Once again at the behest of my loyal readers I handed off my real estate business to my trusty associate and set off to foreign lands in search of cool cars. For those of you who keep track, I’m even a week late with this column.
My first stop was in the heart of Moscow, Red Square. I’ve been told that the United States and Russia are not too happy with one another right now, but on a personal level the Russians were very nice to us. We even admitted to being American without a problem (some Americans claim to be Canadian since everybody loves the Canadians.) I saw no American cars there, just Russian, Japanese, Korean and a few European cars and no older cars. Because of the severe weather and a lot of accidents, cars just don’t survive. What I did see were the worst traffic jams ever! You could often walk to your destination more quickly than driving. Every five minutes we heard sirens from police or rescue cars.
In the world-famous GUM department store next to Red Square there was a display of early 50’s and 60’s Russian cars with names I had never hear of and the descriptions were in Cyrillic so I couldn’t understand them anyway. Some were very odd-looking (a three-door station wagon with a trunk?) but they were very nicely restored and I’m sure are never driven on the horrible Moscow roads.
Next it was off to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The flight was full of Uzbekistanis and we learned if you ever want to get through customs you MUST push, shove and hold your own with a mob. They never heard of lines and polite people will come in last. Other than that, the Uzbekistanis were very nice to us. In Uzbekistan we saw Korean, Japanese and Russian cars as well as lots of Chevrolets! A few years ago Chevrolet bought the Daewoo plant in the Fergana Valley and now sells cars in Central Asia. I also did see the only old car on the trip in Tashkent. It looked a little like a ’54Ford with an early 50’s Willy’s grill and I either saw three of them or the same one three times (it was green each time.) Uzbekistan has a huge import tax on cars and there’s a one-year wait to get a new Uzbekistan-made Chevy. You must pay 85 percent down when you place your order. A used Chevy actually sells for more that a new one since you don’t have to wait for the used one. There were no traffic jams in Tashkent but they do make the scariest U-turns I have ever seen.
To complete my car quest we drove off to Turkmenistan (in a nice air-conditioned Toyota.) In the country we saw the same assortment of cars but as in the rest of our trip, no pickups. It seems that other countries just aren’t into pickups like we are.
When we got to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, things changed dramatically. It was like Disneyland on steroids — all-new, white, marble-clad buildings; pavement smooth as glass; stainless steel guard rails; heated and air conditioned bus stops; no traffic jams and the same assortment of cars, only newer and nicer. There’s NO crime in Ashgabat and it’s even against the law to have a dirty car in Ashgabat. When you have an extreme dictatorship and no civil rights you can make up whatever laws you want and spend insane amounts of money on your capital city while the rest of the country struggles.
Even though I didn’t see much in the way of classic cars this was a wonderful adventure and I’m already searching out more classic cars locally. I went to the Snohomish car show two days after I got back and today I saw a ’50s-looking Rolls or Bentley driving past my ’48 Studebaker convertible in the Woodinville Bagel Bakery parking lot. I even went all the way to Maple Falls yesterday to check out a ’49 Studebaker business coupe (next month’s article perhaps?)