Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vintage cars show racy past of Iran’s ex-royalty

Vintage cars show racy past of Iran’s ex-royalty

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A 1930 Pierce Arrow Model A automobile is pictured at the Iran Classic Cars Museum, on the western outskirts of the capital Tehran on November 24. AFP

Vintage cars show racy past of Iran’s ex-royalty

Before they were ousted by the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran’s royal family enjoyed a lavish lifestyle with a taste for fast cars quite unlike any ever built.

Now, after half a century hidden away, the royal racers are back on show, with the Iran Historical Car Museum drawing in thousands since it opened to the public in recent weeks.

“We consider that these cars are part of Iranian cultural heritage,” the museum director, Mohammed Faal, said. “They belong to the people, not to the royal family.”

It is run by the Islamic republic’s Bonyad Mostazafan organisation – “The Foundation of the Oppressed” – which manages the confiscated property of the toppled regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

The line-up is staggering, and includes a car combining a unique engineering collaboration.

In 1972, knowing the shah liked German engineering, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen teamed up to build an unprecedented automobile.

They created the MPV Tehran, a bright orange painted single-seater, that was a “gift” to help crown prince Reza, who was then 12, learn how to drive.

It has two keys. One, made of silver, limits the powerful engine to a gentle 30kph. The other, in gold, allows the vehicle to speed at 170kph.

While the car hasn’t raced since 1979, its sleek lines still inspire those who come to the museum.

Legal battle

Some 20,000 people have visited since its opening, 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 rare things that remained after the revolution,” said Farzaneh, a 55-year-old pensioner.

“These objects take us through our history,” she said.

Sprawling over more than a hectare, the museum is located in an industrial zone west of Tehran, close to the country’s automotive factories.

So far, it houses 55 cars, two coaches and four motorcycles, one of which was once driven by Farah Diba, the last empress and widow of the shah.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A 1934 Mercedes Benz 500K is displayed at the Iran Classic Cars Museum on November 24. After half a century hidden away, the cars are back on show. AFP

But a hundred other vehicles are still in warehouses awaiting to be meticulously restored and put on show.

Another prize exhibit is a black Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, built in 1922. This car is notable not so much for its extravagant luxury, but because the Islamic republic kept hold of the historic gem after an epic battle with the exiled former monarchy.

“Six months before the revolution, the car had been sent to Rolls-Royce for repairs,” said Faal, the museum’s director.

“After the fall of the monarchy in 1979, the Pahlavi family demanded that the factory return it to them, claiming that it belonged to the dynasty.”

It sparked a furious legal battle.

But a British court ruled that, according to its documents, the vehicle belonged to the Iranian state and not the ex-royal family.

“The car returned to Iran,” 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 US – and was bought by Reza Shah, the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty.

Its price tag was an eye-watering $30,000, equivalent to one eighth of Iran’s state budget at the time, and came complete with a gold-plated bumper and headlights.

The car, with the imperial crest fixed to the doors, was used by the shah during ceremonies including his marriage to his second wife Soraya and at 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 owned these cars, they belong to the Iranian nation, not to a particular king,” Faal added, explaining why the decadent trappings of monarchy were displayed by a regime that despised the shah.

“We love to admire the beauty of the car taking into account its history, and we appreciate the efforts of its manufacturers and designers.”

Another favourite for visitors 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.

“Mercedes offered to buy it at a price we would set, because the firm was eager to have it in its museum,” said Faal. “We refused.”


  • NY sisters inspired by Khmer heritage

    Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Cambodian-American sisters Edo and Eyen Chorm have always felt a deep affinity for their Cambodian heritage and roots. When the pair launched their own EdoEyen namesake jewellery brand in June, 2020, they leaned heavily into designs inspired by ancient Khmer

  • Schools drawn into Manet degree row

    Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped into the Hun Manet-Sam Rainsy war of words over the validity of Manet’s degree from the US Military Academy at West Point, set off by Rainsy’s claims that Manet had received a “second-class degree” or “honorary degree”. Hun

  • Cambodia records first Omicron community case

    The Ministry of Health on January 9 reported 30 new Covid-19 cases, 29 of which were imported and all were confirmed to be the Omicron variant. The ministry also reported 11 recoveries and no new deaths. Earlier on January 9, the ministry also announced that it had detected the Kingdom's

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • PM eyes Myanmar peace troika

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that ASEAN member states establish a tripartite committee or diplomatic troika consisting of representatives from Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia that would be tasked with mediating a ceasefire in Myanmar. The premier also requested that Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa

  • Kampot tourism quay ‘90% done’

    Construction on Kampot International Tourism Port – a 4ha quay in Teuk Chhou district about 6km west of Kampot town – has fallen off track, reaching 90 per cent completion, according to a senior Ministry of Tourism official last week. The project is now planned to be finished