The USSR’s automobile industry produced perhaps the worst vehicles in the world, but even among them there were quite tolerable ones. Here we’re recalling the best cars made in the Soviet Union period.
The Soviet car market was not very diverse. Most citizens could not afford to buy a car and those who could, had a limited choice of so-so vehicles. Here are our TOP 5 Soviet Union’s bests. Some of them still hit the road.
Moskvich-412 / M-412
This is a subcompact rear-wheel-drive car with a 2,304-pound curb weight, a 4-speed manual gearbox, and a slanted, 1.5-liter inline-four with a hemispherical combustion chamber (HEMI engine).
The engine called UZAM-412 was reliable, maintainable, and potent for the time. It delivered 75 hp and bored some similarities to the contemporary BMW 1500’s engine. On a more powerful Moskvitch-412-2V, the UZAM-412 produced 100 horsepower and, moreover, was used in sports cars.
The Moskvich-412, also known as the Izh-412, was manufactured from 1967 to 1997, both for domestic and export markets. It was available in various trims and modifications, including the M-412 base sedan, М-427 station wagon, M-434 sedan delivery or pickup, and the first Soviet hatchback IZh-2125 “Kombi”.
The original M-412 was a reliable, unpretentious, and dynamic vehicle for its time, despite a number of archaic features, such as a spring rear suspension or drum brakes. In the late 60s and 70s, the car had a stylish appearance and a fairly modern design compared to classmates.
Dimensions: 162 inches long, 61 inches wide (4,115 x 1,550 mm), wheelbase is 94.5 in (2,400 mm).
This a 5-seat luxury sedan built as a government car only in 50 examples. It was ranked between the ZIL-114 used for the supreme authority and the GAZ-13 Chaika used as an escort car for Politburo members and high officials.
The ZIL-117 gained popularity with die-cast model makers. In addition to a standard model, there was a 2-door version and a variant with a shielded ignition system.
Dimensions: 225.4 x 81.4 x 59.8 inches (5,725 x 2,068 x 1,520 mm), wheelbase is 129.9 in (3,300 mm), curb weight is 6,349 lb (2,880 kg). Development of the ZIL-177 began in 1968, and in 1971 it went into production that lasted until 1978.
Under the hood, the car had a 7.0-liter (424.7 cu in) V8 making up to 300 hp and mated to either a 2- or 3-speed automatic transmission. Fuel feed was via a single 4-choke carburetor, power steering came as standard. The claimed top speed was between 118–125 mph (190–201 km/h).
“Chaika” means seagull. This luxury automobile has two generations: GAZ-13 made between 1959 and 1981 and GAZ-14 built from 1977 to 1988. The car debuted in 1958 and was displayed at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, along with the GAZ-52 truck and the GAZ M21 Volga.
Like more luxurious ZILs, the Chaika was designed for the Soviet party elite, but of lower rank than the Politburo members, for example, local governors. Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro used a GAZ Chaika, by the way.
The model was powered by a 195-hp 5.5-liter V8 paired with a push-button automatic transmission of a similar design to the Chrysler TorqueFlite unit. It was offered as a sedan, a limousine, a station wagon (hearse or ambulance|), and a 4-door cabriolet with an electrohydraulic top (built for official parades).
GAZ M21 Volga
The GAZ M21 Volga or GAZ-21 is an executive car (E-segment) produced in the USSR from 1956 to 1970 at the Gorky Automobile Zavod (“factory”) i.e. GAZ. The manufacturer released three series of Volgas which differed from each other in the grille designs: Star, Shark, and Baleen. The car was on sale in both domestic and export markets, in both 4-door sedan and 5-door wagon body styles.
With a length of 189 in (4.810 mm), a width of 71 in |(1.800 mm), a height of 63 in (1.610 mm), and a wheelbase of 110 in (2.700 mm), the GAZ-21 was the largest and most luxurious mass-production car in the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the model was an unattainable dream for most buyers in the country due to its high cost.
The GAZ M21 Volga’s styling was in line with the major American automakers of the period. It featured high ground clearance, rugged suspension, strong engines (2.5L 4-cylinder and 5.5L V8), and rustproofing. Its cabin offered such amenities as a three-wave radio, a cigarette lighter, a windshield washer, a heater, and a reclining front seat.
VAZ-2121 /Lada Niva
This long-running global model has been produced since 1977. The Niva is a series of small, four-wheel-drive cars of various body styles: 3- and 5-door hatchbacks, 3-door SUVs, 5-door wagons, 2-door pickups or half-trucks, 3-door box vans, and even 2-door ambulance and police cars.
Besides, it is the world’s first mass-produced off-road vehicle with unibody construction. Developers described the VAZ-2121 as a “Renault 5 put on a Land Rover chassis”. The Niva is obviously influenced by the Fiat 127 judging by its “clamshell” hood design and rear 3-quarter section.
The model’s engine lineup includes gasoline and diesel 4-cylinder units with displacements from 1.6 to 1.9 liters, and horsepower ranging from 59 to 82. The car uses a 4-speed manual transmission, replaced by a 5-speed one on later models (after 1993).
The Lada Niva excels in its rugged simplicity. It is not the car for a comfortable ride, but it is surprisingly capable when it comes to off-road driving. And a dependable one: for example, an ordinary Niva worked in Antarctica at the Bellingshausen station for 15 years.