Exhibition dedicated to the 115th anniversary of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Garage opens in Moscow

On 19th February, a unique exhibition Tsar’s Departure, dedicated to the 115th anniversary of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Garage, will open in the Special Purpose Garage Museum in Moscow.

His Imperial Majesty’s Own Garage existed for only 10 years, but during that time managed to collect an impressive collection of 56 automobiles which served the last Russian emperor Nicholas II, his family and retinue. None of the European monarchs could boast of such an impressive fleet of vehicles.

Unique motorcars from the reign of Nicholas II will be presented as part of an exposition which tells about the auto-craze that swept Russia in the early twentieth century, among the key events of which were races for the Imperial Prize, the first Russian automobile salons, Nicholas II’s trips by motorcar around the country, the work of the assembly shops of the Russian-Baltic Plant, front-line everyday life of an automobile company and many others.

PHOTO: poster promoting the Museum of Emperor Nicholas II in Moscow

The exhibits have been collected from museum and private collections in Russia and Europe, including the little-known Museum of Emperor Nicholas II in Moscow.

Among the retro legendson display are a Serpollet steam car; a two-seater racing Benz; a cannon that defended the headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief in Mogilev; the workhorse of World War I, the White TAD; the domestic automobile brand “Russo-Balt”; the magnificent Hispano-Suiza; a high-speed Berliet; an elegant Studebaker; a luxurious Rolls-Royce; a De Dion-Bouton, popular at the beginning of the 20th century; a sophisticated Renault; among others.

In addition are large-scale full-colour photo panels, luxurious Imperial motorcars, rare vintage newsreels, authentic items of palace life, historical costumes and previously unpublished documents bring to life, the atmosphere of a bygone era.

The exhibition Tsar’s Departure runs from 19th February to 17th April 2022, in the Special Purpose Garage [Pavilion No. 53] at the All-Russian Exhibition Center (VDNKh) in Moscow.

PHOTO: early 20th century view of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Garage, Moscow

Facts about His Imperial Majesty’s Own Garage

* Emperor Nicholas II’s collection of more than 50 vehicles, were housed in 4 Imperial Garages: Moscow, the Winter Palace (St. Petersburg), Tsarskoye Selo and Livadia.

The “founding fathers” of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Garage were the Minister of the Imperial Court, Count Vladimir Fredericks (1838-1927), and the Adjutant Wing Prince Vladimir Orlov (1868-1927). The first automobile appeared in Tsarskoye Selo at the beginning of 1906: the French Delaunay-Belleville with a triple phaeton body, and soon complemented with four Mercedes.

* In mid-1906, the Imperial Driver School was opened at the garage. In fact, it was the first driving school in Russia. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna herself attached great importance to the uniforms worn by drivers and mechanics. She created sketches with her own hand, designing uniforms based on a footman’s livery adorned with gold cords.

* Drivers, mechanics and “soapmen” (car washers) did not appreciate being treated like lackeys and servants, but were forced to wear their uniforms. Their struggle continued, and in the end, the drivers won. In 1910, their new uniform – approved by the Emperor – resembled the uniforms of military officials: khaki colours, lace-up leather boots, leggings.

* Court chauffeurs in fur hats could easily be mistaken for senior officers and they were paid well. The senior driver received 2,600 rubles a year (for comparison: the annual salary of a university professor was 3,000 rubles), a third-class driver – 780 rubles a year.

* On March 2, 1917, Emperor Nicholas II signed his abdication. This ended the story of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Garage. All property of the imperial family passed into the disposal of the Provisional Government, including the garage. In addition to a change in management, the garage managed to avoid significant personnel changes.

* As a result of the October Revolution of 1917, the Autobase of the Provisional Government was nationalized and transferred to the disposal of the Bolsheviks. Lenin himself wasted little time in taking first pick from the Tsar’s collection of fine automobiles. His first trip in a Turcat-Méry automobile took place on 27th October 1917. Many employees of the Imperial Garage and the Autobase of the Provisional Government continued to work for the Bolsheviks.

PHOTO: Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna riding in the Tsar’s favourite motorcar, a Delaunay Belleville

Russia’s automotive industry began to develop during the reign of Nicholas II

In the early 20th century, automobiles soon became part of the everyday life of the Tsar and his family. This is thanks to the initiative of Prince Vladimir Nikolayevich Orlov (1868-1927), who in 1904 arrived at the Alexander Palace for the first time in his Delaunay-Belleville

He invited the Emperor on several motor trips, driven by Orlov himself. After his first trip around the square in front of the palace, the Emperor invited Empress Alexandra to join them.

From that time on, Prince Orlov and Adolfe Kegresse (1879-1943) became the Emperor’s personal chauffeurs.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II at the opening of the 4th International Automobile Exhibition at the Mikhailovsky Manege. St. Petersburg, 1913

On 19th May 1907, the 1st International Automobile Exhibition opened at the Mikhailovsky Manege in St. Petersburg.

The aim of the exhibition was to showcase the growing popularity of the Russian and foreign automotive industry, and the development of the domestic automotive market.

The exhibition attracted major automotive manufacturers from all over Europe and America. The French automotive industry was represented by 30 enterprises, and Germany by 13 firms. Manufacturers from the USA, England, Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy also took part.

The Russian automotive industry was represented by no less than 37 enterprises, companies and firms.

The success and sales of automobiles in Russia was no doubt fueled by Emperor Nicholas II, who had an impressive collection of more than 50 automobiles, housed in 4 Imperial Garages: Moscow, the Winter Palace (St. Petersburg), Tsarskoye Selo and Livadia.

© Paul Gilbert. 18 February 2022