Vintage cars testify to the racy past of overthrown Iranian royalty
Before being ousted by the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Iranian royal family had a lavish lifestyle with a taste for fast cars quite different from those ever built.
Now, after half a century in hiding, the royal racers are back, with the Iranian Historic Car Museum attracting thousands since it opened to the public in recent weeks.
“We consider these cars to be part of Iranian cultural heritage,” said museum director Mohammed Faal. “They belong to the people, not to the royal family.”
It is led by the Islamic Republic’s Bonyad Mostazafan organization – “The Foundation of the Oppressed” – which manages the property confiscated from the overthrown regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The lineup is astounding and includes a car combining a unique engineering collaboration.
In 1972, knowing that the shah loved German engineering, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen teamed up to build an unprecedented automobile.
They created the “MPV Tehran”, a bright orange painted single-seater, which was a “gift” to help Crown Prince Reza, then 12, learn to drive.
He has two keys. One, in silver, limits the powerful motor to 30 kilometers per hour (18 miles per hour). The other, in gold, allows the vehicle to travel at 170 km / h.
Although the car hasn’t raced since 1979, its clean lines still inspire those who come to the museum.
– Legal battle –
Some 20,000 people have visited since it opened, more than the number of people who visit the national museum each month.
“I really like this place, because it brings together some of the few things that remained after the revolution,” said Farzaneh, a 55-year-old retiree.
“These objects take us through our history,” she added.
Spanning over a hectare (nearly three acres), the museum is located in an industrial area west of Tehran, near the country’s auto factories.
So far, it is home to 55 cars, two coaches and four motorcycles, one of which was once driven by Farah Diba, the Shah’s last empress and widow.
But a hundred other vehicles are still in the warehouses awaiting meticulous restoration and display.
Another award-winning exhibit is a black Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, built in 1922. This car stands out not so much for its extravagant luxury, but because the Islamic Republic retained the historic gem after an epic battle with the former monarchy in exile.
âSix months before the revolution, the car had been sent to Rolls-Royce for repair,â said Faal, the museum director.
“After the fall of the monarchy in 1979, the Pahlavi family demanded that the factory return it to them, claiming it belonged to the dynasty.”
This sparked a furious legal battle.
But a British court ruled that, according to its documents, the vehicle was owned by the Iranian state, not the ex-royal family.
âThe car returned to Iran,â Faal said.
– Hitler’s gift –
The jewel of the museum is a 1930 Pierce-Arrow “Model A”.
At that time, it was the most expensive car built in the United States – and it was bought by Reza Shah, the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty.
It was priced at $ 30,000, the equivalent of one-eighth of Iran’s state budget at the time, and came with a gold-plated bumper and headlights.
The car, with the imperial crest attached to the doors, was used by the shah during ceremonies including his marriage to his second wife Soraya and during the funeral of his father Reza.
But when the shah was dethroned and exiled 42 years ago, the car remained.
“It doesn’t matter who these cars belonged to, they belong to the Iranian nation, not to any particular king,” Faal added, explaining why the decadent pitfalls of the monarchy were displayed by a regime that despised the shah.
“We love to admire the beauty of the car given its history, and we appreciate the efforts of its builders and designers.”
Another visitor favorite is the 1934 Mercedes 500 K Autobahn Kurier, a gift from Adolf Hitler to Reza Shah.
The car is the last of its kind; of the six built by the German company, five were destroyed during World War II.
âMercedes offered to buy it at a price that we would set because the firm was anxious to have it in their museum,â Faal said. “We refused.”
ap-sk / pjm / hkb