Back from the USSR: Soviet cars earn another look

Standing in the parking lot of a Starbucks in Edgewater, New Jersey, a suburb across the Hudson River from Manhattan, a huge sedan rolls up and comes to a stop.
Its hue, as dark as Darth Vader’s armour, perfectly suits a limousine built in what US President Ronald Reagan dubbed “the evil empire”. The leaden clouds, bracing breeze and brief snow flurry that seemed unfitting for a mid-April day only heightened the Cold War chill. Giddiness didn’t even begin to describe it; I was going to ride in a ZiL.
Zavod Iniemi Likhachev (sometimes spelled “Zavod imeni Likhachova”), named for Soviet auto industry pioneer Ivan Likhachev, built trucks, buses and until 2002, the big, intimidating limousines used by Soviet officials. According to Vinnie Baksht, owner of this particular ZiL, most were dismantled under KGB supervision after official usage. Baksht’s example is of Perestroika vintage, a 1985 model, the last of 65 built in this variation, known as a 41045. It’s also one of a few that made their way out to the West. Baksht says his car touched US soil before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, when it served as a backup car in President Mikhail Gorbachev’s motorcade for his 1987 summit with Reagan.

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