here seems much copy-pasting and cribbing of other journalists reportage so
that same historical mistakes keep on being regenerated without anybody
bothering to check if the facts are accurate. The purpose of this article is to
go into historical detail about this Rolls Royce Half-Track and determine the
history behind the car, the history behind the main characters in the story, and
the history behind the events that were the cause of it.
When looking for information on this car on the Internet, and in some learned books on Rolls Royce, the normal story goes that " this was one of many Rolls-Royces belonging to Tsar Nicholas II which was subsequently confiscated by the new Soviet Regime from the Tsar and given to Vladimir Lenin as his daily chauffeured car. Same sources report that Lenin's chauffeur at the time was Frenchman Adolphe Kegresse, and that it was he who put the half-track system, which he had designed, onto the car for purposes of this being Lenin's 'winter car'. This was apparently one of 9 Rolls-Royce cars owned by Lenin ! ". Regretfully, none of this is possible !
In Part 1 of this article we featured a brief history of Tsar Nicholas II, the background to the Frenchman Adolphe Kegresse, and the introduction of his Autochenille half-track attachment, In Part 2 we featured the history of Charles Royce, of Henry Royce, and the development of the Rolls-Royce car and Brand. The initial agreement between Rolls and Royce covered five sizes of vehicles: 10HP, 15HP, 20HP, 30HP and the V8. All cars were chassis only with the customer to arrange coachwork extra, with Barker recommended. Rolls-Royce were quite late in entering the Automobile Hall of Fame so it was interesting to find out why and haw it came about. At at this point of the story in 1907, long before the First World War, the Rolls-Royce Company introduced the 40/50 Model.
The Rolls-Royce Model 40'50 was shown at
the 1906 London Olympia Show but had not been finished, so was not available to
the Press for testing until March 1907. One of the first 40/50s that were
produced was earmarked as a 'demonstrator ' with a Roi-des-Belges body by Barker,
painted in aluminium paint with silver-plated fittings. This particular vehicle
was called the "Silver Ghost" to emphasise its ghost-like quietness.
The name was taken up by the press, and soon all 40/50s started being called by
this name. The photo above is of the original car which was due to be used
on the Scottish reliability trials of 1907. Rolls-Royce did not officially
recognise the name until 1925, when the Phantom range was launched. Likewise,
the description "the "best car in the world" also originated with
the Silver Ghost but was a phrase attributed to it by the 'Autocar' Magazine,
Production of Rolls-Royce vehicles stopped for the duration of the 1914-1018
First World War as all Silver Ghost chassis and engines were requisitioned to
form the basis for the new armoured car to be supplied for use by the Royal
Naval Air Services during the Great war and subsequently in Transjordan, Israel
and Mesopotamia, and in the early stages of the Second war in the Middle East
and North Africa.
As well as being used by the British Military,
it is reported that the engine was later sold to
various countries including to the Russian Revolutionary government for us in
later stages and post First World War. It seems that this is where the
connection came between Rolls-Royce and Vladimir Lenin. It seems that the
Russian Revolutionary Government purchased Rolls-Royce aero engines for their air-force
and also purchased a Rolls-Royce car at the same time at a reasonable discount.
For the purposes of this article this is as far as we need to go in researching the development of Rolls-Royce cars and aero engines because the vehicle we are investigating is Lenin's Silver Ghost. Rolls-Royce company went on to achieve very great things in the automotive, aeronautical and space frontiers, and became a great multinational conglomerate. As to Henry Royce, in view of his bad health Rolls-Royce had a villa commissioned at Le Canadel in the south of France for him, which he later purchased. He also had a home at Crowborough, in East Sussex. In 1917, Royce moved to the village of West Wittering, in West Sussex. After his second illness Royce was looked after by a nurse, Miss Ethel Aubin for twenty years. He died at his house Elmstead in West Wittering on 22 April 1933 aged 70. His cremated remains were initially buried under his statue at the Rolls-Royce works in Derby, but in 1937 his urn was removed to the parish church of Alwalton, his birthplace. He had been awarded the OBE in 1918, and was created a Baronet of Seaton in 1930 for his services to British Aviation.
Vladimir Ulyanov (1870–1924),
was the third of eight children in a relatively prosperous family of Ilya
Nikolayevich Ulyanov who became Director of Primary Schools in Simbirsk and
later promoted to Director of Public Schools for the province overseeing
over 450 schools. His dedication to education earned him the Order of St.
Vladimir, which bestowed on him the status of hereditary nobleman, a title. Therefore
junior Vladimir and his family did not
have too much to grumble about apart from the fact that Vladimir's elder brother
Alexandr had been executed by hanging for building a bomb to assassinate Tsar Alexander
In 1897 he was arrested for sedition and jailed for a year before being exiled to Shushenskoye in Siberia for three years. Nadya Krupskaya came to join him in Siberia and they married. On return from exile, Vladimir was now equipped with the code name 'Nikolai Lenin', name believed to originate from the Siberian river Lena. He immediately went travelling Europe, visiting a Russian Marxist émigrés based in Switzerland, and then to Paris to meet Marx's son-in-law Paul Lafargue and to research the Paris Commune. Then, financed by his mother, he stayed in a Swiss health spa before travelling to Berlin, where he studied with Marxist activists. On return to Russia he travelled internally distributing illegal literature including producing news sheets and was among 40 activists arrested in St. Petersburg with sedition.
In 1903, he took a key role in
the ideological split of the Russian Marxist party holding their second Congress
in London, England. He was leading the Bolshevik faction against the Mensheviks.
The complexities of the personnel, and the ideologies at this period are far too
complex to recount here but are worth studying separately. In January 1905, the
Bloody Sunday massacre in St. Petersburg sparked a spate of civil unrest with
Lenin urging Bolsheviks to take a greater role in the events, encouraging
violent insurrection. He also urged that the Bolsheviks split completely
with the Mensheviks, which many Bolsheviks refused, and both groups attended the
third Congress, held in London in April 1905.
In May 1908, Lenin lived in London,
a place he spent time in on five separate occasions. His other travels were to the Eighth
Congres in August 1910 in Copenhagen, followed by a visit to Sweden. He then
moved with wife and sisters to France settling in Paris. He did not do well at
the Paris meeting in June 1911 and was heavily criticised at the Prague
conference in 1912. He then moved to
Kraków in the Polish part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In January 1913,
Lenin discussed with Stalin the future of non-Russian ethnic groups in the
Empire. However due to the ailing health of both Lenin and his wife, they moved
to the rural town of Bialy Dunajec, before heading to Bern for medical
treatments, and subsequently relocating to Zürich in February
In November 1917, Lenin and his wife moved into a two-room
flat in the Smolny Institute in St Petersburg. In January 1918, he survived an assassination
attempt while in St Petersburg. As the First World War was very much in progress and
as German Army posed a threat to St Petersburg, the Soviet Government relocated to
Lenin, Trotsky, and other Bolshevik leaders moved into the Kremlin, where Lenin
lived with his wife in a first floor apartment adjacent to the
room in which the Sovnarkom meetings were held.
And this brings us the full circle as to 'Lenin's Rolls-Royce'. The Gorki Estate which is 10km south of Moscow, was converted it into Vladimir Lenin's 'dacha' where he recuperated following the assassination attempt. He spent an increasing amount of time there as his health deteriorated. In 1923, on medical advice, Lenin left the Moscow Kremlin permanently for Gorki where he lived in semi-retirement until his death on 21st of January 1924. He was , aged 54, and had been in "power" for only seven years. The estate was subsequently renamed "Gorki Leninskiye" ("Lenin's Gorki") and became a museum of Lenin's possessions. including documents, photos, books, and .... "Lenin's personal car, a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost".
There seems much copy-pasting
and cribbing of other journalists reportage on this car, so much so that same
historical mistakes are becoming fact and keep being regenerated without anybody
actually bothering to check if the facts are accurate. When trying to research
this car on the Internet, and in some learned books on Rolls-Royce, the normal
story goes that this was a Rolls-Royce imported and belonging to Tsar Nicholas
II which was subsequently confiscated by the new Soviet Regime from the Tsar and
given to Vladimir Lenin as his daily chauffeured car. It is also reported that
Lenin's chauffeur at the time was Adolphe Kegresse, and that it was he who put
the halt-track system, which he had designed earlier, onto the car for Lenin's
'winter use', - none of which is possibe!
So what do we know about 'Lenin's Rolls-Royce" ? At this point of the story we know that The Tsar has been assassinated and that Adolphe Kegresse had long left the country. We also believe that this Rolls-Royce has Chassis Number 79YG. We also know that there is no record of the Tsar having any personal Rolls-Royces in the West, and that none are listed in the final records of the the Tsar's fleet of some 60 cars. So this Rolls-Royce could not have been sequestrated by the Bolsheviks. Also, as the Tsar had been dead for four years before the chassis was actually manufactured, it can be safely said that this could not have been the Tsar's Rolls-Royce. Adolphe Kegresse had long left Russia, by five years or so, so there is no way he would have known this very car nor have worked on it, nor indeed could he have put put the half-track system onto the car, nor could he have been Lenin's personal chauffeur.
With rapid changes in government structures, the government 'garages' changed quickly from the 'Tsars Garages' to Provisional Government garages, to Soviet garages, which also included confiscation en-route of most luxury cars owned by the Russian aristocracy. The downside of removing everybody capable of running the country from their positions of running the country was that the country was not running well. Most of the confiscated cars started to break down and there were no spares available, nor money for spares. Cars started being laid up and being robbed for parts. Soon many of the state garages were short of usable cars. In January 1921 a Special Purpose Garage (GON) began to function separately serving only Lenin and his family members, and were allocated their own separate funding. To ensure safety and efficiency of transportation it was decided to purchase several new executive cars for transportation of dignitaries. It was decided that these should be bought from Rolls-Royce as these had proven themselves in previous years, or possibly because Lenin was well aware of their reputation and quality from his many visits to England, or perhaps because Lenin was hit by one on his bicycle while in France. Most likely, however, is that the Soviet regime required aero engines for their air force and purchased from Britain the Rolls-Royce Eagles, thereby getting a prestige car with a large discount. While the Rolls Royce was indeed a 'prestige' car it had not yet achieved the 'best car in the world' fame but had achieved the reputation for being utterly reliable, a significant point to consider if the car was to be used in areas of rough conditions and limited maintenance knowledge/facilities ; much more a case of practicability than of being bourgeois; a plodder more than an exoticar.
From known Rolls-Royce records in the UK, and also from local sources in Russia, there seem to have been four Rolls-Royces imported during the 'Lenin Era' of seven years. The main problem is the the information available in Russia is every bit as unreliable as that in the West and it is just as difficult to believe those sources with any degree of accuracy. There is for instance a very basic problem with the information relating to 'Lenin's Roll-Royce Kegresse' ! Large part of the academic world believes the chassis number of this car is 79YG, but there is a substantial minority which thinks it is 16X, including some replica model car manufactures. We have been kindly advised by the Russian sources that the correct number for this car is 79YG, and we have a photo of the chassis plate to prove this. We are therefore proceeding on the basis that it is indeed the 79YG, as is, and has been generally believed.
And Lenin's Rolls Royce was NOT 79YG. Russia was operating a centralised trading system where no direct imports were allowed. Imports could only be made through an import-export enterprise specific for a given business sector, in this case the All Russian Cooperative Society, and was ordered via the Russian Trade delegation in New Bond Street, London. From what I have been able to determine so far, the first Rolls Royce, and therefore 'the Lenin's personal Rolls-Royce car', was supplied in 1919. It was a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, Mann Egerton Tourer, chassis 16X. From Rolls-Royce records available in the UK this seems to be the last car from the 'X' range of chassis. The X range of chassis were apparently only made for 'show' cars, those shown at international automobile exhibitions, suggesting that the actual date for the chassis may well have been 1920/21??. It is reported that this car was widely used by Lenin in the early days of his activities at the Kremlin and in Gorki and that this 16X would have been the car the experts would have referred to as 'Lenin's Rolls Royce'. It seems, however, that this car has not survived the ravages of time. It is also strange that I have not been able to trace any confirmed photos of the car?
A further Rolls-Royce seems to have been ordered a couple of years later in 1922. This was a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, Barker Tourer , chassis 17 KG. Below is the original Rolls-Royce worksheet for this car. The car was delivered late 1922 to the Special Purpose Garage. At some time after Lenin's death this car ended up in Crimea, where it seems to have been extensively damaged during an unofficial joy-ride by some officials running into a heard of cows! It was subsequently returned repaired to Moscow in the 1950s.
It also seems that because Lenin's original 16X car was no longer around it was decided that this car, chassis 17KG should be made to resemble the earlier 16X car for show and exhibition purposes. All works were carried out in Russia. It was also fitted with the original city number 236. It was subsequently seen in use in Moscow for a number of years. This car is currently in the State Historical Museum in the Moscow Kremlin.
In 1922 two further Rolls-Royces were ordered by the Soviet Delegation in London
both seemingly in chassis form, Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost
and Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost
chassis 70YG. It seems that both of these cars were
bought and used by
the Special Purpose Garage intended
for general transport of dignitaries and were bodied in Russia. 40YG was
apparently bodied as a limousine, and 79YG as an Open Tourer.
Both cars were apparently subsequently converted in cca 1929 to be an 'Auto-Sledge'
using the Kegresse half-tracks taken off from the Tsar's Packards. All works were
carried out in Russia. As well as
getting the the half tracks, the two Rolls Royces were also rebodied as Open
So, the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis 70YG shown below, the specific car we are interested in, had been rebodied in 1929/30 as an Open Tourer and was fitted with half tracks from Tsar's earlier Packards. Body was visually similar to the Mann Edgerton type. The purpose of converting 79YG to an Auto-Sledge was that the Government Garage actually at the time needed a car as winter transport in the snow, possibly for Stalin, who took over in 1924 when Lenin died. It then appears that in 1949 the much rebodied and fitted with half-tracks Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis 70YG was moved to Lenin's museum at Gorki Leninskie named as "Lenin's winter car". But as Lenin had died in 1924 it is possible that Lenin may not have seen or been in this car. And even if he had, it would have looked quite different as it would have had a quite different body, and would not have have been fitted with the half-tracks and skis, - which were put on the car five years after Lenin's death.