cars were those formerly belonging to Zar Nicholas II, who, before WWI when the two nations fought against Russia, was often seeing riding a German Benz (the name Mercedes-Benz does not appear until 1926) or an American Packard.

Adolphe Kégresse seated behind the wheel of the Imperial “Benz”. At the main entrance of Catherine PalaceTsarskoye Selo, September 9, 1911. (Public Domain)

To cope with the Russian weather (read: snow and ice) and poor road infrastructure, the Zar’s personal driver, Adolphe Kégresse, modified them with two of his inventions (he was a former French military engineer): the dual clutch transmission and, more evidently, the half track.

Kégresse’s 1913 design (Public Domain)
A Kegresse Half Track modified Tzar car outside Alexander PalaceTsarskoye Selo. (Public Domain)

For many years people believed that Lenin’s Rolls Royce (or Rolls Royces – some sources says he had three, other go as high as nine, we know there were at least two) were part of the former Tzar’s fleet of luxury car, but the English manufacturer actually keeps detailed track of each and every car ever sold, and so from its central archives actually emerged that the original Lenin’s Rolls Royce Silver Ghost was actually bought and paid for in London in 1922 by the ARCOS Company (All-Russian Cooperative Society). The record is detailed enough to point out that the car was actually sold at the discounted price of 1,850 British Pounds. The 15 % discount was apparently a side deal of a secret bomber planes engines deal that the young Russian Government had with Rolls-Royce.

Lenin’s Rolls Royce recently restored an in display at the State Historical Museum in Moscow

At first the car was used to usher the Soviet supreme leader from government meetings to public appearances and state affairs in the city of Moscow, where it drove with the license plate number 236. It is in this very configuration that the car has been restored a year or two ago by the State Historical Museum in the Russian capital, to be showcased in its former glory. This very car was actually involved in a road accident in Crimea, where it was used after Lenin’s death .

Next to the car, you can also see the uniform of Lenin’s personal driver, no other than… Adolphe Kégresse, the former Tzar’s personal driver. His profession probably trained him to follow directions and always find a way when the road took an unexpected turn, so apparently he had no problem in recusing his former boss and get to work for the new absolute ruler.

Kégresse put all his knowledge at the service of the Soviet government and under his supervision another of Lenin’s Silver Ghosts was converted to a half track car in the Putilov factory (now Kirov Plant).

Lenin’s Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost with Kegresse track, converted by the Putilov plant, showed at the Gorki Leninskiye Museum.

This second car is on display at the former Soviet leader’s dacia (or country house) in Gorki Leninskiye, about 10 Km South of Moscow.


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