The museum collection The Motor of the Republic – The Presidential Cars came about as a result of a challenge issued by the Museum of Transport and Communications to the Museum of the Presidency of the Republic.
The challenge, which was immediately accepted, was to create a permanent exhibit that would make it possible for the public to visit, assembled and preserved, one of the most important collections of cars in the country: those that have been in the service of its presidents since the founding of the Republic, over 100 years ago.
This collection also reflects an awareness that the vehicles exhibited here are part of a historical heritage. As such, they are no longer disposed of once decommissioned, but become part of the collection of the Museum of the Presidency of the Republic.
The job of recording, locating and recovering the cars that were used by the presidents of the Republic, an ongoing task, has been a priority of the Museum of the Presidency of the Republic practically since its inception, as already demonstrated by a group of temporary exhibitions: beginning in 2004, to coincide with the opening of the Museum of the Presidency of the Republic, and continuing over the course of subsequent years, in Porto, Lisbon, Figueira da Foz and Guimarães.
Siting this collection in Porto also contributes to the Museum of the Presidency of the Republic’s aim of decentralising its activity, bringing part of its collection to the north of the country, a region with a great tradition of car collecting. Additionally, it provides us with an opportunity, impelled by the motors of the Republic, to offer visitors an insight into the history of the Portuguese Republic and its presidential institution.
Not all of the cars that have now been located are included in the exhibition since some of the vehicles that were used by presidents of the Republic are held in public and private collections, notably at the National Coach Museum and at the Caramulo Museum. And there are still many cars whose whereabouts are, for now, unknown.
We are indebted to the various public and private bodies, and private individuals, whose support and contributions have made it possible not only to add to the collection but also to rescue a number of vehicles from the effects of time. We would like to mention the collaboration of Automóvel Clube de Portugal and the Clube Português de Automóveis Antigos, who have been involved in this process from an early stage, as well as our sponsors, particularly SIVA and Banco Carregosa, who in various ways have helped to enrich this project.
From the horse-drawn vehicle to the first cars
When the Republic was established in 1910, the presidents, like the monarchs before them, needed to be provided with transport to enable them to carry out their functions as the legitimate representatives of the state. The spirit of greater austerity which prevailed during the new regime imposed restrictions and rules on the use of carriages from the outset. The president of the provisional government was assigned a carriage inherited from the royal household, which was embellished with the armillary sphere, symbol of the Republic. It was not until later, after Belém Palace became the seat of the Presidency of the Republic, that the carriage service was created and a small fleet of horse-drawn carriages was assembled for presidential use.
This was the very period during which the car became increasingly important and began to conquer Portugal’s urban and national road network. Communication routes took a leap forward during the First Republic. Like the rail network, roads began to spread out to cover the entire country. The car became the motor of the Republic.
The economic situation in Portugal brought with it constraints on the purchase of vehicles. Manuel de Arriaga even used his own private vehicle for state business. The comfort, security and speed offered by the motorcar meant it became the everyday mode of transport, with horse-drawn vehicles being largely reserved for ceremonial and official occasions.
During this period, the majority of long journeys were still made by train, as happened with the first official foreign visit made by a president of the Portuguese Republic, when Bernardino Machado visited the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps, stationed on the battlefront, during the First World War. In 1917, too, he used the train to go into exile following the coup mounted by Sidónio Pais. As president, the latter embarked on numerous trips around the country using the rail network. And it was as he was about to embark on one such trip that he was assassinated, in the ticket hall of Rossio station.
It was thanks to the war effort that the car took another leap forward. Automobile mechanics developed exponentially as a result of advances made in aeronautical technology New makes and models emerged across Europe and the United States. The use of the automobile, previously confined to the richest sectors of society, became widespread. Records confirm the acquisition of cars for the Presidency of the Republic during this period.
In 1926, the military coup of 28 May was followed by the setting up of a military dictatorship and a resulting period of social agitation that lasted until 1928, stabilising when the faction led by Óscar Carmona established its hold on power. With the new political regime, consolidated by the 1933 Constitution, the powers of the head of state were significantly strengthened. The ups and downs of political life, however, eventually led to the concentration of power with the President of the Council, Oliveira Salazar, leaving the President of the Republic confined to representational duties.
Óscar Carmona’s decision to live at Citadel Palace, in Cascais, made it necessary for the Presidency of the Republic to purchase new vehicles to transport the head of state. At the end of the 1930s, therefore, various Packard cars were added to the Presidency of the Republic fleet, one of which was specifically placed in the service of the First Lady, Maria do Carmo Carmona. Throughout the 1940s, these were the cars that were most used by Óscar Carmona.
Previously, in the 1930s, following an attempt on Salazar’s life, the Portuguese State, through the PVDE (the State Defence and Surveillance Police), purchased two armoured Mercedes 770 W07, one for the President of the Council and the other for the President of the Republic. This vehicle was little used due to the high cost of maintenance and its poor fuel efficiency (around 70 litres per 100km) at a time of fuel rationing brought about by the Second World War. It was later used for security reasons, during the official visit of the Spanish head of state, Generalissimo Franco, to Portugal in 1949.
The Estado Novo and its ceremonial vehicles
Following the death of President Óscar Carmona, in 1951, an Air Force General, Francisco Craveiro Lopes, was chosen to succeed him as head of state. His presidency was to last just one term, until 1958. It was during this period that some of the Estado Novo’s most lavish state visits took place. On these occasions, a great procession was generally organised through the city of Lisbon, running between Portela Airport and the Queluz or Belém Palaces, with a guard of honour from the National Republican Guard. It was customary for businesses to shut on the day that foreign heads of state arrived, or when the President of the Republic returned from official visits, in order to allow large crowds to gather in welcome. The vehicles used were in keeping with this new context. Thus, and in order to make the most of these situations, in 1954 a very lavish convertible Cadillac Sixty Two was acquired for better visibility of the head of state during processions. There are famous images of the Brazilian president, Café Filho, in this car, greeting the crowds in the Rua Augusta, during his official visit to Portugal in 1955.
In 1957, Queen Elizabeth II returned the visit that Craveiro Lopes had made to England in 1955, in what was the most high-profile state visit to take place in Portugal during the Estado Novo. Elizabeth arrived on board an English ship and disembarked from the Portuguese royal brigantine (now on display in the Navy Museum) at Cais das Colunas in Terreiro do Paço, where she was received with an impressive military display. For this visit, a decision was made to buy a new luxury vehicle for the Presidency of the Republic, a Rolls-Royce Phantom III. Bought through the Portuguese Embassy in London, this car became a feature of major state visits to Portugal, being used, notably, for the visits of Popes Paul VI, in 1967, and John Paul II, in 1982.
Prior to this, on an official visit to Spain in 1953, Craveiro Lopes was presented with a Pegaso car. This very rare sports car, with just two seats, was little used by the President of the Republic. His son and aide-de-camp, João Craveiro Lopes, drove the Pegaso, ensuring its maintenance. Once Craveiro Lopes’ term had ended it was rarely used again, until it was removed from the Presidency of the Republic’s list of assets, in 1964.
Américo Tomás, elected in 1958, travelled predominantly in Portugal and for this purpose new vehicles, closed cars which made it possible to travel long distances in great comfort, were purchased. The Presidency of the Republic acquired a Rolls-Royce Phantom V and a Vanden Plas Princess. In these cars, Américo Tomás visited numerous cities in Portugal, opened roads, bridges and dams, and received illustrious visitors. These two vehicles outlived the Estado Novo and, together with a Mercedes 600 Pullman, transferred meanwhile from the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, continued to be used, until the mid-1990s, by Presidents of the Republic, on various official occasions.
The Democratisation of the Presidential Vehicles
The new democratic regime brought profound changes to the Presidency of the Republic’s car fleet. The marshals António Spínola and Francisco Costa Gomes had the use of two Mercedes, bought in 1973. But it was above all military vehicles that were used by both presidents, as well as by General Ramalho Eanes. They were less showy, faster and safer cars, the majority of which had been acquired during the period they carried out functions within the General Staff of the Armed Forces. Four vehicles remained from the Estado Novo, nonetheless, reserved for ceremonial occasions: the Rolls-Royce Phantom III and V, the Mercedes 600 Pullman and the Vanden Plas Princess already referred to.
In a sign of the times, during President Ramalho Eanes’ second term, a Citroën CX 2400 Prestige was purchased, identical to the car used by the President of the French Republic. From that moment on, the dominant and distinctive feature of the different automobile models purchased for the use of the President of the Republic was to be technology.
Two of the most notable visits to Portugal during this period were Pope John Paul II’s 1982 visit, the last occasion on which the Rolls-Royce Phantom III was used in the service of the Presidency of the Republic, and the visit of Queen Elizabeth II of England, in 1985, during which the Rolls-Royce Phantom V was used.
As a rule, the President of the Republic is assigned two vehicles. When a president serves two terms, the same cars are used until the end of the period in office.
In 1986, the election of Mário Soares as head of state marked the return of a civilian to the post, following 60 years of military presidents. This was a period during which there was an increase in the tendency, already notable from the 1970s, towards a greater sobriety with respect to the vehicles that were placed at the service of the President of the Republic.
In symbolic and functional terms, the role of the automobile associated with the presidential institution has naturally changed over time. From a revolutionary mode of transport at the beginning of the twentieth century, the car became, during the Estado Novo period, a way of differentiating and dignifying the figure of the President of the Republic. The technological development achieved at the end of the twentieth century, like the gradual change in the President of the Republic’s role, prioritised comfort, safety, speed, economy and sobriety, as exemplified by the modern saloon cars produced by major car companies.