Monday, August 29, 2005. Volga Look Is Only Skin-Deep By Conor Humphries Staff Writer Yevgeny Filonov / For MT Souped-up Russian cars conceal Japanese engines, DVD players and fridges. The official Volga sedans parked outside government offices may not be as humble they look, thanks to a Nizhny Novgorod company that soups up classic Soviet models with high-powered Toyota engines, DVD players and refrigerators. Every year, Tekhnoservis refits as many as 200 UAZ and GAZ models with new engines, leather upholstery, air conditioning and electrical gadgets, said the company's deputy director, Dmitry Zemskov, speaking on the sidelines of the ninth Moscow International Motor Show, which ended Sunday. Most of Tekhnoservis' clients are state organizations, he said. For years, the Kremlin has been ordering bureaucrats to abandon their BMWs and Mercedes in favor of the boxy Volga, which is made by GAZ. The idea was first floated in 1997 by Boris Nemtsov, who was deputy prime minister at the time. "A local bigwig might want to drive a foreign car, but his status won't allow it," said Vladimir Sevastyanov, who has chauffeured Tekhnoservis' director for the past 12 years. Even his boss prefers to drive a Volga to work, though he owns three foreign cars, including a Range Rover, Sevastyanov said. Although it costs at least $19,000 to revamp a Volga, Zemskov said, its maintenance is much cheaper than that of a foreign car. "If you dent the door on a Mercedes, it will cost $300," he said. "If you dent the door of a Volga, it costs 300 rubles." Regional customers also avoid the delay and hassle of ordering hard-to-get parts from Moscow, he said. Besides helping bureaucrats keep an air of patriotic modesty, the company also refits antique Soviet models. The 1961 Volga on display at Tekhnoservis' stand at the motor show was custom-made for a high-ranking Communist Party member and now belongs to a wealthy client. After a 10-month, $50,000 refit, the car is capable of traveling at speeds of up to 140 kilometers per hour with its 152-horsepower Toyota motor. Another car displayed at the show was a 1971 Chaika that boasted a DVD player, automatic transition and rather conspicuous Bridgestone tires. Tekhnoservis' clients are wealthy Russians who want to feel like vintage party bosses on the weekends, Zemskov said, without revealing any names. Tekhnoservis receives a handful of orders for overhauling classic cars every year -- so far all of them from Russia. None other than President Vladimir Putin has shown his affection for domestically made old-timers. In May, he surprised reporters by letting U.S. President George W. Bush take the wheel of his meticulously restored 1956 Volga during a visit. On normal business days, Putin travels in an armored Mercedes limousine. Nemtsov, the official responsible for forcing less important public servants into domestic cars, has in recent years displayed a preference for fancy foreign-made wheels. But while he was still in government, Nemtsov could not afford to be seen in anything but a Volga. At the time, a political opponent derided him for "not riding in a Volga turned out by GAZ, but one overhauled in Finland." At least today that overhaul would have been done in Russia too.