This week marks 40 years since the memorable visit of Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to the United States. At the invitation of President Nixon, Brezhnev’s trip was his first to the U.S. and their second summit in a series of three. RN welcomed Brezhnev at the White House before holding talks at Camp David and the ideologically-diverse duo even flew out to San Clemente together.
Among the most intriguing and amusing happenings of the summit took place at Camp David. RN, like most other world leaders, knew of Brezhnev’s fondness for foreign cars and encouraged his impulsive frivolity by presenting him with a 1973 Lincoln Continental — dark blue with special black velour upholstery, a true classic. “Special Good Wishes — Greetings” was engraved on the dashboard.
Brezhnev wanted to go for a ride.
Nixon recorded the scene in his Memoirs:
He got behind the wheel and motioned me into the passenger seat. The head of my Secret Service detail went pale as I climbed in and we took off down one of the narrow roads that run around the perimeter of Camp David….
At one point there is a very steep slope with a sign at the top reading, ‘Slow, dangerous curve’….
Brezhnev was driving more than 50 miles an hour as we approached the slope. I reached over and said, ‘Slow down, slow down,’ but he paid no attention. When we reached the bottom there was a squeal of rubber as he slammed on the breaks and made the turn….
‘You are an excellent driver,’ I replied. ‘I would never have been able to make that turn at the speed at which we were traveling.’
Diplomacy is not always an easy art.
A film clip of the day’s events here shows Nixon presenting the car to Brezhnev as the two speed off.
Brezhnev added the car to his personal collection in Moscow — while gifts to Nixon were property of the United States — which included a Rolls Royce, Citroen Maserati, Mercedes 450 SL and a Soviet Zil limousine. The Lincoln is currently on display at the Riga Motor Museum in Riga, Latvia.
The Lincoln Continental on display in Latvia. Photo courtesy of ‘That Hartford Guy’ on Flickr.
The Richard Nixon Centennial Exhibit Patriot. President. Peacemaker, currently on display at the Nixon Library, showcases a section on the Cold War, the Soviet Union, and RN’s Town Car Diplomacy.
Jimmy Byron is a Communications and Marketing Assistant at the Richard Nixon Foundation. He is a third-year student at Chapman University.