On July 14, 1896, the first Russian automobile was put on display at the All-Russia Art and Industry Exhibition in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. It was the work of two Russian engineers, Evgeny Yakovlev and Pyotr Freze.
The 1896 exhibition featured all kinds of industrial products – stationary engines, mining equipment, agricultural machinery. Pro-nn.org has hundreds of photos on the show..
It was here that Evgeny Yakovlev and Pyotr Freze proudly displayed their first car, which bore a slight resemblance to the Benz Velo. It was not a coincidence – and to be fair, a lot of engineers copied the Benz design at the time.
Evgeny Aleksandrovich Yakovlev (1857-1898), a former Navy Lieutenant developed a stationary engine in the late 1880s. Its success prompted him to set up a factory in St. Petersburg. Yakovlev’s St Petersburg Metallic Works presented their engines at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago.
It was not only Yakovlev who made it to Chicago. Petr Aleksandrovich Freze (1844-1918) was a graduate of the St. Petersburg Mining Institute. He got a job at the Karl Nellis Carriage Factory. A few years later he rose to the post of factory manager and became a full partner of the owner, Karl Nellis. Owing to the efforts of the young mining engineer, who introduced new technologies and original design solutions, by the late 1880s their factory had an excellent reputation. Pyotr Freze devised many technical improvements for horse-drawn carriages. One of them is called “a new system of mounting carriages on leaf-spring suspensions”. Soon he became one of the founders of the Carriage-Building Joint-Stock Company Freze & Co. Freze and Nellis also participated at the 1893 World Fair.
It was in Chicago that Benz introduced its new, more compact Velocipede (Velo) model, which went on to become an international success – 1200 units were produced.
Both Yakovlev and Freze looked at the Velo in Chicago and started discussing the idea of a Russian automobile. It came to fruition in 1895 and finished in 1896.
On July 2, 1896, the newspaper Nizhegorodsky Listok reported that at the All-Russia Exhibition the first Russian self-propelled carriage would be demonstrated. On July 19 the newspaper briefly reported that the Russian Emperor Nicholas II (1868-1918) had visited the exhibition and that the Royal couple was shown the first Russian automobile with a gasoline engine. The newspaper mentioned that commentary was provided by the engineer Pyotr Freze. A reporter of the Samokat magazine noted that many of the visitors to the exhibition were impressed “by the elegance and lightness of the automobile. Its price was estimated at 1,500 rubles, and it could do up to 20 versts an hour on a highway.”
For a number of reasons, the automobile of Yakovlev and Freze did not evoke any great interest among the Russian ruling elite most of whom owned foreign-made cars. And so the inventors could rely only on their own resources. The public at large were not interested in the technical innovations and advantages of the first Russian automobile.
The untimely death of Yakovlev in 1898 put an end to these efforts.
In 1996 to celebrate the centenary of the Yakovlev-Freze automobile, the Russian Autoreview magazine comissioned a replica of the original car. Today it is being shown at various car shows and exhibitions. Autoreview put together a brochure, showing how the replica was built.