The car collection of the late Prince Rainer of Monaco now has a museum – Robb Report
Think of spinning engines and racing cars, jetsetters and checkered flags and one place comes to mind: Monaco. It has been almost 100 years since the first Grand Prix was held there, the one that is now part of the oil triple crown. Fast cars are a permanent fixture here though: the garages in Monaco are more like a Ferrari and Porsche showroom than a car park.
Wealth has helped Monaco stay at the forefront of high-end automotive excellence, sure, but it’s more than that. The late ruler, Prince Rainier III, was only six years old when that first Grand Prix took place, but cars became a lifelong obsession. He bought so many, in fact, that his private collection exceeded the palace garage – and so he chose to open them to the public in 1993.
The assortment was housed in a soulless cavernous space near this palace complex in the Fontvieille district, a site about as inconvenient as it gets in 499-acre country (that’s smaller than Central Park). Fortunately, Rainier’s son, the current sovereign Prince Albert, has just reopened his family’s collection in a brand new site, right in the heart of the principality.
This new custom-built home by architect Fabrice Notari took 10 years from start to finish. It is a near 38,000 square foot futuristic underground bunker that sits right on Port Hercules. The new location is a nod to Monaco’s links with F1, as it sits right next to the double chicane dubbed the Swimming Pool during the race. It is also conveniently located on the harbor where many superyachts dock – step off your yacht and you can now visit the collection in minutes.
In the old space, the cars were lined up, almost dutifully, more like a child playing with some miniatures. Now Royal Family transport has been reinstalled in a smarter and more concise way, with 75 carriages (borrowed and owned by the Crown) spread over two floors with a distinct sense of direction and conservation.
There are teasers at the entrance, like the swaggering but feather-light 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera, one of the first to pack racing performance into a road car. The tour really begins, however, when you are guided downstairs to the lower mezzanine. The display here focuses on the collection that Rainier himself assembled; there’s a regular vroom-vroom played through the speakers to amp up the atmosphere.
The cars are grouped into different groups: take the museum’s Concours d’Elegance, where they line up for inspection, show off some pony style with a 1920s Rolls-Royce like a 40/50 HP Barker Silver Ghost Limousine , robust and elegant, or the eight-cylinder Delage Berlin of 1934. Look, also, for the case of the glass bottles, a rainbow of colors. “That’s what they used to put in real flowers to perfume the car,” said Valérie Closier, museum director and daughter of an amateur rally driver. Robb Report on a recent tour, “Now we only have the pines.”
Another section here is dubbed ‘The Beautiful Italians’ – though it’s confusing on screens showing black-and-white films featuring Elvis, among others, while speakers blast 1950s pop. Most of these cars are shiny and lipstick, with the racy insouciance that is so typical of Italian design. Take the Isetta – better known as the bubble car (pictured above) – which sits casually by the stairway, its inviting front wide open; sadly, there’s no way to reach its buttery taupe leather seats. Tucked away in a nearby corner is a legend of 1950s racing cars: one of seven race-fitted Renault 1603s, it was the only one to win the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Prince Albert, the current ruler of the principality, auctioned nearly 40 of his father’s favorites a decade ago, from a 1956 Bentley S1 to a 1907 Berliet C2. But his sale was not not a sign of waning interest; the current leader is as much a petrolhead as Grimaldi dad. The upper level of the museum is dedicated to Albert’s favorite racing cars, including Nigel Mansell’s Ferrari, which won him two F1 races. If you’re wondering what the latest addition is, just follow the selfie trail: there’ll usually be someone crouching in front of the Ferrari driven by Charles Leclerc, which he lent to the museum. And no wonder he chose this collection above all others – the 24-year-old is not just a champion driver but one of less than 40,000 people worldwide who are born and raised in Monaco.
54 route de la piscine, Port Hercule 98000 Monaco. Entrance fee €10 for adults, €5 for children.
Check out more photos from the prince’s car collection below: