Today’s concept cars generally provide us with a glimpse of the future and a sense of the direction being taken by manufacturers as they tease the technology of tomorrow. These quirky Russian designs from way back however are something else.
If the Russians won the Cold War would our cars look like these crazy concepts?
Moskvich 408 Tourist
NAMI A50 Belka
In 1951, Russian manufacturer ZIS introduced what was the first version of its ZIS 112 concept. The car quickly earned the nickname “Cyclops” (we’ll let you guess why). This concept was heavily inspired by the 1951 Buick LeSabre and featured a 140-horsepower V8 and a body length of six meters. Two other versions of this prototype followed in subsequent years.
Built in 1962, this experimental amphibious car is featured in web videos that show it on grass, water and on the highway trying to overtake a car. Gaz has been around since 1932 and continues to manufacture several models of commercial cars.
In 1956, this 70-horsepower sports car designed by I.A. Gladilin and I.I. Okunev set three long distance speed records in Russia and won a 1959 championship title in the 2500cc and under series. By 1963, the Moskvitch project was abandoned and both of the only two copies ever built were dismantled for scrap.
Designed in 1979, the VAZ 1801 was an electric golf cart-like vehicle built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Two nickel-zinc batteries powered it, each weighing 397 pounds. Its maximum speed was 40 km/h and it could travel about 160 km on a single charge.
Its high stance lends to its somewhat awkward appearance, but its design has a little je ne sais quoi that we find catchy. This version is actually a 4×4 version of the Volga GAZ -24, produced between 1970 and 1985. In all, only five four-wheel drive versions were assembled in 1973-1974. Two are still intact.
This car appears to be quite normal (and, one might argue, even has beautiful lines). While it might have had huge potential for the Russian middle class, communist leaders at the time deemed it too luxurious for the common citizen. They juggled with the idea of manufacturing it for export, but failed required safety tests for the European market.
This concept sports car was created in 1939 and judging buy its front-end was inspired by the work of Ford designers at the time. With the Russian automotive industry still in its infancy, however, its mechanics weren’t up to par. The car struggled to reach 160 km/h and its tires were not able to endure such speeds. The arrival of the Second World War quickly put an end to the project.
This vehicle represents one of the first Soviet studies in car aerodynamics. Its shape is reminiscent of the shape of the Chrysler Airflow from the same era. Alexei Nikitin, an engineering student, designed the vehicle. The chassis of the car was made of wood, and its body metal. Only one prototype car was ever made, and no one knows what happened to it.
This bizarre-looking vehicle was devised with the idea of it being able to use its unique (completely untraditional) corkscrew-like propulsion feet to take it anywhere: through snow, swamps, over rough terrain.
The NAMI-031 microcar was produced in 1953 and was equipped with a 0.5L motorcycle engine that put out just 18 horsepower. The project never went beyond its early stages.
Produced between 1949 and 1953, this futuristic-looking concept car could accommodate six people. Its engineering was advanced for its time, featuring a rear engine, four-wheel independent suspension and an automatic 2-speed gearbox. Unfortunately, the prototype didn’t survive testing. Fun Fact: apparently it did 0-100 km/h in 50 seconds.
This may be one of the first successful Soviet sports cars. Derived from the Pobeda-M20, its design was the brainchild of an aviation team. This car won three championships in the USSR in 1950, 1955 and 1956.
No doubt, this was another rather unusual vehicle that never saw production. Another microcar concept, it was quipped with a 2-cylinder motorcycle engine rated at 746cc, and could reach speeds of 75 km/h.
Making its debut in 1967 after being commissioned by the Soviet Council of Ministers this vehicle concept was designed to serve as a taxi. Just one test car was made, but ironically today’s taxis have borrowed several elements.
Yet another concept sports car inspired by the world of aviation, the GAZ-Torpedo’s body materials were in many cases the same that were then used in lighter weight aircraft at the time. Due to reduced weight and aerodynamics, it could reach speeds of 190 km/h.
In 1975 Porsche chairman Ernst Fuhrmann met with the Soviet Deputy Minister of the Automobile Industry, Viktor Polyakov. The two agreed on a three-year partnership that saw Porsche assist Lada with the design of its cars. The Vaz-2013 concept car was the result of this short-lived partnership, which ended in failure. Lada later elected to go with its own design modifications, essentially abandoning Porsche’s influences.