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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cheap but Tough: the Armored Lada

An armored Mercedes will probably always remain among the accessories of someone who has climbed to the top of the heap in Russia. But, for the common run of bankers, officials and, dare we say it, wise guys, the cost of protection has come down.

Bronto, a subsidiary of the Tolyatti-based AvtoVAZ automaker, makes a people's battlewagon: the armored Lada.

The notion of the humble vehicle, known as the desyatka, or model 10, after the last digits of its model number and driven as very basic transportation by the masses, as an armored car may strike some as ludicrous.

But Bronto officials say the armored version, dubbed Premier, is just filling a niche in today's armored car market.

After all, custom armored foreign cars start at $75,000, not counting customs fees, and go as high as $200,000. Bronto director Yury Zuyev says the armored Ladas sell for from $18,000 to $22,000, depending on how much safety and armor plate you feel you can afford. That's three times the price of a standard Lada.

But beware: Foreign armorers often use a powerful engine and put in heavier shocks to deal with the weight of the armor plate.

Not Bronto. The armored desyatka, with steel plate under the body metal and bullet-resistant glass, comes with the standard four-cylinder engine and the usual shock absorbers.

Therefore, purchasers should not count on fleeing any hit men with zippy acceleration. "I do not know how long it takes to accelerate to 100 kilometers per hour," Zuyev says. "But if you manage to make it go that fast, nothing will stop you."

And Russian roads can be hard on heavy cars. "There were cases when cars imported from Europe could not be delivered to the client after they cleared customs on the Russian border - they simply fell apart on the way to the client due to the quality of our roads," says an official with Euracom, which sells armored Mercedes and Volkswagen vehicles.

When asked for a photo of the new beast, Bronto officials said a photo of any Lada would do, since they don't look much different. The only difference: The armored version is 17 centimeters longer.

But Bronto seems to be onto something, perhaps assisted by free advertising in the form of footage of the latest contract hits on television news. After all, domestic cars of all sorts are more competitive against foreign makes due to the fall in the ruble. Reports about the Premier in the media have already stimulated interest, Zuyev says.

"We wanted to make it an exclusive product, but journalists traced it to us and now everyone is talking about it," he says. Bronto made some 840 armored Ladas last year.

In a way, AvtoVAZ is just continuing the tradition of Moscow-based ZiL, which made armored limousines for members of the Politburo in Soviet times.

Bronto also makes an armored version of the Niva four-wheel-drive vehicle, which banks use to move money around. "We have a backlog of orders that we are unable to fill immediately," Zuyev says.

Just Thursday, some potential customers stopped in and looked one over. The company says businessmen are among their most frequent customers, given the hazardous nature of business these days. The police may want some, he says, since they can't very well get around in a Mercedes - that would look bad.

As for anyone else, "I don't ask them where they come from," Zuyev said. "They just place orders."