Grand Prix

Monaco’s Late Prince Rainer Loved Cars. Now His World-Class Collection Has Moved to Its Own Museum.

Monaco’s Late Prince Rainer Loved Cars. Now His World-Class Collection Has Moved to Its Own Museum.

Think of revved engines and race cars, jetsetters and checkered flags and one place comes to mind: Monaco. It’s almost 100 years since the first Grand Prix took place there, one that’s now part of the petrolhead Triple Crown. Fast cars are a permanent fixture there, though: Garages in Monaco resemble more a Ferrari and Porsche showroom than a parking lot.

Wealth has helped Monaco stay at the forefront of high-end automobile excellence, of course, but it’s more than that. The late ruler, Prince Rainier III, was only six when that first Grand Prix took place, but cars became a lifetime obsession. He bought so many, in fact, that his private collection outgrew the garage at the palace—and so he opted to open them up to the public in 1993.

The assortment used to be housed in a soulless, cavernous space close to that palace complex in the Fontvieille district, about as inconvenient a site as possible in a 499-acre country (that’s smaller than Central Park). Thankfully, though, Rainier’s son, the present ruler Prince Albert, has just reopened his family’s collection in a brand-new site, right at the principality’s heart.

The façade of La Collection, where Prince Rainier III’s vast car collection is on display. 

Mark Ellwood

That new, custom-built home by architect Fabrice Notari took 10 years from start to finish. It’s a futuristic, almost 38,000-square-foot underground bunker that sits right on the Port Hercules. The new location is a nod to Monaco’s connections with F1, as it’s right by the double chicane dubbed the Piscine during the race. It’s also handily on the harbor where many superyachts berth—step off your yacht and you can now visit the collection within minutes. 
In the old space, the cars were lined up, almost dutifully, more like a kid might when playing with a few miniatures. Now, the royal family’s haul has been reinstalled in a smarter, pithier way, with 75 cars (both borrowed and crown-owned) ranging over two floors with a distinct sense of direction and curation.

A 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera. 

Mark Ellwood

There are teasers at the entrance, like the swaggering but featherlight 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera, one of the first to integrate racing performance into a road car. The visit truly starts, though, as you’re guided downstairs to the lower mezzanine. The display here focuses on the collection that Rainier himself assembled; there’s a regular vroom-vroom piped through the speakers to amp up the atmosphere.

The cars are clustered in various groupings: Take the museum’s own Concours d’Elegance, where they line up for inspection, show pony-style with a 1920s-era Rolls-Royce like a 40/50 HP Silver Ghost Limousine Barker, sturdy and elegant, or the eight-cylinder Delage Berlin from 1934. Look, too, for the case of glass vials, a rainbow of colors. “This is what they used to put real flowers in to scent the car,” Valerie Closier, the museum director and the daughter of an amateur rally driver, told Robb Report on a recent tour, “Now, we just have the pine trees.”

The Isetta “Bubble Car’” 

Mark Ellwood

Another section here is dubbed “The Beautiful Italians”—though it’s confusingly ranged against screens showing black and white movies featuring Elvis among others, while speakers blare 1950s pop. Most of these cars are gleaming, and lipstick-red, with the racy insouciance that’s so typical of Italian design. Take the Isetta—best known as the bubble car (pictured above)—that’s jauntily installed by the staircase, its front invitingly wide open; sadly, there’s no way to reach its butter-leather taupe seats. Tucked in one corner nearby is a 1950s race car legend: One of only seven Renault 1603s adapted for racing, it’s the sole one to have championed at the Le Mans 24 Hour race, in 1951.

The Renault 1603, which raced in Le Mans. 

Mark Ellwood

Prince Albert, the principality’s current ruler, offloaded almost 40 of his father’s favorites at auction a decade ago, from a 1956 Bentley S1 to a Berliet C2 from 1907. But his sale wasn’t a sign of waning interest; the current ruler is as much of a petrolhead as Grimaldi père. The upper level of the museum is dedicated to the race cars that Albert favors, among them 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 will usually be someone squatting down in front of the Ferrari driven by Charles Leclerc, which he loaned to the museum. And no wonder he picked this collection above all others—the 24-year old isn’t just a champion driver but one of the fewer than 40,000 people in the world who are Monaco born and bred.

54 route de la piscine, Port Hercule 98000 Monaco. Entrance fees €10 for adults, €5 for children.
Check out more photos of the prince’s car collection below:

Mark Ellwood

Mark Ellwood

Mark Ellwood

Mark Ellwood

Michael Alesi

Always Wanted to Drive a Formula 1 Car? Here Are 4 Places Where You Can

Always Wanted to Drive a Formula 1 Car? Here Are 4 Places Where You Can

With Formula 1’s 73rd season just off the starting line, motorsport’s premier race series is in the midst of a turbocharged popularity surge thanks to last year’s riveting battle between seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and heir apparent Max Verstappen—not to mention the Netflix documentary series Formula 1: Drive to Survive, with its focus on the real-life drama both inside and outside the cars.

But for the ultimate thrill, try a turn behind the wheel of an actual pedigreed F1 racer. Even decades-old competition chassis remain among the most high-tech, demanding and rare vehicles on the planet, and with the ability to pilot them around some of the world’s most famous circuits, you can consider the rest of your automotive bucket list obsolete.

1. Bovingdon Airfield

Hertfordshire, England
Instead of an F1 circuit, TrackDays will have you flying around England’s Bovingdon Airfield in the same Jordan EJ12 that Takuma Sato piloted through his rookie season in 2002. Before drivers take on the ex-Sato sled and its nearly 600 hp, 10,500 rpm V-10, the five-hour curriculum (starting at approximately $1,300) includes a preparatory 14 laps of skill-honing drills in a sports car, plus another 20 laps in an open-wheel F1000. For the finale, 10 laps in the Jordan await, though up to 20 more can be added for a supplemental charge.
Race Car: Jordan EJ12
Engine: 3.0-liter naturally aspirated Judd V-8
Power: 600 hp
2. Circuit Paul Ricard

Le Castellet, France
Founded and run by former F1 test driver and Formula 3 champion Laurent Redon, LRS Formula offers three levels of action. The Bronze experience includes a 650 hp Benetton B198 from 1998 or a 2001-season Prost AP04, while the Silver option introduces the 750 hp Jaguar R3, circa 2002. But it’s the Gold selection, priced from around $6,500, that unleashes the real fury: a 2011 Williams FW33 producing 750 hp at 18,000 rpm. (That’s down from the KERS-enhanced 830 hp on hand when Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado were in the cockpit, but don’t flatter yourself that you’ll miss it.) Drive days take place at acclaimed circuits in France, Spain and Portugal, and begin with stints in 200 hp Formula Renault 2.0 cars, the type Kimi Räikkönen raced prior to finding F1 glory.

Race Car: Williams FW33
Engine: 2.4-liter naturally aspirated Cosworth V-8
Power: 750 hp
Other Circuits: Dijon-Prenois; Nevers Magny-Cours; Barcelona-Catalunya; Portimão
3. Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps

Stavelot, Belgium
With 22 years in operation, Italy’s Puresport Racing School puts you behind the wheel of the A18 racer campaigned by 1996 World Drivers’ Champion Damon Hill during his 1997 season with the Arrows team. Originally fit with a 700 hp Yamaha V-10, the car is now propelled by a 3.0-liter Cosworth V-8 delivering 500 hp at 9,000 rpm. (Prior to buckling in to Hill’s former ride, drivers warm up with 10 laps in a 255 hp Formula 3 machine.) With sessions starting at $4,300, set dates are available across famed European circuits in Belgium, Germany and Italy, where participants experience the tracks in their entirety. There’s also the option of a camera car to record your personal Grand Prix performance.
Race Car: Arrows A18
Engine: 3.0-liter naturally aspirated Cosworth V-8
Power: 500 hp
Other Circuits: More than a dozen, including Hockenheimring, Imol and Monza
4. Dubai Autodrome

Dubai, UAE
Although the United Arab Emirates (UAE) currently hosts Formula 1 in its capital of Abu Dhabi, neighboring city Dubai is home to what is known as “the heart of UAE motorsport,” the Dubai Autodrome. Through the latter’s F1 experience, starting from about $2,700, drivers will familiarize themselves with the Autodrome’s 1.52-mile Club Circuit configuration in both a BMW 330i and a Radical SR3; after that, the real deal: a stint in a 550 hp version of the R1 race car used by the Jaguar team during the 2000 season. (You can also climb into an Arrows A23, also with 550 hp, from that team’s short-lived 2002 campaign.) That means a minimum of four laps around the FIA-sanctioned track, in the same type of vehicle British driver Johnny Herbert finished his career, and the exact car driven by his teammate Eddie Irvine.

Race Car: Jaguar R1
Engine: 3.0-liter naturally aspirated Judd V-8
Power: 550 hp

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