Leonid Brezhnev's need for speed
Did you know that the famous USSR leader was a massive petrolhead?
Leonid Brezhnev was known for being the head of the USSR for 18 years, and for showing great power of his beloved country. However, even though the love for his homeland was big, his love for speed was even bigger.
He was a genuine petrolhead, and had a massive collection of cars. The exact number varies from one source to another, but it seems that he had between 150-300 cars in his garage. Many of them were gifts from other world leaders, and he was known for driving all of them like a madman...usually on empty streets on cold Moscow nights, pissing off his security.
Brezhnev and his beloved GAZ Chaika. Credit: Hybridtechcar.com
He also had great taste, which is shown in his love for exclusive cars such as Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, Opel Kapitän L, Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe Hardtop, Chrysler 300, Mercedes 600 Grosser, and a first-gen Maserati Quattroporte among many others. So, a big petrolhead like this probably had few nice car-related stories, right? Of course he did, and here are 3 very interesting ones.
"Slow down!" -Richard Nixon
One of the most famous stories is when Brezhnev went to Camp David in Maryland to meet President Richard Nixon. The US President was aware of Brezhnev’s love for cars, so he gifted him a brand new 1973 Lincoln Continental. But, the moment Brezhnev took the keys, he sat in the driver’s seat and asked Nixon to join him. One of the Secret Service agents thought that it was a bad idea, but Nixon sat in the passenger’s seat and had a ride of his life.
Nixon gifting Brezhnev a new Lincoln Continental. Credit: Autoweek.com
Brezhnev wasn’t familiar with the route, but that didn’t stop him to drive like crazy around Camp David. He was attacking the narrow roads in his new car, hitting every curve like a race car driver, while Nixon was holding for his life. At one point, as they were going through a longer curve, Nixon yelled: “Slow down!” As Brezhnev hit the brakes, all four wheels squealed and they safely stopped mid-corner.
Brezhnev had a big smile on his face, and Nixon had a small grin too when he complimented Brezhnev’s driving skills...probably because he wanted to get the hell out of the car as soon as possible. After seeing fear in Nixon’s eyes, Brezhnev did a few donuts in his new Continental and drove back to Camp David.
Henry Kissinger seizing the Continental
In fact, Brezhnev liked Nixon’s gift so much that he wanted to drive it on the city roads. When he was in Washington D.C., he was eager to take it for a spin around town, but the Secret Service didn’t allow him to do so. Then, he came up with a plan to disguise himself and then go for a drive. That way, no one would recognize him, and he could enjoy his nice cruise.
Brezhnev and Henry Kissinger. Probably talking about how Nixon was scared in the Lincoln. Credit: UPI.com
Unfortunately, he mentioned his plan to Henry Kissinger, who was the Secretary of the State back then. Kissinger believed that Brezhnev couldn't drive like an average American person, so he had to seize the car during Brezhnev’s visit to the States. He got the car back when he was on his way to USSR.
Tragic end for a Silver Shadow
One of Brezhnev's favorite cars was a beautiful Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, which he crashed in 1980. On one cold Moscow night, he took his “Roller” for a wild ride. He was driving it so fast that his security could barely keep up with him. At one point, a truck appeared out of nowhere and stopped right in front of the Rolls-Royce. Brezhnev couldn’t brake on time, and collided with the truck. Despite being a bit injured, he recovered very soon. The accident was kept quiet, and was revealed only after his death in 1982. Some people believed that, if it weren’t for the accident, he would’ve lived longer.
Wreckage of the Silver Shadow in Riga Motor Museum. Credit: nn44.org
The wreckage of the Silver Shadow currently resides in the Riga Motor Museum. Rolls-Royce demanded that Brezhnev’s car should be removed because it’s a bad advertisement for the company's reputation. The museum refused to remove it because it’s not a poor advertisement, but a memory to a massive petrolhead.