While the Russian cars of today pay collagen-lip service to the luxe tastes of a newly wealthy society, it wasn't always that way. For every gold-rimmed BMW 7-Series you see on the streets of Moscow today, there's a rather severe-looking ZIL limousine or worse, a compact "Wolga" lurking in the owner's past.
Before Mr. Gorbachev tore down that wall, Soviet-style fashion had more in common with the runways at Sheremetyevo than Milan. While Americans were swooning over boattail Rivieras and boasting over Bel Airs, the Soviets were saddled with Volgas and Moskvitchs.
But that didn't mean they didn't require marketing. Far from it: the Soviet car companies actually pitched their cars in glossy ads. Cars were luxury objects, after all, and cost the equivalent of years and years of workers' salaries. And you really had to convince someone a Moskvitch was a good purchase versus, say, heat. Or vodka.
"Soviet cars weren't the most comfortable automobiles in the world, but the brands were fancy," writes Elia Kabanov on his blog, Metkere. This week he's curated a collection of Soviet car ads that attempt to boost the sex appeal of the cars themselves. Usually, it was in vain: the cars themselves were ugly and didn't photograph well, since often, they were raised to meet the unique road conditions in the Soviet Union. That made them good candidates for export to developing countries like India and Indonesia, but not so good choices for a two-page spread.
Among the janky lines and bizarre fashion choices, there are glimpses of cool, like the Studebaker Lark-ish look of a two-tone sedan, or the fraternal twins in peeking out of the back window of a ZAZ like the U.S.S.R.'s private-label clones of Wendy's hamburger namesake.
The Eastern Bloc dissolved in the early 1990s, and the Russian auto industry promptly crumbled like a Siberian highway. Russian drivers with means soon turned their sights to the West, and a whole generation slipped smoothly into the other hemisphere's cultural mainstream. The Volga of today is a Czech-made Skoda; today's ZAZ twins are charming tennis phenom Maria Sharapova, who counts a few Grand Slam trophies among her rewarding endorsements of Land Rovers.
It's an unwritten rule, we suppose: the faces may change, but the ground clearance stays the same.