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The Roundabout Blog

A car-spotter’s guide to the Sochi Olympics

  • The power and the glory

    Through this first week of the 2014 Winter Games, the world’s eyes have been trained on the slopes, ice rinks, halfpipes and bobsled tracks – and, it must be said, the restrooms – of Sochi, Russia. Lingering out of frame, however, are some of the vehicles that have made the 22nd winter Olympiad possible. Stout, humble machines that do not grumble for want of chrome or Connolly leather.

    Then there is the Marussia B2.

    What follows is a look at the cars that define Russian motoring: some that are new, and some that came along decades before Sochi’s sporting potential was a glimmer in a Kremlin apparatchik’s eye.

  • Lada Kalina

    What makes it notable: Built by Volzhsky Automobilny Zavod (Avtovaz), the Kalina is a reasonably priced, reasonably powerful, reasonably efficient car that has sold in the hundreds of thousands since its debut in 2004. Fittingly, it has also featured in Top Gear Russia’s Reasonably Priced Car segment.

    Likelihood of Sochi sighting: High.

    (Photo: Denis Sinyakov/AFP/Getty)

  • Moskvich 1.5L

    What makes it notable: James May of Top Gear had nothing good to say about the Moskvich 408, a compact sedan in the 1960s Trabant/Peugeot/Fiat idiom. In spite of dubious fit and finish, later models such as the 1.5L are survivors, still found rambling down rutted tracks and broad boulevards of the former Eastern Bloc – as well as preening in the parking lots of Havana, Cuba, like this one does.

    Likelihood of Sochi sighting: Moderate. (Photo: Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images)

  • GAZ Chaika

    What makes it notable: Think of this luxury barge as a Russian riff on the hand-built 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. It’s big, it’s sumptuous and, with a mere 3,100 examples produced between 1959 and 1981, it’s fairly rare. The car – a perennial favourite of Russian government officials and gangsters – made a rather grand cameo during the Sochi opening ceremonies.

    Likelihood of Sochi sighting: Zero (opening ceremonies notwithstanding).

    (Photo: Ryan Pierse/AFP/Getty)

  • Marussia B2

    What makes it notable: A Russian hypercar built in Finland and powered by a British-built V6 engine, the Marussia B2 was an unlikely, explosive manifestation of international commerce.

    Likelihood of Sochi sighting: Infinitesimal.

    (Photo: Marussia)

  • Lada Niva 4x4

    What makes it notable: Another Avtovaz product, this little trail-blazer has been exported widely since its 1977 debut, and it soldiers on in various guises in Russia, including as a Chevrolet-branded product. (The example above was spotted by BBC Worldwide managing editor David G Allan, who is on the ground in Sochi for BBC Travel.)

    Likelihood of Sochi sighting: High.

    (Photo: David G Allan)

  • Trabant 601

    What makes it notable: The people’s car of the Eastern Bloc is not Russian-made, but perhaps by sheer volume, it remains Communism’s most famous machine. The factory in Zwickau, Germany, churned out close to 3m of these indefatigable runabouts between 1963 and 1990 – and a surprising number of those are still plying roads across Eastern Europe.

    Likelihood of Sochi sighting: Moderate.

    (Photo: Michael Gottschalk/AFP/Getty Images)

  • ZiL Limousine

    What makes it notable: Zavod imeni Likhachova, better known as ZiL, is primarily known as a builder of buses and heavy trucks. But since 1936, the company has also produced a line of hand-crafted luxury cars, including the gargantuan state limousines that have ferried every Russian leader since Stalin. The last one rolled down the line in 2002, and in the years since, most state-owned ZiL limos have been retired.

    Likelihood of Sochi sighting: Low.

    (Photo: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

  • GAZ Tigr

    What makes it notable: The official 4x4 of the Russian military and law-enforcement, the Tigr is, first and foremost, a go-anywhere, do-anything war machine. And, like the US Humvee that inspired it, the government-spec Tigr has spawned a plush and pricey civilian version — perfect for an out-of-the-way resort town like Sochi.

    Likelihood of Sochi sighting: High.

    (Photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)

  • Lada Riva

    What makes it notable: Said Jeremy Clarkson of the Riva: “The only good thing about this car is that you can drive it in a hat.” Derived from the very likable Fiat 124, the Lada distinguished itself as a memorably terrible car in every way: dynamics, build quality, reliability, everything. And yet, Avtovaz built more than 18m of them during 40-odd years of production, so a Riva is rarely a snowball’s throw away anywhere in Russia.

    Likelihood of Sochi sighting: High.

    (Photo: Vano Shlamov/AFP/Getty Images)

  • GAZ Volga

    What makes it notable: Reminiscent of a Nash Rambler at the time of its birth, the exuberantly styled mid-century Volga was a design icon. The same cannot not be said for later generations, such as this overburdened example from the ‘70s.

    Likelihood of Sochi sighting: Moderate.

    (Photo: Vano Shlamov/AFP/Getty)

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