Kombat T-98 - Heavy Metal Marathon
A Month-Long Ultimate Road Trip in Goldzilla
Monaco is a great place to start a road trip because of its long association with the world's finest and most exclusive cars. Unimaginably rich people living on the world's most iconic Formula 1 track are so used to seeing supercars, they don't bother to turn a head for a run-of-the-mill Ferrari. However, they certainly do for the vehicle we rolled up in. Tipping the scales at over 11,000 pounds, its throbbing 6.6L V-8 rumble drew a crowd, and its dazzling mirror finish kept them looking. Even through the 2.3-inch thick bulletproof glass we could see the astounded looks on people's faces. The vehicle in question is a massive Kombat T-98, and it's about as far as you can get from a normal car. Made in a converted tank factory on the outskirts of St Petersburg, Russia, it will get you from point A to point B (if you can find a big enough place to park at the end), but unlike pretty much anything else on the road, it will get you there under heavy fire. It's designed for what in Russian translates as "dangerously wealthy," the elite filthy-rich whose income makes them targets. Even the base models are bulletproof, and the extra-thick windows on ours were not just for show. Ours was armored to the top level of protection, known as B7, which means rocket-proof. Yes, we were behind the wheel of what is basically an anti-tank vehicle. "If you drive any car hard enough you should be able to smash it into a house," says creator Dmitri Parfenov. "But this is designed to come back out the other side and keep going."
On top of everything, this is no normal Kombat. It's wrapped in outrageous and blinding mirror-gold finish because it's in Sasha Baron Cohen's 2012 movie The Dictator. Yes, this is the Dictator's car! But GoldZilla (as we affectionately named her) isn't the hero car, the one all kitted-out in luxury for the close up shots. No, she was the ‘shed' that they ragged around the desert. And actually the poor old girl's whole life is a sad story of rejection and neglect. A Kombat is sold on paper from a long list of options before it is built. A wealthy Arab somewhere ordered this one with the maximum B7 protection and the absolute minimum interior. So, from a company famous for its whale penis leather seats (yes, you read that right) and jewel-encrusted displays, he ordered diamond-plate steel floors and a stock Chevrolet dashboard and seats. Oh, and a manual gearbox. But by the time it was ready for delivery, he had disappeared. With only a 50 percent deposit paid, the company kept the car. "I guess he should have bought it sooner," Dmitri shrugs philosophically. Built to such odd specs, no European would ever buy this version. The whole body is constructed in Germany with the finest quality steel-and-ceramic sandwich, and the ability to withstand an RPG bombardment doesn't come cheap. The 50 percent deposit that the unfortunate Arab paid was in the region of half a million dollars. So, Goldzilla became a show car, one that everyone ogled at on first sight but then never wanted, and she was never properly looked after either. We don't know what they did on The Dictator set in Spain, but after Paramount Pictures returned her, she died after 12 miles on the motorway with a broken fuel filter seal. Why? Because the air filter was totally blocked up with wet dust. Solution? Take it off and find something to cover the intake with. After half an hour in our possession, we were driving a million-dollar truck with one of our socks over the intake! Now she will be going home to Russia for a well-deserved overhaul, and the boss trusts us to drive the 2,174 miles from Monaco to St. Petersburg.
When Truckin contributor Robb Pritchard was much younger, he drove through Italy in an old camper van and got so frustrated with the local drivers, he promised he would only come back in a tank. Squeezing through Milan's rush hour traffic mere inches from the humorously parked little cars and mopeds, we realized that maybe a tank isn't the best Italian city car after all. The windows are too thick to open, and the front side panels of the windshield are covered with gold wrap, so visibility is severely limited. "Scratch it or break it, and I'll take you swimming in a pair of concrete boots," were pretty much the boss's exact words, but a bit of off-roading to get to the Croatia Trophy campsite couldn't hurt. Unfortunately, we found it wasn't exactly the best press car to get to the stages in, as it made some heart-stoppingly bad creaking noises every time it went over a cross-axling bump. But a full-on drag race with the world's longest Hummer at a big street race event has to be good PR, right? The Kombat's 6.6L Duramax diesel engine is complemented with a washing machine drum-sized aftermarket turbo and massive intercooler, so after picking up a few cheerleader girls partway down the strip, all our passengers were shoved firmly into their seats. Some 1,320 feet later, the Hummer was toast.
After Croatia, it was off to Prague for a Dictator photoshoot with a guy dressed very convincingly as Admiral General Aladeen himself, complete with a couple of uniformed bodyguard beauties. And thanks to the guys at Prague's amazing Hummer center, it was time for a bit of service, seeing as the passenger door had almost fallen off and the front wheels were wobbling. With an 11,000-pound curb weight, Goldzilla goes through ball joints rather quickly. In the evening, the photographer for the Czech Offroad magazine arrived, and we followed him out to what seemed like a strange location. For us, it was just a cornfield, but for the locals it was a little more poignant. They had led the Russian car to the same field the Soviet army camped in just before they invaded the capital in World War II.
The T-98 is the world's most expensive 4x4, and in standard trim one will set you back a cool 250,000 euros ($326,700). However, it's easy to tack on options, and there's one about to head to China with an incredible 7 million dollar price tag. It's also claimed to be the fastest armored 4x4 in the world. The boss doesn't read much English, so we think we're safe to write this: on a quiet section of German autobahn with a nice long downslope, we put pedal to metal to test the theory, and at 96 mph it was like driving another vehicle. With the huge turbo wound up, it seemed like a five-ton sports car. The rattles that came up through the metal floorboards were replaced by a reassuring rushing sound, like that of a high-speed train. We assumed diplomatic immunity status as BMWs and Mercedes swerved to get out of the way. The only thing that slowed Goldzilla down was the hill on the other side of the valley, and the fact that the low-profile, bulletproof BFGoodrich tires are rated to only 99 mph.
Next stop was Sweden. Now, Italians have respect for big and expensive-looking 4x4s coming up in the mirror, Croatians are terrified of them, and Germans understand they are something worth avoiding (or cruising past, iPhone pressed against the window for a photo). But the Swedes seem blissfully ignorant, merging into the fast right in front of us more times than we could count. Nevertheless, it wasn't an oblivious Volvo driver that stopped us in our tracks. While attempting a three-point turn on a quiet country road, the gear lever snapped off. For over an hour we were parked with an assortment of rocks under the wheels, just about completely blocking the road, and not one single person stopped to see if we needed help! A 300 euro ($392) trip on the back of a transporter we could handle, but being charged twice that for undoing four bolts and a bit of tack welding was ridiculous. Then again, our faith in Scandinavian hospitality was restored as soon as we got to the office of 4 Wheel Drive magazine and the care of Mikael Lindburg. Beer and a bed, just what a stressed Kombat driver with the flu needed. Or maybe we were suffering from inhaling too many Croatian cleaning fumes!
For a bit of cheeky Dictator publicity, we wanted to park with a couple of suitably uniformed models outside the American embassy in Stockholm, but the model agency said it was too dangerous. So, without the girls, we pulled up by the gates and draped the Republic of Wadiya flags over the front of the Kombat ourselves. The photographer got a bit nervous when the cameras turned to train on him from over the spiked fence, but we weren't too worried about the armed guards. Goldzilla really is rocket-proof.
With a few more new and interesting creaking noises coming from the suspension as we shuddered along the rough roads, we finally got to journey's end: St. Petersburg. Greeting us outside the cinema was a surprise: another outrageously big and brutal, gold-covered 4x4 was parked on the steps. It was Goldzilla's sister, and we had forgotten just how cool a Kombat looks when you're not expecting to see it!
Monaco to St. Petersburg, Russia, in a million-dollar 4x4. With all the stops we made, it was nearly a month on the road. We may have traveled a lot in the past, but for us this was the ultimate road trip.