Home to a disputed election, 70 million people and twice as many barrels of cheap oil, Iran has cars aplenty. Meet Paykans, Miniators and Italian exotica—plus the gutsy female drivers of the Islamic Republic.

Iran is, of course, all over the news these days after last week’s presidental election turned into a nationwide protest, with supporters of defeated opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi claiming that the election was rigged in favor of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If you’ve missed out on the news, catch up with pictures of the demonstrations or read Robert Fisk’s report from the streets of Tehran, in defiance of the regime’s crackdown on foreign journalists.

While cars in Iran these days are mostly used as fuel to burn, it’s a big country with lots of cheap gas and a wealth of domestically produced cars. Presented here are a selection of photos and stories about cars which are either built in Iran or have connections to Iran.

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

Laleh Seddigh

Meet Laleh Seddigh, Iran’s most famous racing driver. It’s tough to be a female athlete in Iran with its strict Islamic dress code, but motor racing offers a quick escape: both men and women are generally covered from head to toe.

She is quick and has earned the respect of men, not an easy thing to do in motor racing anywhere. In an interview with Seddigh in The Observer, a fellow racing driver had this to say: “When she sits behind the wheel she sheds her feminine shell and turns into a man.”

Rest assured: when she is not racing against men, her feminine shell is very much intact.

Photo Credit: HENGHAMEH FAHIMI/AFP/Getty Images

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

Iran Khodro Paykan

This is the Paykan, Iran’s ubiquitous homemade car. Based on the 1967 Hillman Hunter, 2.3 million of them were made over four decades as the car incorporated new technology but few styling changes. Manufacturer Iran Khodro, the country’s largest domestic carmaker, has ceased production in 2005, sold off the production line to the Sudanese and introduced its replacement: the Samand.

Photo Credit: Fabien Dany/Flickr

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

Iran Khodro Samand

Debuting in 2005 and building on the long-standing relationship between Iran and France, the Samand is made on the platform of the Peugeot 405, a midsize sedan which was European Car of the Year in 1988.

Although it’s named after a breed of fast horse, the Samand is no Secretariat: power from its 1.8-liter inline four tops out at 97 HP.

Photo Credit: hapal/Flickr

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

Maserati 5000GT

Preceding the Samand by half a century, the Maserati 5000GT has power aplenty. Commissioned by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the CIA-backed monarch of Iran toppled in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the 5000GT was an absolute monster.

Its five-liter V8 was derived from a racing unit and produced a healthy 340 HP. The first two cars went to Pahlavi, while Maserati made another 32 examples in the following 6 years. Enrico’s Maserati Pages has a wealth of pictures and data.

Photo Credit: Enrico’s Maserati Pages

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

1971 Lamborghini Miura SV

He may have been a despot who squandered away his country’s oil wealth, but at least Pahlavi spent it with good taste. His midnight blue Lamborghini Miura SV is perhaps the most gorgeous Lambo ever. The shah purchased it in 1971 and used it extensively until he was deposed in 1979. The car remained in Iran until 1991, when it was smuggled to Italy, then made it into the caring hands of Joe Sackey, who has had it restored to absolute perfection. Lamborghini Registry has the details.

Photo Credit: Lamborghini Registry

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

Riots in Tehran on June 15, 2009

This is what cars are used for in Tehran these days. The car is most likely a Paykan and these guys are supporters of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. They are protesting against the killing of their fellow demonstrators by Iranian security forces.

Photo Credit: -/AFP/Getty Images

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

Pin-up Paykan

This young man in Tehran proves that Paykans can be put to much better use than impromptu bonfires. Political Islam may be against the public display of women, but what goes on inside one’s vehicle is nobody else’s business.

On the other hand, pin-up girls have a way of transcending both nations and religions.

Photo Credit: kamshots/Flickr

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

Saipa Miniator, Meet the Democrator

Here’s the man the demonstrators would like to see out of office: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is pictured here in at the inauguration ceremony of car company Saipa’s new production line in December 2008. Saipa is Iran’s second-largest carmaker and it has always manufactured handed-down French designs. Until now.

The car Ahmadinejad is riding in is all-Iranian and has the greatest name since the Corvette Sting Ray: it’s called the Saipa Miniator.

Photo Credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

Iranian Peugeot Factory

The Miniator does not mean the end of Iranian production of French cars: when these guys are not taking a break, they make Peugeot 206’s in a Tehran factory.

Photo Credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

Renault Tondar

Eastern Europeans will immediately recognize the homely rump of this car: it’s a Dacia Logan, manufactured by Renault’s Romanian subsidy. It is also made in Iran, where it’s sold as a Renault Tondar—that’s Persian for thunder.

Photo Credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

An SLK In Tehran

Bridging the gap between the deposed shah’s Italian exotica and the Paykans are European imports like this Mercedes-Benz SLK, burdened in Iran with heavy import tariffs. The owner of this Benz will have no problem filling it up with cheap Iranian gas, but he has paid an average Iranian’s lifetime wages for the privilege of driving a white German droptop in Tehran.

Photo Credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Tehranopnik: The Cars And Car Culture Of IranS

Women-Only Taxi Driver

Let’s round up things with another Iranian lady. Sodabeh Kiyali is a taxi driver employed by a women-only taxi agency in Tehran. Buses are segregated in Iran, with women traveling in the back, but taxis are not: Nesvan Taxi is an option for women who don’t want to squeeze into a back seat with other men.

Photo Credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images