Text Fred Flintstone
The sight of two middle-aged Bedrock women sipping their breakfast brewskis during their morning constitutional at 7:45 on a warm spring morning reminded Fred that he should prepare his readers for dacha season. These are the days to get out and see parts of the city that lie between metro stations, and even venture out beyond MKAD. From July until September 1, the city will be fairly quiet, a good time to get some practice behind the wheel and get the feel of the roads.
If you are hesitant to spend $15K or more on a late model inomarka (foreign car) and want to get a taste of local life, consider buying a brand new otechestvennaya mashina (domestic car) for about the price of two square meters of a Moscow apartment. That’s what the latest version of the classic Zhiguli will cost, including all the extras, financing available. At that price, it’s a “park and forget” vehicle: Leave it pretty much anywhere and don’t worry about a few nicks.
For locals, late spring means transporting gardening and construction materials to the countryside along with the valuables evacuated from the dacha in the fall to avoid theft by winter vandals. After June 1, babushka and the kids will get dropped off for a couple of months of country air, fresh food, and dirty hands and feet. A strong argument could be made that there is no better car for dacha service than the Zhiguli, a hardy, cheap, and simple vehicle well-suited to a summer of abuse on rough country roads.
The first Zhiguli was made in a plant built by Fiat in Tolyatti in 1966. That original model has gone through several iterations over the years, so the current models are cardinally designated Pyatyorka [Fifth] and the slightly upscale Semyorka [Seventh], priced at 146 800 rubles ($6,250) and 159 700 rubles ($6,975), respectively.
Fred feels there is little reason to pay the additional $700 for the Semyorka. Put it toward a radio, a good roof rack, a simple electric doorlock and alarm system, a selection of spare parts, tow and jumper cables, winter tires, etc. With a total including add-ons of about $7,500, a Pyatyorka can be driven for two years and shouldn’t depreciate more than about 25 percent. It has a 5-speed standard transmission, a 1.5-liter carbureted engine (when was the last time you saw a carburetor on an automobile?), seating for five, large windows, good headroom, and a big trunk. And it comes with a 3-year, 50,000-kilometer warranty. Official dealers like Eleks-Polus have good service centers for periodic maintenance visits, which, including car wash and oil change, are inexpensive and efficient.
Even apart from price and simplicity, the reasons to get a Pyatyorka are many: Gaishniki (traffic police) seldom stop them, and the Pyatyorka understands the local roads. Basic repairs are easy, and if you can’t do it yourself, there are plenty of locals who know the machine well and can help. For a breakdown during the warranty period, the dealer will pay the tow to the garage. And parts are cheap. (When you go for repair, you will be asked if you want factory parts or an upgrade since many parts have foreign substitutes. Hint: Take the upgrade.)
The downside: no respect! But just stay clear of black cars and mind your own business. Also, you will need the tow and jumper cables, so keep the tow truck’s phone number handy. When traffic is light, the Pyatyorka is good transport, but with its heavy clutch and lack of comforts (like air-conditioning) driving in traffic is a real pain, especially in summer. That’s when you should head back underground to the metro.
It’s difficult to know how much longer the Pyatyorka will be made; as a percentage of vehicles on the road, they are far fewer these days. But they provide the freedom you crave. And, although after three years with a Pyatyorka, Fred has graduated to a Japanese import, he still thinks about the old girl with great admiration. Maybe he’ll invest in one before they disappear.