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In motion by Richard Webb

Kremlin cars

Russian philosopher Vasiliy Rosanov once noted that in Russia, every single case of wealth originated from either theft or extortion.

Marking its 100th anniversary, the Russian Russo-Balt brand is said to be returning to the market with this coupe, the Impression. See details in sidebar on following spread.

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In motion by Richard Webb

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cars were only available to top professionals, party oďŹƒcials, scientists, by looking back to 1906

when a Russian engineer, Boris Lutskoy assembled Mercedes cars

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academics, other VIPs and of course, the feared KGB. Curiously, citizens were only allowed to rent Chaikas for weddings.

1 Lada 2 Renault 3 Chevrolet 4 Kia 5 Hyundai

6 Volkswagen 7 Nissan 8 Toyota 9 Ford 10 Skoda

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See previous page to view the R14,7m Impression.

for the Russian market. Around that same time another car ‒ the

In later years, a proletariat special was available in the form of a

pride of Russia ‒ the Russo-Balt was made from entirely foreign

Moskvitch (meaning Muscovite). Produced between 1945 and 2002,

parts. (see side bar). The October revolution of 1917 created a

this unlovely car was basically an Opel Kadette straight o the their

To mark its 100th anniversary, the Russian Russo-Balt brand

convenient Russian myth that all things had been invented in

production line and formed part of WWII reparations. Moskvitch cars

is said to be returning to the market with this coupe,

Russia. Revolutionary communists considered Russia to be the most

were never meant to be a fashion statement, but were stubbornly

the Impression. The Russian revolution brought an end to the

progressive country in the world. This led to indulgent plagiarism

sturdy, reliable and aordable. The 1960s and early 1970s were their

production with only three complete examples still surviving.

and ten years later, the very ďŹ rst Soviet car, the NAMI-1, a blatant

glory days, when the cars were exported to many countries

copy of the Czech Tatra-11 was available.

throughout the world. Bizarrely, the demand always exceeded

Central African wood, Zebrano. Mechanical bits from a

The dash is hand-made from one single piece of exotic

In 1929, with America hit by The Great Depression , Chevrolet

production, giving them cachĂŠ. The fall of the centralised Soviet

Mercedes CL63 AMG will help it drive reasonably, one

and Ford halved their production. Both ďŹ rms oered their

economy and subsequent below-par quality, coupled with inadequate

suspects, but at R14,7m, don t expect to see one on the N1.

production skills to the Soviet government and the GAZ badged

management ultimately brought the factory to bankruptcy.

Or on any other road, for that matter.

Ford cars were ďŹ rst to leave the factory in December 1932. These Soviet Fords bombed due to the lack of a boot and roof.

To this day the factory remains idle and abandoned, everything left

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as it was in 2002. UnďŹ nished bodyshells remain on the production line

Over time, most Soviet leaders, including Leonid Brezhnev,

in various stages of completion, while furniture, computers, oďŹƒce

travelled in locally designed and produced ZiL cars. After the collapse

supplies, and documents remain in the plant s administration building.

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of the Soviet Union the factory was practically shut down. They now

Next up, the Lada brand became extremely popular in Russia and

currently produce a handful of limousines for the Russian government

Eastern Europe during the last two decades of the Soviet era, it was

each year. If you really must have a ZIL, be prepared to pay similar

a symbol of city life. Lada made its name by selling the Fiat 124 in

that a monk, Isidore, created the ďŹ rst vodka recipe inside the

money to a Rolls Royce, Bentley or Aston Martin. Best not to bother.

large quantities during the 1980s. It used outdated technology, had

Kremlin in 1430. Since then, choice has grown to a dizzying

The Chaika (which means gull ) ultimately was the car favored by

poor fuel economy and horrid roadholding, but it gained popularity

30,000 brands if you include bootleg varieties. Russian car

Kremlin oďŹƒcials, Soviet heads of state, and senior KGB oďŹƒcers. To

thanks to its ruggedness, spacious interior, massive boot and low

brands have gone the opposite direction, dwindling to a

the average Russian, though, these cars became sinister symbols of

price, a particular consideration during the recession of the 1980s.

handful of indigenous makes. Some Vodkas are preposterously expensive like Russo-

the terrible power of the state. The large rear seat made it easy for

From 1979 Lada produced the Niva, a four-wheel drive vehicle,

the KGB to simply pull up beside their citizens drag them into the

which was signiďŹ cantly cheaper than its rivals. The Renault-Nissan

Baltique? It lays claim to being the worlds most expensive

car and take them on a trip to who knows where.

alliance recently agreed to take a controlling stake in Lada so its

Vodka, costing a stupendous $1.3 million per bottle.

Nikita Sergeyevich Khruschev, who led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War, was known to have two Chaikas for oďŹƒcial

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future looks brighter. Today, 95% of Kremlin oďŹƒcials use foreign cars assembled in Russia.

The Vodka comes in a ask shaped like a replica of the radiator grill on Russo-Balt cars. Made from gold

duties and one for his summer retreats. Russian policy dictated that

Ford, GM, Fiat and other foreign carmakers are conďŹ dent about Russia

coins minted between 1908 and 1912,

the oďŹƒcial cars were destroyed at the end of their duty cycle, so very

as they clamour to build new factories and revamp the old ones.

around the time the company manufactured its ďŹ rst car, the ask cap is

few survive today. The Mark 1 Chaika was produced from 1959 to

Foreign cars assembled in Russia accounted for 40 percent of their

1981 and was a direct clone of the 1955 Packard Patrician. The 5.5L V8

new car sales last year. Consisting mostly of vehicles from either the

made from white and yellow gold. It

engine wheezed out just 145 kW and mustered only 158km/h. These

Hyundai plant outside St. Petersburg, Renaults from Moscow,

contains a diamond-encrusted replica

Volkswagens from outside Kaluga or Chevrolet Nivas from Tolyatti.

of the Russian Imperial Eagle.

Top to Bottom: ZIS-110 was a limousine from ZIL introduced in 1946 which was developed from the reverse engineering of a 1942 Packard Super Eight during 1944. GAZ-13 Chaika. The Moskvitch 412. The Lada Niva

Directives have been issued from State bureaucracy that oďŹƒcial

The bottle itself is made of

vehicles should be manufactured on Russian soil. The appetite,

bulletproof glass 30

however, for glamorous European brands will have this directive

centimeters thick, so not a

take some beating.

single precious drop will

It would seem that there s a far greater appetite for evolution

escape if you are caught in any

rather than revolution regarding their own Russian vehicles, in this

crossďŹ re. Splendidly ridiculous.

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FYI - Extended captions supplied by Richard, only used the GAZ image from this list below.

<Expanded Caption: Take in image:XXX> The GAZ-24-24 was powered by a huge 5.53 litre, V8 engine through a three-gear automatic gearbox. This car was never available for private ownership and was used by the KGB right up to the early 1990 s but they were horribly out of date compared with western rivals and production ceased in 1992. Expanded caption ZAZ was a series of small cars designed and built from 1958 until 1994. Their brand, Zaporozhets means Cossack and are still warmly remembered by locals as a people s car, like the Volkswagen Beetle, and East Germany s Trabant. All Zaporozhets cars featured rear-engined, rear wheel drive set ups, much like the little Fiat 600 s they were ďŹ rst based on. <Expanded Caption: Take in image:XXX>

<Expanded Caption: Take in image:XXX> Volga started production in 1956, becoming a symbol of higher status in the Soviet Union. Most of the external designs of these cars were largely inďŹ&#x201A;uenced by Western vehicles of a much earlier period. Four generations of Volga cars have been produced, all of them dreadful.


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