The Copycat Cars of the USSR: 10 Famous Soviet Cars ‘Driven’ by Western Ideas

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Industry loomed large in the race for influence between the West and the Soviet Union, symbolizing power and the ability to create, innovate, and carry the world into the future. But while the Soviets held their own and in some cases bettered their capitalist rivals in some fields — such as space exploration and weaponry — they were behind from the start when it came to the automobile. Often, the U.S.S.R. had to copy its capitalist rivals just to keep pace. Here, below is a list of 10 famous Soviet cars ‘driven’ by Western ideas.

1. GAZ A (1932) / Ford A

V. Davidov/Sputnik – Erich Schmidt/Global Look Press

In 1929, the Soviet Union signed an agreement with the Ford Motor Company to assemble cars under the Ford license. The first models, called Gaz A, were produced at the Gorky (now – Nizhny Novgorod) automotive plant (GAZ) in 1932. The Gaz A was based on the Ford Model A, discontinued in 1931. The power system of the engine was redesigned in the Soviet car. In total, over 41,000 GAZ A were produced. In 1936, the old model was replaced with the GAZ-M-1.

2. GAZ M-1 (1936) / Ford Model B

Konstantin Kokoshkin/Global Look Press – Jiri Sedlacek/Wikipedia

The design of this model was based on the Ford Model B of 1934. Just like the previous vehicle, it was produced under the 1929 license, but survived significant changes. Its Soviet designers reinvented almost everything from the car suspension to its exterior. Produced in 1936-1942, it was one of the most popular cars in the prewar Soviet Union. Over 62,000 cars with several modifications were assembled in total.

3. KIM 10 (1940) / Ford Prefect

Alexei Stuzhin/TASS – Legion Media

The KIM-10 was the first model of the Soviet subcompact cars inspired by the British Ford Prefect. The Soviet car got the modern design of the hood, windscreen and trunk. However, World War II thwarted further development. This car never went on sale officially, though, 64 vehicles were given away as lottery prizes.

4. ZIS 110 (1945) / Packard 180

Konstantin Kokoshkin/Global Look Press – Rex Gray/Wikipedia

The first Soviet limousine ZIS 101 (1936) was already based on the U.S. Buick, and in September 1942 Stalin ordered the development of a new luxury-class limousine, the ZIS 110, this time under the influence of the Packard 180. This executive car was produced until 1958 with a total of 2,000 vehicles made for Soviet officials. Production of the Packard 180 itself was discontinued after World War II.

5. Moskvich 400 (1946) / Opel Kadett K38

Martin Hans/Wikipedia — Alfvan Beem/Wikipedia

On Dec. 4, 1946, the first Moskvich-400 car was assembled at the Moscow Compact Car Factory (AZLK). The four-seater car had a top speed of 90 km/h and was heavily inspired by the German Opel Kadett K38.

Joseph Stalin pushed for the car’s production as he was a big fan of the Opel after seeing it at an exhibition in the Kremlin in 1940. However, due to WWII, the project was postponed. But in 1947 the Moscow plant started churning out the model. It was produced up until 1954 before being replaced by the Moskvich-401, which had a more powerful engine. In total, 216,000 sedans and 17,000 cabriolets rolled out of the factory. In 1956, the car was replaced with the new Moskvich-402.

6. Moskvich 408 (1964) / Opel Kadett A

V. Khomenko/Sputnik – Global Look Press

The third generation of Moskvich cars was based on another German vehicle, the Opel Kadett A (1962), differing from the early model by the more spacious interior. In 1967, the Moscow Compact Car Factory started to assemble the new Moskvich-412 car with a more powerful engine and greater speed.

The Moskvich-412 was also a popular car for export. In Bulgaria, it was assembled under the name of Rila, and in Belgium it was known as the Scaldia. The Soviet model was produced until 1976 in Moscow, and even until 1998 at the Izhevsk plant.

7. GAZ-24 Volga (1966) / Ford Falcon

Torsten Maue/Wikipedia – Dave7/Wikipedia

The design of the Volga model was similar to the U.S. Ford Falcon (1962) and Plymouth Valiant (1962). The car was produced at the Gorky plant until 1985, mostly for use as taxis and chauffeured state vehicles. The GAZ-24 modification, titled the GAZ-24-76 Scaldia, was a popular taxi model in Belgium and France. In total, the Gorky plant assembled 1.4 million GAZ-24.

8. ZAZ-966 (1966) / NSU Prinz IV

Torsten Maue/Wikipedia – Alfvan Beem/Wikipedia

This new subcompact Soviet car had an exterior similar to the German NSU Prinz IV of 1961. In its turn, the German car partly replicated the design of the U.S. Chevrolet Corvair of 1959. The two-door coupe was produced until 1972 at the Kommunar auto plant (modern Ukraine).

9. VAZ 2101 (1970) / Fiat 124

Ivan Denisenko/Sputnik – Charles01/Wikipedia

In 1966, Italy’s Fiat and the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade signed a cooperation agreement. Under this deal, the USSR started to produce the station wagon VAZ 2102 and sedan VAZ 2101, based on the Fiat 124, voted “European car of the year” in 1967. Nevertheless, the VAZ 2101 was extensively “Russified” with over 800 changes.

The VAZ 2101, aka the “kopeck,” became a real people’s car in the Soviet Union. The model was the first car in the VAZ family and had lots of variations. Until 1988, the AvtoVaz plant in Tolyatti produced 4.85 million such cars, which is why in 2000 the VAZ 2101 was labeled “the best Russian car of the 20th century” by Russian media.

10. Moskvich 2141 (1986) / Simca Chrysler 1308

Kirill Borisenko/Wikipedia – Nakhon100/Wikipedia

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union succeeded in creating a completely new model of Moskvich, a front-wheel-drive hatchback based on the design of the French-U.S. Simca Chrysler 1308. The Soviet car was given a modern exterior and the export name of Aleko. The Moscow plant produced over 716,000 of these cars in different variations. The last model was assembled in 2002 under the name of Svyatogor.

(via Russia Beyond)

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