Central and Eastern Europe, Tourism

Maserati, Rolls Royce, Mercedes, Cadillac… a glimpse into comrade Brezhnev’s luxurious car choices

A famous Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, gift from a Queen Elizabeth II, together with Brezhnev mannequin behind the wheel looking pretty astonished can be seen nowadays at a Riga Motor Museum, Latvia.Photos: ©communications-unlimited.nl

By Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska

It is 1980. Not far from Zavidovo, Soviet Republic. Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev is driving recklessly from his dacha his black Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, a gift from the Queen Elizabeth II and suddenly he is driving under a truck. His limousine gets demolished but he survives the accident. Not the only car accident he caused. This famous Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow together with Brezhnev mannequin behind the wheel looking pretty astonished can be seen nowadays at a Riga Motor Museum. You can view there automobiles driven by the highest Soviet Union officials from the 1930s-1970s.

Equality for a chosen few

Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was for 18 years ( 1964-1982) the leader of the Soviet-Russia in the function of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was the second longest term after Joseph Stalin. As other communist dictators he did not practice what he preached according to communist doctrine of equality. It is best described by a well-known joke: ‘’Brezhnev was showing his mother his luxury home but she did not say a thing. So he showed her his cars, but again she remained silent. He got angry and asked her what she thought of what she saw. And she replied: “It’s very nice, but what will happen when the Communists come back to power?” 

In all the countries occupied by communist rule people suffered from hunger, poverty, were persecuted and murdered. But the communist elite, the nomenklatura had it all, for them almost everything was free, state-owned of course, but free for their private use. They supported in real life the famous statement by George Orwell from his Animal Farm, “that everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.” Lenin used Delaunay-Belleville confiscated from Tzar Nicholas II and later on he used Rolls Royce, Stalin was crazy about Packard and Brezhnev’s car collection list consisted of top-notch names.

Russian cars with Soviet looks and imperialistic comfort

Brezhnev was famous for his weakness for the expensive limousines. He officially was photographed driving Russian produced cars but in his private life he enjoyed the most expensive western world limousines.

For example Russian Segull (GAZ Chaika) had to meet his expensive demands. The upholstery was made from natural wood and was provided by a supplier of Aston Martin, Bentley and Rolls-Royce. The car was provided with a telephone, stereo radio receiver, remote radio control located in the armrests, heated door and windows, cigarette lighters, ashtrays.

He used also ZIL-114 which had to be modified several times as he wanted to have a modern version of it.

Expensive car gifts and risky test drives

Brezhnev usually drove expensive limousines from his endless collection between Kremlin and his private dacha in Zavidovo without any recognition of public safety and under the influence of vodka. But who would have dared to issue him a fine?

A famous Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, gift from a Queen Elizabeth II, together with Brezhnev mannequin behind the wheel looking pretty astonished can be seen nowadays at a Riga Motor Museum, Latvia.Photos: ©communications-unlimited.nl

His weakness was well-known and it was not a secret that the world leaders were advised to give Brezhnev expensive cars while visiting him in Moscow or receiving his visit in their country. The world leaders knew also of his reckless street races and some of them experienced them in person.

The list of his cars was long and consisted of all top-notch brands including Maserati, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Lincoln and Porsche. Brezhnev received a Citroen SM from Charles de Gaulle, from Josip Broz Tito a Zastava 1100 and the first copy of Nissan President was the official car of the Prime Minister of Japan, and the second one was produced for Brezhnev.

In 1973  Brezhnev received from the German Chancellor Willy Brandt during a state visit a Mercedes Coupé SL version 450 SLC. Since Brezhnev was known for his impatience in testing the car gifts he immediately went on a test drive. He drove on the serpentine road  towards Hotel Petersberg in Bonn-Bad Godesberg and he totaled the gift in an accident.

He also received from a German Chancellor Mercedes model 600 with 6 doors. This series was very unique and limited. It is believed that there were only two of them, one of which was presented  to Brezhnev, and the second to the Emperor of Japan.

He received two Rolls-Royces. An extremely unique Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, which is believed that there were only 5 of them in the world at that time, was presented to Brezhnev by an American industrialist Armand Hammer. The second Rolls-Royce, he had an accident with outside his dacha in Zavidovo, he received from Queen Elizabeth II.

He was given in the 1960s a burgundy ‘’Maserati Quatroporte’’ with a record horse power of 290 and a speeding capacity up to 230 km/h from nobody less than the leadership of the Italian Communist party.

Brezhnev received also three expensive cars from the US President Richard Nixon. Nixon presented Brezhnev with Cadillac, Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Continental. In 1972 before his arrival in Moscow Nixon  was informed by the USRR ambassador in the United States that Brezhnev would be delighted to receive a Cadillac Eldorado. It is believed that the car was ready in three days. On day four it was brought to Moscow by an American Air Force transport plane.

In 1973 when Brezhnev was visiting the United States at Camp David he received from President Nixon a Lincoln Continental with special extras such as central music, electrically adjustable seats and airco. And again he wanted to have an immediate test drive. Despite the dissaproval of the secret agents he and Nixon got in the car and went on a ride. The driver was Brezhnev. Brezhnev who did not know the surroundings of Camp David was driving fast down the curly, narrow roads despite Nixon’s repeated requests to slow down. Finally when the risky test drive was finished Nixon complimented the Soviet leader on his driving ‘’skills’’ to secure that the diplomatic talks would continue.

While visiting Washington during another trip. Brezhnev could not resist a ride in Lincoln through Washington streets. When Secret Service expressed their disapproval he said: “I will take the flag off the car, put on dark glasses, so they can’t see my eyebrows and drive like any American would”. Henry Kissinger replied to it: “I have driven with you and I don’t think you drive like an American[1].

Stalin’s limousine with a a 75 mm thick bullet proof glass at a Riga Motor Museum, Latvia. Photos: ©communications-unlimited.nl

The number of Brezhnev’s  cars is not officially confirmed, some sources mention several dozen other several hundred cars. Some of them still appear on various auctions and the famous Rolls-Royce he had an accident with outside his Dacha in Zavidovo is on display at a Riga Motor Museum in Riga, Latvia. In this museum you can see an interesting collection of Kremlin cars from 1930s-1970s including Stalin’s limousine with a a 75 mm thick bullet proof glass.

Photos: ©communications-unlimited.nl

At a Riga Motor Museum, Latvia. Photos: ©communications-unlimited.nl

Author: Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska is an award-winning international journalist, TV correspondent, author, chief editor of international journalism centre, Central and Eastern Europe Centre, board member and a sworn translator. She was born in Warsaw, Poland and has also Armenian blood and roots in Lvov, which is part of Ukraine. She has been living in Heerlen, the Netherlands since 2005.


[1] Horne, Alistair. Kissinger’s Year: 1973. pp. 159–60.

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