Though there are other museums that have opened in Riga this year, it was the newly refurbished Rīgas Motormuzejs, about 20 minutes outside of town, that I made time to visit.
Housed in a new and modern three-story building, it has interactive exhibits, historical information and, of course, an enormous collection of vintage vehicles. The exhibits collude together to capture the mood and culture of the 20thcentury. More than that, it is a mini history of human kind’s technology under one roof. And, with Latvia being a former Soviet country, it is uniquely placed to give an up-close perspective on Soviet life and the conflict and confluence between eastern and western societies.
The beginning of the tour features videos and displays about the invention of the wheel, progressing on to the first prototype vehicle produced by Karl Benz in 1886. There are model T cars and an Overland sedan from the U.S.A. as well as Krastin cars, built in Latvia, from the beginning of the century.
The most critical piece of the collection on show is the 1930s mountain racing Auto Union V16. Apparently, it symbolises the “Silver Arrow” era in the history of global automotive industry. In fact, this important vehicle was the impetus for creating the museum.
The Kremlin Collection, vintage Soviet cars which were collected by enthusiasts in Riga before the fall of the USSR, is truly the highlight of the museum. These unique and, at the time, incredibly expensive vehicles were the preserve of Soviet officials only. The proletariat could be on waiting lists for years to acquire even a modest vehicle.
The 1966 Silver Shadow Rolls Royce, mangled in an accident when Leonid Brezhnev was driving, has been acquired and is on display with a reconstruction of the accident to boot.
There is a very popular interactive exhibit in the Kremlin section. Here a projector is used to transport the participant (waving required) into a Stalinesque parade travelling through the streets of Moscow in an open top sedan.
By the 1930’s, there were 90 makes of automobile on the streets of Riga. However, they were few vehicles and these were very expensive. The President of Latvia then decided to get into bed with the U.S. car manufacturers and this all changed. In 1936, a license to build Ford vehicles was acquired and the Vairogs factory born. The first Ford Vairogs vehicle was finished in 1937, a truck with a V8 engine and 85 horsepower.
When Latvia lost her independence in 1940, the factory was nationalised, and production stopped. Up to that point, however, they had produced 300 cars and 1000 trucks.
There are other utility vehicles in the part of the museum including two fully refurbished fire engines, a raft of bicycles, vans and buses.
Open every day of the year from 10:00 to 18:00.
Eizenšteina iela 6, Riga, LV – 1079