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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soviet Cars Drive U.K. Enthusiasts Wild

The Cold War ended Julian Nowill's first attempt to fix up an old Russian car.

The British stockbroker bought a Moskvich in 1983, but the Soviet diplomat who promised to get him spare parts was inconveniently expelled from the country for spying. A few months later, the rusting car was towed away and scrapped by the local authorities.

But Nowill, whose love of Soviet cars was partly inspired by the sinister black Volgas parked in front of the Soviet Embassy, didn't give up. Last month, he flew to Russia as president of the USSR, the Union of Soviet Socialist Register, as his club of Soviet-bloc car fanciers is known.

He's the proud owner of a Zaporozhets, the old Ukrainian model that is the butt of a thousand Russian jokes. He bought it from a museum in Holland for pounds 200 ($324). Now all he needs is the parts to make it run.

Nowill traveled with three other enthusiasts visiting car factories all over the country and taking photos of any old model they saw. "Passers-by were a little bit amused to see four people hovering around a pile of rust," said Nowill, 38, a resident of Exeter in southwest England.

None of the factories answered their letters, so the club simply turned up at the factory doors, without a translator, and explained what they wanted by drawing pictures in Nowill's notebook.

Refused entry to the production facilities, they made do with factory museums in Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara. They peeked through the fence of a test track like children at a candy-store window, and caught a glimpse of the latest Lada model being put through its paces.

"People in Russia often think we're completely mad," Nowill said in a telephone interview. "Why would we buy Ladas and Moskviches in the West when we can buy secondhand BMWs and so forth."

The club boasts more than 100 members with cars from all over the Eastern bloc, from a Czech Tatra, described as "somewhere between a Volkswagen and a Porsche with a bit of V-8 thrown in, and pretty damn sexy," to a wrecking truck used to clear tanks out of ditches. One German club member owns a Soviet bridge-layer, which he uses to have barbecues over the Oder River.

Nowill, who also owns an East German Trabant and a Polish Syrena, dreams of getting a Scud missile launcher. "Eight-wheel drive, built in Minsk with two VS petrol engines. They are epic, they are really incredible," he said.

Nowill loves Soviet cars because he believes owning them sets him apart.

"You feel as if you're pioneering, you're not part of the mass culture, you're just a small elite of odd people, eccentric people," said Nowill, who brought back garbage bags full of spare parts to fix up his Zaporozhets.

"It's not the money, its not the .