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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 12:58 GMT
The car craze sweeping Russia's rich
By Chloe Arnold
BBC News, Russia

Model at the Millionaire Fair in Moscow.
There are more millionaires in Moscow than in London or New York

Rich Russians are finding ever more innovative ways to spend their money. Not content with buying foreign cars costing thousands of dollars, the new craze is to have them airbrushed.

Just around the corner from where I live in Moscow, there is a seafood restaurant popular with the nouveaux riches.

It serves oysters and crab by the bucket-load, it has special miniature tables for women to rest their handbags on, so they do not have to put them on the floor, and it is always full.

These days I barely notice the Porsches, BMWs and Jaguars, all with tinted windows, parked on the pavement outside, their bumpers pressed up against the window of the restaurant.

More often than not, there will be a bodyguard or two in the backseat, wearing a bullet-proof vest, with a gun slung across his shoulders.

But what struck me the last time I squeezed between two armoured Mercedes on my way home was the number of cars with pictures airbrushed onto their sides.

One had a tiger's face sprayed onto the bonnet, another was done out in leopard print.


Moscow today has more millionaires than London and New York. The Millionaire's Fair here lures Russia's super-rich with helicopters, race horses and a bottle of perfume that costs 25,000 ($48,000).

I suppose we're living for the moment, not really thinking about the future too much

And for those with money to burn, it seems it is not enough to own a top-of-the-range set of wheels - to make it really stand out, you need to get it airbrushed.

And so I find myself in a dreary suburb of Moscow talking to Ilnur Mansurov, the "Van Gogh" of automobile art. Despite his modest workshop and scruffy tracksuit, Ilnur has come a long way since he started out as a car mechanic 15 years ago.

"I realised there weren't many places that catered for expensive foreign cars, so I set one up," he tells me above the hiss of spray paint.

To begin with, he patched up cars that had been in crashes, but for the past few years he has turned his hand to painting designs on cars.

I ask him what's been the most difficult job he has had to do. He laughs. "There have been so many," he says.

One customer wanted his entire Lexus - hubcaps, wing mirrors and all - painted with crocodiles. Ilnur did a giant croc on the bonnet baring its teeth, and half a dozen crocodile eggs hatching on the roof.

One of Ilnur's designs. Picture: Ilnur Mansurov
Animals were popular when the trend first began

When the trend first began, animals were the most popular, he told me - lions, panthers, dolphins. He once did a shark with its jaws around one of the back wheels.

But these days, as airbrushing becomes more popular, the designs are getting more eclectic.

Recently, he has painted a lot of machine guns onto the sides of cars.

Last month he was asked to do scenes from the Hollywood film Pirates of the Caribbean.

And one woman wanted her Audi to look like an alligator-skin suitcase. He showed me the photograph - it was very, how should I put this... realistic.

Ilnur's work does not come cheap. To get your bonnet or driver's door sprayed costs about 3,000. For the entire car, it is 10,000. But the orders are rolling in, and he has a waiting list of more than two months.

In fact, he does not stop at cars. This year he has done three private jets and a yacht. I ask him who his customers are, but he's discreet. "Pop stars," he says, "and probably some politicians. I don't like to get involved in politics."

The following day I meet a man called Yaroslav, who is having his car sprayed with flames. He wears a black polo-neck and expensive looking trousers, and he tells me he works for an insurance company.

Ilnur Mansurov. Picture courtesy of Ilnur Mansurov
Ilnur paints the designs on cars.

I am a little disappointed to learn he drives a Citroen, but when he picks me up I see it is no ordinary Citroen. He has dropped the back bumper a foot, so it almost scrapes the ground, added Formula One-style grilles to the front and installed a shiny, double exhaust pipe, the sort you more often see on the back of juggernauts.

The windows are mirrored red, and when we get inside I notice he has a DVD player on the dashboard showing Kylie Minogue videos. As we pick up speed, I ask him why airbrushing is becoming so popular.

"I think it's because some Russians have made a lot of money very quickly, and so they want to spend it all quickly, too," he says. "I suppose we're living for the moment, not really thinking about the future too much."

We hammer round a bend and I ask Yaroslav what he has painted on the side of his other car.

"Well, I'd wanted to get machine gun fire done on it," he says.

"So why didn't you?" I ask.

"Because I crashed it," he says.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 2 November, 2006 at 1100 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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