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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Russians' Favorite Car Turns 10

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While Russia will mark the 10th -anniversary of the collapse of the -Soviet Union later this year, New -Russians could well break out the champagne a little earlier. Their favorite car, the Mercedes 600, turns 10 this month.

The number 600 indicates only -engine capacity, but it is nevertheless the number closely associated with Russia's drive toward capitalism.

The Mercedes 600 — or more precisely, the S-class model with a W140 body — has become a fixed attribute of Russia's first decade without Communist rule.

"The Mercedes 600 is gaining the status of the troika," said Katya Metelitsa, the author of "New Russian ABCs," referring to the traditional three-horse carriage that has been a symbol of the Russian persona for centuries.

"The word '600th' itself is also gradually acquiring a new meaning. Now it is not only a car, but a word used to express something 'great' or 'cool,'" she said.

A part of post-Soviet folk culture, the Mercedes 600 has become a feature in dozens of jokes. However, the fame of the vehicle is owed strictly to its owners — that portion of Mercedes buyers known as New Russians. This upper-class group emerged about the same time that the Mercedes 600 was launched and for years has been closely associated with thugs and other people whose ride to riches appeared questionable.

In the numerous jokes, the driver of the Mercedes would always be a New Russian — a rather dull but very obnoxious and blatant guy. In one old favorite, for example, a New Russian goes to a car dealer and demands a black Mercedes 600 with orange dots. The dealer replies, "But you just bought that exact Mercedes last week." "I know," replies the New Russian, "but the ashtray is full."

Notably, Mercedes abandoned in 1998 the bulky W140 body on the Mercedes 600 — the New Russians' favorite — in favor of the more elegant W220.

Car dealers said Monday that in a strange turn of fate the demographic segment that buys the high-end vehicles has also changed. Customers these days look more like wealthy businessmen than thugs.

Mercedes says it just aims to cater to the elite. An S series Mercedes currently comes with a factory sticker price of 97,000 euros ($87,000).

"Our clients are large and small enterprises, businessmen, state organizations, diplomats and even performers. For example, a large number of celebrities own our cars," said Yelena Machurina at DaimlerChrysler Avtomobili Rus, the official Mercedes representative office in Russia.

It is next to impossible to estimate how many Mercedes 600 cars have been shipped into Russia due to gray market sales.

Machurina said 5,700 vehicles were sold directly from Mercedes plants to Russia between 1991 and 1998.