A Visit to La Collection Les Automobiles de S.A.S. Le Prince de Monaco
During a visit to southern France in October 2023, I took a train to the Principality of Monaco for a day. One of my main objectives was to visit La Collection Les Automobiles de S.A.S. Le Prince de Monaco (The Collection of Automobiles of His Serene Highness the Prince of Monaco). The collection was started by Prince Rainier III, best known as Grace Kelly’s husband, and since his death in 2005 has been overseen and added to by his son, Prince Albert II. A quote from Rainier on the Collection’s website says, “It is not an automobile museum but a personal collection of old cars from all ages and from all countries. Popular or prestigious, they marked their era and I liked them.”
Prince Rainier III began collecting old cars in the late 1950s, and he opened his collection to the public in 1993. The collection of nearly 100 cars moved into a new underground facility in the main port in 2022 and is displayed on two levels. One level is devoted to the Prince’s collection of mainly vintage cars and the other displays racing and rally cars, some of which participated in Monaco’s two famous, long-standing races, the Monaco Grand Prix [since 1929] and the Monte-Carlo Rally [since 1911]). The first vintage car Prince Rainier acquired was a 1903 Dijon-Bouton, and it’s still the oldest car in the collection.
I only saw one empty space in the collection – a Maserati Mistral was in the shop for maintenance – but the gallery of cars in the museum’s website shows several cars online that I didn’t see in the collection, and I saw a couple of cars in the building that weren’t in the photo gallery.
As befits a royal collection, many of the cars are in the “prestigious” category (Rolls-Royce, Packard, Mercedes, Delage, Cadillac, Jaguar, Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc) but some are models popular with the commoners. A wide variety of brands is represented in the vintage collection.
The largest number from any brand is Renault with seven examples, but most others have 1-3 types. Several cars have links to the royal family apart from being owned by the Prince, such as official limousines or cars with a connection to Princess Grace and a 1952 Austin London taxi used by the Princess to take her children on outings. (Princess Grace was killed in the crash of her Rover P6 car in 1982 after suffering a stroke while driving, also injuring her daughter Princess Stéphanie.)
There are no trucks, commercial vehicles or emergency vehicles on display, but there’s a 1942 Willys Jeep painted to match the military jeep in which Prince Rainier, who served with the Free French forces during World War II, entered Monaco after its liberation. The racing cars mainly are Formula One cars, but there are several rally cars. Most of the rally cars are from the 1980s and the Formula One cars are more recent.
1) This 1927 Bugatti Type 35A at the entrance to the racing hall probably represents the Type 35Bs that won the first three years (1929-1931) of the Monaco Grand Prix (I didn’t see any information about this particular car).
2) 1928 Lincoln Type L Torpedo (touring car).
3) 1954 Sunbeam Alpine: Prince Albert II bought this car in 2012 and had it restored to be identical to the one his mother, Grace Kelly, drove in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie “To Catch A Thief,” filmed in Monaco. The car was unveiled on the 65th anniversary of the film. A video loop shows scenes of the original car from the movie.
4) 1936 Ford woody wagon owned by Louis II, Prince of Monaco from 1922-1949. Prince Louis was Prince Rainier III’s grandfather and predecessor as sovereign of Monaco. The Monaco Grand Prix began during his reign.
5) 1963 Ferrari 250 GT convertible by Pininfarina: Along with a 1950 Cisitalia 202 given to Rainier by the people of Monaco and a 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider, this Ferrari was part of a display of film-themed red convertibles called “The Beautiful Italians.”
6) 1963 Facel Vega Facel II coupé: The French Facel Vega company only produced its own complete cars from 1954-1964. Powered by a Chrysler engine, the company advertised the Facel II as “the fastest 4-door coupé in the world” and only made 180 of them from ’62-’64.
7) 1947 Delahaye 135 MS: This car originally was owned by a Bulgarian opera singer and was purchased by Prince Rainier after it was discovered in a garage in Monaco in 1985.
8) 1959 Renault Floride (Florida): Renault presented one of these cars to Princess Grace soon after its introduction. The impetus for the car’s design came from Renault America in Florida, hence the name, which was changed later to “Caravelle,” after the French passenger jet.
9) 1956 Imperial limousine (called a Chrysler Imperial by the museum, although Imperial became its own brand in 1955): Prince Rainier flew to New York to take delivery of this car personally, then met Grace Kelly in it at Monaco’s port upon her arrival to become his wife in April 1956. Other official limousines on display are a 1961 Cadillac Series 6700 Fleetwood and a 1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud.
10) 1914 Napier T78 chauffeur coupé: Napier was an English brand known for racing and luxury cars from the early 1900s through 1924. Afterwards, Napier concentrated on aircraft engines and powered several record-setting planes and boats, including WW2 fighters. This car has a body by British coachbuilder Cunard Motor and Carriage Company, a subsidiary of Napier.
11) Lineup of most of the Formula One racing cars in the upper hall.
12) 2011 Red Bull RB7: This car is described in Wikipedia as “one of the most dominant Formula One cars ever built.” It won the World Constructors’ Championship and one of its drivers, Sebastian Vettel, was the 2011 World Drivers’ Championship winner. In 19 races in 2011, it only failed twice to place in the top five, once because of a crash and once when the car retired from a race. It won 12 first places, 11 by Vettel, who also had five second place finishes.
13) 1984 Lancia 037: The 037 had won the World Rally Championship Constructors’ title in 1983, but the 1984 car lost to 4-wheel-drive Audis. The 037 was replaced by Lancia’s own 4WD Delta S4 in 1985. Abarth, then part of Lancia-Fiat, was largely responsible for the design of the car, with Pininfarina also having a hand in it.
Learn more at A COLLECTION AUTOMOBILES DE S.A.S. LE PRINCE DE MONACO
Images via Dick Williams
Written exclusively for automotivemuseumguide.com
By Dick Williams
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