The surprising history of a Graham Paige, the first papal car to have transported a pope beyond the walls of the Vatican.
The magnificent black Graham Paige type 837, which is now stationed at the Coach Pavilion of the Vatican Museums, did not steal its place in the museum. The Graham Paige was given to Pope Pius XI on November 10, 1929 by the Graham brothers to celebrate the Lateran agreements that the papacy and the Italian state had just signed. This “reconciliation” put an end to nearly 60 years of estrangement between Italy and the successors of Peter. Since 1870, the popes had considered themselves prisoners in the Vatican.
In 1926 negotiations finally took hold and culminated three years later in the recognition of the pope’s temporal sovereignty over the Vatican City State. During this period (1870-1929), five popes—Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV and then Pius XI—did not leave the Vatican.
A trip to the Lateran Basilica
So, when on December 22, 1929, the pope climbed into the Graham Paige to visit the Basilica of St. John Lateran—the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, located 5 kilometers from St. Peter’s Basilica—the American sedan made history. “It was the first time that a pope left the Vatican after the fall of Rome on September 20, 1870,” notes the Vatican Museums. Ten years later, the same car would drive Pius XII to the Quirinal Palace for a formal visit to the King and Queen of Italy.
The signing of the Lateran Agreements was an opportunity for several car manufacturers to present the pontiff with splendid cars flocked with the papal coat of arms. The most beautiful of them is arguably the Citroën Lictoria C6. The interior layout is spectacular. The cabin presents itself according to the Museums as “a very refined small salon in 18th century Venetian style, dominated by the papal throne in crimson brocade and by elegant inlaid wood panels which cover places where you can shelter useful objects during the trip, such as the breviary.” However, because of its ostentatious luxury, the French sedan was never used.
The American car again makes history
In 1943, the more sober Graham Paige found itself once again at the center of great Roman events. On July 19 of this year, the capital of Italy was bombed by the United States. The district of San Lorenzo, in the east of the city, was devastated. The air raid left nearly 3,000 dead and 11,000 injured.
Upon hearing the grim news, Pope Pius XII jumped into a Mercedes 230 to go to the scene of the tragedy in order to console the Roman people. But the German car broke down. The Graham Paige 837 was then dispatched to lead the Bishop of Rome. In a memorable photo, we see the pontiff with arms outstretched and imploring the sky in front of a crowd gathered around him. Right behind him awaits the Graham Paige.