Soviet Era Automobile

MOSKVICH

moskvich

This blog entry will be one of many others to come about cars. Primarily old Russian cars from the Soviet Union. I got a soft spot for these cars because they are the cars that I grew up with and basically the first cars that I ever saw, therefore forming an image in my mind of what a car is as an object. The simplicity of Russian Soviet cars makes and takes simplicity to an art form. There is nothing extra on the body for flair or decorative reasons. The shapes of gadgets and components for example front and rear lights are simple geometric shapes such as circles, squares, rectangles and triangles. Its a perfect visual form for a “car.”

That’s my impression of these cars being someone who grew up with them and also from an artistic-industrial design point of view.I never actually driven one of them because I wasn’t old enough to drive when I left Russia. From what I hear they are hard and unpleasant to drive, especially when compared with the popular brands that are on the road. The speed is low, the acceleration is slow, the steering wheel is hard to turn and the gear box is set in concrete. Although to me it doesn’t sound that bad. It looks like a real drivers car, without any high end technology, so you feel the car and the road instead of the technology doing everything and assisting you.

There are a hand full of Russian auto manufacturers. At least back then. Now the streets of Russia are filled with car brands from all over the world. When I was growing up there there were starting to be a foreign brand here and there. Mostly BMW from what I remember. A car like that stood out like a sore thumb among the soviet metal. It was like a car from the future or from another planet.

The particular car that I would like to start my Soviet Car Blog with is the one pictured above called the Moskvich. This was a common car on the road because it was fairly affordable. It wasn’t the cheapest and it wasn’t the most expensive one. It was in the middle pricing range. The models above were sold from 4000-7200 rubles by the government. Moskvich was Founded in 1929 as KIM-(Communist Youth International). The plant became MZMA-(Moscow Small Car Factory) in 1939, not to be confused with MDMA which is a chemical formula for ecstasy. The plant changed its name to AZLK meaning (Lenin Communist Youth League Automobile Factory) in 1969. These cars were produced until 2002 when the company went bankrupt and all operations ceased. The factory became abandoned with cars, parts and body shells still on the platforms. Several attempts to start up the production were made but so far none were successful.

The Moskvich models that I am concentrating on in this blog are the more modern models which are Moskvich 408/412/426/2138/2140. These are the models featured in the pictures above. Production of these cars began from 1966 till 1997. Model 412 had a 1962 BMV engine that was reconstructed by Soviet engineers. It put out 73 horsepower and had a maximum speed of 142 KM/hour which is about 90 miles. Model 408 was an earlier version of the 412. It had 23 less horses and cost 900 rubles less than the 412 model. Model 2138 began production in 1976. It had the same engine base from a 1962 BMW that put out 50 horses. The engine on the 2140 was refined to put out 75 housepower, production began in 1981.
Through out the decades it was the little things that were changed on the Moskvich and on all Soviet cars for that matter. The overall body style remained the same. Small details were changing such as the shape and quality of the front and rear lights, the shape and material of the grill, bumpers, door handles, interior dashboard, steering wheel and driver’s gadgets. This was done to keep the automobile up to date and meet the world standards of automotive production.

Moskvich was a successful automobile for its time because it had no competition for its class, in fact there were long lines to get one. Another popular car was the Volga but it was much more expensive and in a totally different class. The car that matched the Moskvich as the peoples car was the Lada that came out a little later. All of these automobiles I will write about in my next entries. So come back soon and thanks for reading.

LADA 2101

This car was first introduced in 1970 and spend 16 years in production. During this period 2,007,000 were built. It is the Lada 2101 or better known as Zhiguli. It went into the same automotive class as the Moskvich being a compact sedan car. Its affordability 5600 Rubles made it the next people’s car. In the mid 1960′s the Soviet government collaborated with Italian auto manufacturer Fiat and that’s how this car was created. Basically its a version of the Fiat 124 but re-engineered and redesigned by Soviet engineers who made 800 changes to it. Over the years of production slight changes and upgrades were made to the engine, interior and exterior. For example on the later versions horsepower was brought up from initial 58 horses to 63/80/120hp. 120 horses was specially made to be used by KGB. Interior got new features such as softer more comfortable seats and a redesigned dashboard and steering wheel. The exterior got upgrades such as slightly redesigned lights, bumpers, doorhandles and grill. The overall form and look of the car remained a Zhiguli.

This car is very simple. It has nothing extra on it for flair or style. Its designed to function as a car and with its simplicity defines the basic form of what a car is as an object. The lights for example are basic geometric shapes, circles and rectangles. There are no special curvatures or angles made as a design element, its simplicity is its design element.
There are other models of Zhiguli which I will talk about in other posts. All of them and all Soviet cars for that matter share a simple basic form.

LADA NIVA

This was the first Soviet 4×4 vehicle that was popular and widely available to the general public. It was made by the same manufacturer VAZ which made Zhigulis. This offroad 4×4 version of Zhiguli was known as Niva or VAZ 2121. Production of this vehicle began in 1977 and is still being produced in Europe and Canada. Like all Soviet mass production vehicles the Niva received minor changes and upgrades during the years of it production. The most noticeable one is the back lights. In the older models they were horizontally placed under the trunk door. In the newer models they are vertical. The original models have 72 horsepower and max speed of 80 mph. This car is also very basic and simple and is able to go where regular Zhigulis can not.

ZAPAROZHETS

The first Zaparozhets cars were based on the Fiat 500. Just like the Lada 2101 was a re-engineered version of the Fiat 124 the first Zaparozhets was a re-engineered Soviet version of the Fiat 500. The models pictured above are the ZAZ 968 and 968M. They came into production in the early 1970′s after the production of the first version ended in 1969.
The 968 and the 968M models differ by the fact that the first one has duel air intake chambers on the back sides. The second car has a grill on the back sides instead of the air intake openings. It also has rectangular rear lights as opposed to circular light on the other car.  Both have 40 horses and an engine in the back. This was the only car in the Soviet Union with a rear engine, making it very similar to a Ferrari.
The Zaparozhets is a true peoples car. It cost less than the Moskvich and the Lada at 3,500 Rubles. This made an automobile available to a much bigger part of the population. People who otherwise couldn’t afford one became  automobile owners. This car put the Soviet people on wheels.

CHAYKA

This car was the Bentley of Soviet cars. You couldn’t just get one. Besides most people would not be able to afford it anyway. This car was speacially reserved to for members of a certain high ranking class. This particular model GAZ14 was for academics and representatives of various governmental branches. The car was given out to them for free and each came with a personal driver. This car had 220 hp with a top speed of 109 mph at a weight of 2.5 tons. Production of this vehicle began in 1977 and ended in 1989 when Mikhail Gorbachov took office and production of the vehicle was ordered to shut down.

LADA SAMARA

Lada Samara 2108, also known as Lada Sputnik was made by the VAZ auto manufacturer which produced Zhigulis. This makes it a Zhiguli. The first prototype of this car was completed in 1979 and in December 1984 it was released on the market. The stock models have around 77 hp and maximum speed of 94 mph. However the engine which was partly engineered by Porsche was very customizable. An engine on a regular Samara can be tuned to put out 250 hp.
A 4×4 rear-engined rally version of the Samara was built in 1985 called Samara-Eva.It  It had a turbocharger and put out 300 hp. Two year later in 1987 this Rally car was improved upon with a release of an even faster Eva called S-Proto which produced 350 horse-power.
Lada Samara was a very stylish and modern looking car back then. It still is today. Its simple yet sporty wedge shaped body makes it very customizable. Its simple shape allows all kinds of body-kits and modifications to be put on it. In terms of performance its engine is open to high-end tune ups as well. That is why this Zhiguli gets tuned the most. With the right engineering and creative tasteful and not too over-top body modifications, this car can look and perform as good as modern sports cars and rally cars that are on the road today.

LADA RIVA

This was a new re-styled Lada sedan made by the VAZ auto manufacturer. The two models Lada 2105 and 2107 were practically the same except for the front grill and the difference in horsepower of 76-77hp . This car was a big success due to its competitive price on the export market, its reliability and functionality, simple DIY(do-it-yourself)-friendly mechanics and its stylish design. Since production started over 13.5 million of these Zhigulis were exported to Europe, Africa, Canada and the Caribbean under the name of Lada “Riva.
Production of these cars began in 1982 and 1984. Currently the car is still in production today. In 2011 the production moved from the Togliatti plant to the Izh Auto Plant in order to make room for newer production models and in April of 2012 VAZ announced that production of Lada 2107 will cease altogether to yield the production of the 2116 model.
This Zhiguli is still very stylish and remains modern-looking up to today. Its simple box exterior makes it very customizable and open to all kinds of body kits to give it a sportier more aggressive edge. In fact this car was on the show “Top Gear” where it was customized and tuned by Lotus and afterwards ripped apart Lotus’s test track.

LADA 2106

What can I say about this car that I already haven’t said about the previous models. This car is a Zhiguli that came out on the market in 1976. It had 63 horsepower and had slight design differences than the Lada 2101 and 2107 featured above. For example the front light were double circular and the back light remained rectangular but slightly bigger than those on the 2101 model and enveloped in a chrome frame. The over-all shape remained an essentially recognizable Zhiguli form with its simple Fiat engineered aesthetics. Just like all other Ladas of its time the 2106 model was highly customizable due to the simplicity of its form. It was modified with different body and engine kits to a high level of performance and style for the streets and off-road rally competitions. Soviet machines are engineered by the government to do no less and no more than they should. So when it comes to customisation the sky is the limit.

VOLGA

If Chayka is the Bentley of Russian automobiles then this car is the Mercedes. This is Volga GAZ 24 manufactured by GAZ (Gorkovsky Automobile Plant) The car was first introduced as a prototype in 1967 with 31 units built primarily for road-testing. Another 215 units were built by 1969 and in 1970 the car was officially released on the market with an initial 18,486 units. It was exported to 75 countries and was produced until 1992.
This model was made to replace the outdated GAZ 21 model developed in the 1950′s. GAZ 24 had up to date technology and design by world standards. It performed very good during road-testing in both on-road and off-road conditions. Crash-tests and wind-tunnel testing also yielded good results. This updated version of the Volga had 98-100 horsepower and cost 9,300 Rubles. Special V8 models were built in limited amounts during the 1970′s which gave out 195 horsepower.
Like a  Mercedes this car conveyed class and status. To own a Volga and drive it on the street showed that you are a higher ranking person as opposed to someone who was driving a Zaparozhets or a Lada. In relation to the States, its was like driving a Mercedes among Toyota’s and Honda’s.
Besides common people with money, Volga was widely used among military and government personnel, state and federal businesses, academics, cinema, police, hospitals and emergency services. This was due to its performance, dependability and lucrative interior space, especially in the station-wagon. The car was specifically designed to endure and last a long time in Russia’s harsh climates.

LUAZ 969

This car is the Luaz 969. It was made in the Ukraine at the Lutsk Auto Plant beginning from 1967 until the fall of the Soviet Union. Its a four wheel drive with 40 horsepower. Luaz has the same engine as the Zaparozhets but its located in the front instead of the rear thus preventing overheating which was an issue for the rear-engined Zaparozhets.
The aesthetics of this car are very simple and boxy.  The car itself is for basic everyday utilitarian use and for transport of cargo. It looks small on the inside but inside is plenty of storage room. There are only two seats-the drivers and the passengers seat leaving plenty of space for transporting cargo or installing more seats for people to sit on.
For this reason this car was used in times of war and conflicts. It was convenient for transport of cargo and soldiers and was an all around off-road vehicle that could handle the back-roads and rough terrain. So don’t be fooled by its small size and modest appearance. This is a rugged war machine that’s not afraid to go out on the front lines.

PANGOLINA 444GT

This is Russia’s version of the Lamborghini Countach. It was built in 1983 by Alexander Kulygin-an experienced and skilled constructor in 1983. It had a front-mounted tuned Zhiguli engine that would excel the automobile to a maximum speed of 112 mph. This was one of many secret designs of the Soviet Union.
This particular concept came to life unlike many other independently designed car projects which were destroyed and lost in the Soviet Union of Secrecy. Among the squares and rectangles which dominated Russian roads at the time, this car was a wedge-shaped triangle from another dimension.

POBEDA

Pobeda means Victory in Russian and this name was very appropriate for this car because it was built at the end of WWII when Russia kicked Germany’s ass! The car was built by GAZ auto manufacturing plant and was based on American auto engineering aesthetics. It was released on the market in 1946 for 16,000 Rubles and stayed in production for the next 12 years till 1958. During this time a total of  236,000 units were built. GAZ Pobeda M20 was very aerodynamic and had 53 horsepower and a top speed of 65 mph.

RAF

RAF is short for Riga Automobile Factory. It was based in Jelgava, Latvia. It produced minibuses like these under the name “Latvija.” The latest models had a Volga engine produced by GAZ which gave out 98 horsepower. Since the hood space was narrow in the front of the car, the engine was also accessible from the cabin. The cover for the engine was located between the driver and passenger seat.
This minibus was used for services such as public transportation, police, ambulance, transport of goods and many other fields of work. Citizens were not allowed to purchase it for personal use unless their family consisted of 5 or more people. When the Soviet Union fell apart so did the production of RAF.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am a NYC-based artist.

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