New in the city: Old Dacia cars take tourists on a communist-era tour of Bucharest
Communism. That is one thing most people think of when they think about Romania. A Romanian entrepreneur decided its time to take the country’s communist history from the books and the museums and present it to tourists in a different way – a trip around Bucharest in star cars of the communist regime, accompanied by guides who know the story.
Born and raised in a Romania led by the strong arm of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, Șerban Cornaciu knows what living in those days really meant. He still remembers the day-long drives in his parents’ Dacia when they had to travel somewhere outside the city, and the frequent stops. With these memories in mind, an extensive research and the help of two other associates, he managed to launch a different tourist service in Bucharest – The Red Patrol Communist Duty Tour. The service takes tourists back to the times of the communist Bucharest with the help of two fully restored vintage Dacia cars, which, in the Romanian spirit, were named Malvina and Domnica.
Șerban Cornaciu, who has an experience of over 25 years in marketing and advertising, wanted to start something outside the box. He came up with the idea of Red Patrol after trying similar tourist services in former Eastern bloc countries.
“I first discovered these tours in Berlin in 2016, where I traveled with the Trabant, then Warsaw and Prague or Budapest, with some tours taken in a Trabant while others in a Polski Fiat, tours that caught my attention because they represented an interactive way to travel to the communist past of that city,” he told Romania-insider.com.
The story of Red Patrol began to take shape in November last year, under the umbrella of the Gold Voyage travel agency. After months of extensive research about the communist past of Bucharest and the hard work put into finding and restoring the vintage Dacia cars, Șerban Cornaciu and his two associates finally managed to launch the new service in July 2018. The investment, which so far amounted to some EUR 10,000, was covered with money from his own resources.
The name, Red Patrol, was found and decided together with Șerban Cornaciu’s partners in the Koala advertising agency, which he co-founded in 2001. The name describes what this tourist service is all about: a patrol of the city in a communist-era car.
“We propose tourists a Red Patrol of Bucharest in Dacia 1300 or 1310 cars restored to a state similar to the original one in the ‘80s, so we present things from the perspective of a driver / passenger from the communist period of the city,” Cornaciu explains.
What is Red Patrol
There are currently two Dacia cars that take tourists back in time to the 70s-80s Bucharest, with a tour taking about three hours. Malvina is a Dacia 1310 from 1984, certified as a historic vehicle, and comes from the Vrancea area. Domnica is a blue Dacia 1310 TX that was produced in the last year of the communist regime in Romania, 1989, and was initially destined for export to Canada. However, starting next month, a third car will join the Red Patrol: Letiţia, a Dacia produced in 1978. All of them give tourists the chance to drive a car as the Romanians did before the 90s: feel the vibrations of the engine and the smell of gasoline and warm plastic.
A guide is always present on the Red Patrol, and tourists can choose to drive the car themselves. Guidance is available in English, Hebrew and German, but “if we have Russian or Japanese language requests, we will find a way,” Șerban Cornaciu says. Tourists get to hear stories of the people who lived in this city in the 70s and 80s, and about the rise and fall of the late dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.
There can be a maximum of four people in the car. The old Dacias take the passengers on a trip through the streets of Bucharest, passing by landmarks of the period of great socialist transformations, such as the People's Palace (the Palace of Parliament), Casa Radio or Casa Scanteii (the Free Press House).
“Because we live in capitalism and all our customers are equal, regardless of whether you are a proletarian or a successful industrialist we will charge you EUR 190 per car and you can bring two friends, we offer you a guide, and you can choose to drive the car for 30 km in Bucharest as a true comrade.”
The tour also includes stops for photos and presentations of the sights.
What to expect
The two vintage Dacia cars have taken tourists on 20 patrols since the service was launched, with about 50 tourists enjoying the trip back in time. Almost all the tourists who have tried the Red Patrol so far were foreigners, mostly from Germany and Nordic countries. However, there have been two exceptions, which show that this service can also be a good way to relive memories or discover one’s past.
“We had Romanians who have been living on the American continent for 20 years and who came with their children, who were raised there, to present them memories of their youth and their childhood by going on a tour with the Dacia. Another exception are the tourists from Israel who left Romania prior to 1989 and who were reviving the childhood places in Bucharest in another way,” the Red Patrol initiator said.
Many of the foreign tourists who tried the tour were amazed that such a car existed and was produced (considered rudimentary according to the contemporary standards) while others had fun driving it.
“The best feeling experienced by those who drive the Dacia is what we call the "Dacia's effect on the BMW,” which was noticed by all those who took the ride in the two wonders of the Romanian socialist technology, Malvina and Domnica: even BMW drivers look at us with admiration and curiosity in traffic.”
Irina Marica, [email protected]
(Photos: Courtesy of Șerban Cornaciu)