Paul Taylor, Director of Uniquestay Hotels, told me of a motor museum in Riga, Latvia. I had been intending to bypass Riga and go directly to Vilnius in Lithuania, but working on Paul’s recommendation stopped in Riga and found accommodation for a couple of nights.
Using Google I located the museum, but there was a sign stating that due to building works the total collection had been stored on the other side of the city. However, I e-mailed and explained the situation and they replied that I would be welcome at the facility where the cars were stored if I would like to visit on Friday.
I was met at the front door of the premises by Aija Bauere and was immediately embarrassed having addressed her as Mr in my e-mail. I apologised and assured her I wouldn’t make the same mistake again and for her part she found it quite amusing.
The museum was the dream child of a number of enthusiasts that got together in Riga during 1972 whilst still very much under the restrictive Soviet system. The current museum premises were opened in 1989 and are now undergoing renovation. The building is scheduled to re-open officially in 2015; meanwhile the majority of the collection can be seen by appointment at a temporary storage facility a few kilometres from the normal site.
The collection is not small, consisting of some 220 mainly cars and motorcycles. Many are unique from pre-war Germany and from the Soviet era. There are several ex-Kremlin limousines, an Opel Kapitan that was the official car of Stalin’s private secretary, a 1934 Lincoln KB that was owned by the Soviet writer Gorsky, and a Rolls Royce from the vast collection of ex-Premier Leonid Brezhnev. Unfortunately the Rolls has seen better days as it was involved in a coming together with a Russian truck. Brezhnev was driving himself and was fortunate not to be seriously hurt. I don’t remember the accident ever being reported in the media!
You may remember I snapped a photo of a small, highly unusual car in St Petersburg and asked if anyone could identify it. Well Aija saw it on Bridget’s blog and she said she was able to identify it as they have one, albeit in much better condition. As it happened I had already identified it from the internet as a SMZ Cycle Car S-3D built in Belarus in the Soviet era and given away free by the Russian Government as a mode of transport for disabled people.
If you are a fan of German cars then you will be delighted with a 1937 Mercedes Benz 320 Cabriolet, a beautiful Horch-853 and one of the museums stars, an Auto Union V16 specially built in 1938. This car was designed for mountain racing and had a Porche designed engine that reached speeds of up to 320kph.
Finally, a car that MG enthusiasts would appreciate is a specially designed record breaker (in Soviet countries) that had two gas turbine engines. Built in 1961 the Pioner 2M (Soviet spelling) set no less than 13 speed records on slat flats.
Unfortunately I ran out of time and so didn’t see the old city of Riga, but that is a good excuse to return.