Eight-wheel drive, bulletproof armour, gold-tinted windows, even a smattering of whale penis. When it comes to building an over-the-top SUV, those crazy Russians have no competition.
As a political ideology, communism has failed. Sure, it seems rather altruistic and utopian on paper, but in practice, well, it always ends up being a little bit evil. It has a worrying tendency of resulting in poverty, hunger, violence and authoritarianism. Also, as Russia has illustrated wonderfully over the last decade or two, when you remove the yoke of communism from a nation, you get a sort of backlash; the pendulum starts swinging very, very far in the opposite direction. A lot of people have remained as penniless as they had been under communism, but the fall of the USSR has also resulted in the rise of an oligarchy so self-indulgent and hedonistic that it would make Caligula blush. This impulse extends to its choice in vehicles. Oligarchs like their vehicles big and shiny. The more over-the-top and attention-grabbing, the better. Park a Bentley Bentayga next to a Russian ‘luxury’ SUV, and the poor Bentley starts looking depressingly humdrum. Here are five absurd Russian SUV creations.
5. Avtoros Shaman 8WD
If a Land Rover Defender is Bruce Banner, the Avtoros Shaman is The Incredible Hulk. It takes Defender-like styling and inflates it to absurd proportions. As should be clear, it has eight massive wheels, but what is less obvious is that all eight wheels provide drive and steering. You can steer by way of the front four wheels, the rear four, or all eight. The Shaman is a serious off-roader, capable of dealing with 45-degree inclines and boasting 450mm of ground clearance. Its engine, though, lets it down a bit. It has an Iveco 3.0 turbodiesel that delivers 108kW of power and 350Nm of torque, and provides a top speed of 70km/h. You could hardly call that brisk, but then again, you can get to your destination surprisingly quickly when you can ignore obstacles and travel as the crow flies.
4. Dartz Prombron Red Diamond Edition
“The interior is nice, but is this leather 100% whale penis?” If it’s never occurred to you to ask that question when shopping for a new car, you are not the sort of buyer Latvian manufacturer Dartz was targeting with the Prombron Red Diamond Edition (Dartz is actually based in Latvia, which borders Russia, but does most of its business next door). When first released, the Red Diamond Edition was indeed offered with a leather interior made from pure whale penis. Protests led to Dartz ditching this as an option, but this limited-edition vehicle still offered gold-plated bulletproof windows, 22-inch Kremlin Red Star bulletproof wheels, gauges and vehicle badges made from white gold, and a tungsten exhaust. Dartz even threw in three bottles of its own Russo-Baltique Vodka, which it claimed cost around $800 000 each. Oh, the bodywork was also bulletproof (obviously), and power was generated by an 8.1-litre V8.
3. Trekol 6X6
If countries settled their differences by having their leaders step into a ring and duke it out, all the world would belong to Vladimir Putin. When not leading the Russian nation, he can be found hunting, fishing or riding a horse through the countryside, often shirtless. Just Google ‘Putin shirtless’ and you will find countless examples of these activities. But he remained fully clothed for his latest adventure, even donning a thick parka and hat, when he decided to personally inspect an upgraded Russian base inside the Arctic Circle. His vehicle of choice? The Trekol 6×6. It’s a big and capable off-roader that can tackle any terrain, but like the Shaman, it also has a small 2.3-litre engine that delivers just 66kW. Then again, it doesn’t really need to be fast. If you’re important enough, people will wait for you…
2. Aton-Impulse Viking 2992
You don’t always need extra wheels, sometimes four will do. This is the design philosophy behind the Aton-Impulse Viking 2992. Like the Trekol and Shaman, the Viking rides on massive tyres, but it is a far more compact and practical vehicle overall. Okay, compared to those other two Russian big-wheelers, the Viking is tiny, but it’s still much larger than your average SUV, and it weighs a substantial 3.3 tons. Another selling point? It’s amphibious. A sealed underside, propeller and an exhaust system that has been extended to the roof allows it to keep going even when those big wheels start floating. Speed is not a priority: the Viking is powered by a VAZ-2130 motor, which is the same 1.8-litre powerplant that you find in a Lada Niva. So, expect a top speed of around 70km/h.
1. Dartz Black Shark
Is it any surprise that Dartz has made it onto the list again? This is the Dartz Black Shark. Yes, we realise it’s white. For some reason, the only available photos show it sporting a white paint job. So why is it called the Black Shark? We’re not sure. To be honest, we suspect quite a lot is getting lost in translation. Take for instance, the issue of price. What does the SUV cost? Well, here is what the company has to say about the price on its website. “Knowing our customers, who already have everything they need, but everything for them still not enough, Dartz made a decision not to declare price tag to avoid situation when cheap Bugatti owner feel himself like a beggar standing near more expensive Bugatti, therefore Dartz just will inform price tag as: six zeros.” So there you have it: owning the ultimate in Dartz-built ostentation has never been this expensive… or inexpensive… we’re not quite sure.
Text: GG van Rooyen