Riga Motor Museum: Latvian Treasures

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Riga Motor Museum in Latvia hosts a surprising number of unique cars and is a must-visit for any petrolhead touring the Baltics.

My visit to Latvia last year for a round of the World Rallycross series included a quick tour of the Riga Motor Museum, a place I had never heard of, and didn't expect much of, to be honest. The modern facility (reconstructed from 2013 to 2016) houses an interesting bunch of cars that you don't usually see at other European museums, including a number of Soviet-era state limousines. 


This Krastin is said to be the only remaining example of the marque, founded by a Latvian.

One of the first cars you'll encounter when entering the nicely laid-out facility is a Krastin, dating from the early 1900s. I'd never heard of it before. The company's founder, a Latvian by the name of Augusts Krastiņš relocated to the USA and built cars from 1901 to 1904. The car on display at the Riga Motor Museum is believed to be the only surviving example.

Beautiful in red - Mercedes-Benz 320.

A number of more well-known brands also make an appearance, particularly in the area reserved for cars from the 30s and 40s. I rather liked the styling of the magnificent red 1937 Mercedes-Benz 320, and the imposing presence of the 1934 Packard Eight Model 1100. 

This ZIL 111G Soviet limo weighed a hefty 2.8 tonnes!

The exhibition of Soviet limousines, complete with models of Stalin in the back seat, is not something you see every day. The earliest of the limos is a 1949 ZIS 115, powered by a 6.0L 8-cylinder engine, and good for 140kph, supposedly. A better-known model in the Kremlin Collection is the 1972 GAZ Chaika (5.5L V8 and 160kph top speed). There is also a ZIL 111G from 1964, which had a 6.0L V8 and which was good for 170kph. It also weighed 2815kg!

Rather pretty, don't you think? This is the GAZ 22 Volga station wagon.

I do like discovering new brands and their histories, so the section filled with Russian cars was particularly of interest. A very pretty GAZ 22 Volga station wagon caught my eye - made in 1963, it had a 2.4L 4-cylinder engine.

The Moskvich 408 featured a greater emphasis on passenger safety than other period Soviet cars.

The Moskvich 408 a mass-produced, compact rear-wheel drive car that now seems unremarkable, but it was quite a modern effort (for a Soviet car) upon its debut. It was the first Soviet car that placed a serious emphasis on safety, and consequently one of the first to feature seat belts and crumple zones. The red display car looked neat and "sturdy".

When all you want is a roadster...

One of the weirder displays is the diminutive SMZ S3A M from 1967, a really small little open-topped car with a claimed mass of only 430kg! Its 1-cylinder, 7kW 0.3L engine gave it a top speed of 60kph - but it looks like it would fall to pieces long before reaching that top-end!

Big chrome grilles... it's nothing new.

Another very small car (but sporting a LOT of chrome) is the 1950 REAF 50, which tipped the scales at 680kg and which was proposed to be powered by a 1.1L 2-cylinder engine that produced 24kW.

Neatly styled and interesting technically, the ZAZ 966V Zaporozhets.

A car that I had seen before in Russia, the ZAZ 966V Zaporozhets, again turned my head with its interesting styling (quite NSU Prinz-like) and specification. Featuring rear-wheel drive and a rear-mounted air-cooled engine, the 966V Zaporozhets was built in Soviet Ukraine from 1966. Its engine produced 22kW.

Want a selfie with Stalin? You can at the Riga Motor Museum.

Almost hidden in a corner was an example of Soviet sportscar design I had never heard of before - the 1963 ZIL 112S. Featuring striking styling (think mix of AC Cobra and Ferrari 250 TR with Scaglietti body) the unimaginatively named 112S sported a 6L V8 with 180kW... enough for a 250kph top speed!

These are just a few of the highlights from quick visit - the museum warrants putting a full day aside and is definitely worth the Euro 10 entry fee. Children under 6 enter for free. The museum also has a small shop and restaurant.

Visit the museum's website here.

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