On July 15, 1896, a pair of Russian engineers put an impressive vehicle on display at the All-Russia Art and Industry Exhibition: the first Russian automobile. The car was a collaboration between engineers in two different disciplines: Evgeny Yakovlev designed internal combustion engines and Pyotr Freze made carriage bodies. They were inspired to create their own car after seeing Karl Benz's Velo (right).
Their automobile included a number of brand-new innovations, such as an electrical ignition, force-feed lubrication and a removable cylinder head for easy maintenance. The car weighed over 600 pounds. Its four-stroke engine generated 2 horsepower, and had a top speed of over 13 miles per hour. The engine could run on either gasoline or kerosene.
The car, however, did not capture the imagination of Emperor Nikolas II, and never was mass produced, despite ongoing efforts of one of the creators. Pyotr Freze tried for a number of years to kick start Russia's auto industry. He was one of the first Russians to produce buses and trolleys. He formed a joint-stock company to produce carriages and automobiles. He even, briefly, got permission to design special auto-friendly roads in St. Petersburg. All of these efforts, however, failed to lead to mass marketing of cars in Russia. Freze eventually sold his blueprints to French car manufacturers and his plant to Russian Baltic Automobile.
No one knows what happened to Freze & Yakovlev's original prototype car. Many historians believe that it was destroyed by its creators.