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Zhiguli on avenues, Volga on streets

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Zhiguli on avenues, Volga on streets


Sergey Vinogradov

Soviet cars are greeted with welcoming car klaxons honking on the streets of New York, Berlin or Tokyo. It's a long time since German students bought Zhiguli cars, and French farmers acquired Lada Niva. As of today, collectors are chasing Volga, Pobeda (Victory) and Moskvich (Muscovite), which are exhibited in museums and in public squares.

For many foreigners, Soviet cars are curiosity and novelty, but for Russian compatriots they symbolize nostalgia and connection with their homeland. “When I stop by a gas station, almost every time someone offers me to buy my Zhiguli,” our compatriot Roman, who lives in New York, told the Russkiy Mir.

Photo credit: Roman Grudinin

The dream is not for sale

Roman Grudinin, who is not 30 yet, drives around New York in blue Zhiguli VAZ-2103 with old Soviet-style Odessa plates. The license plate has no legal force (the US one is in the front windshield), but it still strikes the eye, including the police officers, who usually respond with a raised finger.

The Zhiguli car is equipped with an old Soviet radio cassette player, which generally picks up only outside-US broadcast frequencies. However, the owner has altered it to catch New York radio stations. Supposedly, it would be smart enough to install an air conditioner to drive on burning roads during hot NYC summer, but the Odessa native is not inclined to do that. He's spent too much time and money trying to ensure detailed correspondence with the classic VAZ-2103 car, and prepared to sweat for this even on the hottest days.

Roman has brought his car all the way from Ukraine. He does not hide that the transportation costs were three times higher than the car price, and additionally huge paperwork had to be done. Some spare parts were transported over the ocean later. I bought rare spares in Odessa market and took them to New York, says Roman. "I remember taking the bumper on my carry-on luggage." Expensive and difficult? Anyway, this is my dream, he underlines.

Commitment to the Soviet automotive industry classics brought Roman Grudinin victory in the prestigious Greenwich Concours d'Elegance 7 years ago. Popular car magazines wrote about the 19 years-old owner and offered to sell the car, but the dreams are not for sale.

How do New Yorkers react to Zhiguli? Imagine for a second that you are seeing this car for the first time; don’t have any associations and dont know anything about it, he says. - Imagined? It is a stylish, beautiful car. It's true. That's how Americans react - "Wow, what a cool car." Believe me, the reaction is always like this, I've never received any negative one."

Roman admits that it's not easy to see a Soviet car passing by in the US, although it happens rarely, and he knows owners personally. There is one humpbacked Zaporozhets in New York, I know that for sure, and yet another one in the Florida museum, he adds. - One of my local acquaintances has a KamAZ, another has a ZIL military truck. The Californian buddy has a UAZ off road. There are many "madmans" out there, and not only Russian-speaking. I know one Hispanic person, who drives the Lada Niva, because his grandfather used to have one and he remembers it from the childhood.

Roman Grudinin with his VAZ-2103 Zhiguli nicknamed Troika (Triple)

Eventually, Roman has became neither a driver nor a mechanic. He works for a renown car dealer, but the love for Soviet automobiles has remained. I'm currently looking to buy a large house with a garage, says Roman. If everything goes ok, I will make a collection of Soviet cars - one motor vehicle from each Soviet-era industrial plants. And a bus, certainly.

Price and quality

"What they lack in fit and finish they make up for in being quite well built mechanically," the school shop teacher from Great Britain Ed Hughes states talking about his passion, the Soviet cars. His father used to own a quite a few. Ed's collection has started from VAZ 2107. Later on he has added four more Zhiguli models, one Moskvich and one Zaporozhets. He's dreaming about Volga-21 because it's beautiful, powerful, and makes a statement about it's owner. The Britishman tried once to drive the Volga, and felt exactly this way. The collector said that Soviet automobiles were always popular in Great Britain.

Despite all the anti-Soviet propaganda, interest in the Made in USSR products is growing in Baltic countries as well. A rare Baltic city doesn't have a museum dedicated to the Soviet lifestyle. And cars play an important part in this movement.

Several museums dedicated to Soviet technical achievements have opened in recent years. In Latvian city of Daugavpils, a retro garage was launched. City authorities and employees of the Russian embassy took part in the opening ceremony. The museum presents one of the largest collections of Moskvitch vehicles in the post-Soviet space.

Soviet motorsport museum was opened in the Estonian city of Turba. The main exhibits were racing motorcycles. Soviet racers forged world sports glory with them.

"Such beautiful cars were manufactured in the USSR"

If you want to see with your own eyes how much Russia and Germany are related, you should consider going to one of the vintage cars exhibitions. Before the pandemic they became a notable event in the life of German cities. Thousands of inhabitants came to see the Volga, Pobeda, Zaporozhets and Moskvitch car brands as well as Soviet motorcycles in the center of Frankfurt and Dortmund.

As the local press wrote, the Russian-speaking guests recalled their childhood and, like kids, were asking to spin a steering wheel, telling their offsprings: my grandfather had one like that. The Germans, especially those from the eastern territories of Germany, showed no less nostalgia, easily juggling Russian car names.

Photo: Parade of Soviet cars in Dortmund. Photo: Maria Tatarnikova / Russian Field

Autoclassics club in Dortmund mainly unites owners of Soviet-made cars. Today the club includes more than 60 Russian-speaking residents from Germany, Switzerland and Poland. Their occupations range from drivers to doctors. The club members organize events, exchange experiences, help each other with repairs and spare parts. In all, there are 156 pieces, including 22 motorcycles. The club has an official status- It is a public benefit nonprofit organization that preserves rarities of historical value. There are many car clubs in Germany, and their members meet often. Soviet cars can be seen at exhibitions and public events. For example, they are welcomed guests at the Technik Museum Sinsheim. Every year there are car exhibitions from the former socialist countries, and Soviet cars traditionally make the backbone of expositions.

Where are the cars from? Were they brought from Russia and other USSR ex-republics?

Not necessarily, there are quite a few Soviet cars in Germany and other European countries, especially in the former GDR and the Baltic states. Andrey Sayk from Dortmund, Soviet cars club chairmen and the owner of the Volga GAZ-24, told the Russkiy Mir. By the way, the GDR people are very fond of Soviet cars. There are many Volga and Zhiguli car clubs around. Young people remember how their parents drove Soviet cars. Western Germany residents are less familiar with the Soviet automobile industry. For example they can mistake the GAZ-24 Volga for Opel or Ford. When you tell them it is a Soviet car, they usually comment, Such beautiful cars were manufactured in the USSR.

Apart of participation in various events, Andrey Sayk takes his Volga out of garage to go to a job and do shopping. Police has never stopped me yet, shares Andrey. Usually, such cars might be stopped just to take a closer look."

Photo: Maria Tatarnikova / Russian Field

The Soviet cars market has been established in Germany and other European countries. According to Andrey Sayk, the GAZ-24 can be purchased on the go for up to 10 thousand euros. However, cars from the USSR have grown in price recently. The price of GAZ-21 Volga of 1960s can reach 20-30 thousand, and a luxury Chaika in good condition can cost up to 100 thousand euros.

There are no difficulties with repairs in Germany, since there are many auto repair shops opened by USSR immigrants. It is not necessary to order spare parts in Russia, there are shops in Germany that would not be surprised to order a muffler for a VAZ-2101 or suspension elements for Moskvich.

German fans of Soviet cars want to drive on them further than exhibitions and runs. We are negotiating with the Dortmund authorities about the USSR Museum opening, said Andrei Sayk. "It will feature exhibits related to the Soviet Union, and, first of all, cars.


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