Observers

Using souped-up cars tricked out with smoke machines, smugglers in Iran have taken to Instagram to boast about their 200 kph convoys and their run-ins with the police. One of them spoke to FRANCE 24's Observers.

They call themselves “shotis” (pronounced “shutis”) - drivers who shuttle from city to city in sedans, transporting alcohol – which is banned in Iran – and smuggled goods from border regions to the centre of the country. Alcohol comes from the west, near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan; cellphones and other high-ticket items from the Persian Gulf countries to the south; and in the east, from Afghanistan, opium and human migrants. Cigarettes, dresses, shoes, bodybuilding supplements, household appliances and toys are also smuggled.

A shoti driving fast, with 200 kph seen on the speedometer at 0:53.

Like bootleggers during Prohibition in the United States (1920-33), Iran’s shotis take ordinary cars and modify them to carry heavy loads at high speeds, swapping in more powerful engines that let them hit speeds of more than 200 kph. But unlike bootleggers during the 1920s, Iran’s shotis share tips in private groups on the messaging app Telegram, and brag publicly on Instagram about their souped-up rides and dangerous car chases.

Another video published by shotis on Instagram that shows how fast and dangerously they drive.


"Pimp My Ride,” Iran-style

The shotis’ cars – often Iranian-made Peugeot 405s and 406s, and Samand sedans – look normal from the outside. But their 1.8 litre engines are swapped out for 2.4 litre ones; their catalytic converters have been removed, increasing power; and their rear suspension upgraded to carry loads of up to one tonne.

A photo before and after the car has been modified. In the bottom image, the modified rear suspension system is clearly visible.

The shotis also add exotic extras like smoke machines to discourage pursuit by police and customs officers. Flicking a switch under the dashboard triggers a thick cloud of white smoke billowing from a smoke generator on the rear of the car, obscuring the road totally for pursuing vehicles. Some cars feature a second switch that allows the driver to turn off the rear lights at night to throw off pursuers. Some drivers even carry road spikes they can throw in the path of pursuing vehicles to puncture their tyres.

Video posted on the Instagram account “Shotibnd” with the caption, “Escaping from the police using a smoke machine”. The video shows a car moving at speed through an unidentified town with a trail of thick white smoke behind it.

This video was posted on Instagram with the caption, “Clash between police and shotis – long live the drivers who risk their lives.” It shows a shoti activating his smoke machine to throw off the police cars that are chasing him. The police even try to shoot at his car, but at the end of the video the shoti gets away.

Photo posted on Instagram showing two switches in a Peugeot sedan. The user’s caption says “Only cool guys know what these switches are.” A shoti we spoke to explained that one switch disactivates the brake lights, the other activates the smoke machine.


Road spikes seen in a video published by a shoti. They throw the spikes in the path of pursuing vehicles to puncture their tyres.


Taxi driver by day, “shoti” by night

Farshid [not his real name] is an Iranian shoti. He is 30 and he lives in a city in Western Iran that he does not want to reveal. He has a Peugeot 405 ELX.
 
I’m a taxi driver during the day and a shoti at night. I started working as a shoti about a year ago. I wanted to get married to my girlfriend but wasn’t making enough money. I could barely rent a decent house. A colleague suggested I start doing shoti. I didn’t hesitate.

I modified my car so I could become a real shoti. I swapped the rear suspension out with springs taken from an old Nissan truck; I removed the catalytic converter; I put in a tinted rear window and a smoke machine; and a switch to kill the back lights. It cost me about three million toman [230 euros].

For Farshid's description of high-speed chases with police, see Part 2.

This article was written by Ershad Alijani.