Auction of Soviet leaders' limos fails to find first gear

But an auction of luxury Communist-era limousines used by the Soviet Union's most powerful men has failed to attract a single bid. In a sign that tastes have changed and that there is a limited appetite for Soviet nostalgia, luxury vehicles used by both men remained unwanted after a high-profile sale organised by Sotheby's in Moscow.

Buyers had the chance to purchase an armour-plated Zil limousine used by Mr Gorbachev, the USSR's last president, and Russia's first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin. One of only 13 of its kind ever made, the auction catalogue sang its praises. "This vehicle is one of the most secure cars in the world," it gushed.

"It is based on an armoured capsule with a car built around it. Its chassis makes it impossible to turn the vehicle over by an explosion and its armour ... makes it a true masterpiece of armoured cars."

But, despite the fact that the imposing car boasted official documents from the Kremlin proving its authenticity, its starting price of$450,000 (£257,000) proved too much.

An immaculate 1973 Nissan limousine that belonged to the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev also failed to attract a single spark of interest. The car was a gift from a Japanese minister, who apparently spied for the KGB. Priced at $145,000, the car's current owner, Boris Lakhmetkin, said it still carried the odour of Brezhnev's favourite tobacco. He said he couldn't understand why nobody had made an offer on it. "I am very surprised ... [But] there's no antique car culture in Russia. They just like showing off."

His theory appeared borne out by the auction. Buyers were less reticent when it came to snapping up cases of rare wines and whiskies - and Bentleys.