Curtain Call (Part 2)

Comecon in and enjoy part two of Bruno Vijverman’s trawl through the former USSR’s automotive waifs and strays. 

Moskvitch 1974 C1. (c) Autodata1 com

Moskvitch C1, 1975

AZLK, or Avtomobilny Zavod imeni Leninskogo Komsomola – which translates as Lenin-communist Youth Union – sold its vehicles under the more palatable brand name Moskvitch (Moscovite). In February of 1975 the C1 prototype was readied in response to a demand for a successor to the dated 412 model. Under its SAAB-esque skin, the work of chief designer Yuri Tkachenko, still beat the 412’s 85hp four; the hump stamped into the driver’s side of the bonnet accounted for by the engine’s height. Sharp eyes may spot the Opel Ascona B headlights. Still, the C1 looked modern- sporting even.

The bad news however was that the C1’s underpinnings were carried over from the car it was intended to replace. One would expect to see a hatchback boot judging by the fastback shape of the car but the C1 had a smallish conventional bootlid, just like the Citroën CX. And speaking of the CX, the door panels shown in the interior photo of the C1 could almost have come from a rejected CX prototype. Nicknamed ‘the green crocodile’ by Moskvitch staff, the C1 went nowhere in the end – mainly because of its ancient platform and engine. An improved prototype named C3 – of which more later on – would be produced in an attempt to rectify this. Of the three C1 protoypes built, one survives and is on display in the Moscow car museum.

Tatra JK2500. (c)

Tatra JK2500, 1955

The JK2500 was partly named after Julius Kubã­nskã¡, a Czech car designer who worked for coachbuilder Karosa Brno and Tatra. Unlike the big Tatra sedan, the JK2500 was front engined. Initially powered by an Alfa Romeo engine, but soon a more appropriate Tatra aircooled V8 from the 603 model replaced it. Unfortunately for Kubã­nskã¡, Tatra management refused to consider putting the JK2500 in production, even though they expressed their admiration for the styling. The design is indeed quite beautiful and brings to mind the Pegaso of the same period; Kubã­nskã¡ used the JK2500 as his personal transport for over a decade, after which he sold the car. Currently its whereabouts – if it has even survived, remain unknown – it would certainly be a fascinating barnfind!

VNIITE ZAZ Maksi Taxi. (c)

ZAZ VNIITE Maxi / Taxi, 1963/64

Both were designed by Yuri Dolmatovsky of VNIITE – which translates roughly to “All Union Research Institute of Technical Aesthetics”. VNIITE was founded the year before with the help of Raymond Loewy; these vehicles were among the consultancy’s first automotive designs. Using the platform and aircooled V4 engine of the ZAZ Zaporozhets 965 as a base, within virtually identical outside dimensions (the same length and just 11cm wider) these early concepts of the monospace minivan offered impressive space within their modest size.

The fiberglass-bodied Maxi and Taxi had large sliding doors on each side, offered room for five and had swivelling front seats. The front torsion bar suspension and steering linkage (by Pitman arm) were raised to just under the windscreen in order to provide more space for driver and front passenger; this setup was also claimed to aid safety in case of a frontal collision. To further improve driver comfort the pedal set was adjustable.

Skoda 763. (c)

Skoda 763, 1977

Another result of the RGW development project was this interesting looking Skoda coupé. In profile it is hard to miss the similarity to the VW Scirocco, while the front grille and headlight arrangement carry reflections of the Lancia Fulvia Zagato coupé from a decade earlier. Contrary to its sedan and station wagon sisters in the range of 760-series prototypes developed under the RGW banner the 763 was front-engined and rear wheel drive.

Its body consisted of a combination of steel and fiberglass (doors, bonnet, front wings and bootlid) parts. The window arrangement in both front doors is unusual- the side window moves within a traditional frame, but what looks like a triangular vent window is actually a fixed, frameless glass pane.

The 763 was powered by a 1.5 litre four cylinder with an output of 53kW/72Hp and it was independently sprung on all four wheels by coil springs. Somewhat puzzling for a sporty coupé, the transmission was a three-speed automatic developed in-house; it proved troublesome and was replaced later on by a five speed manual transmission. Especially in automatic form the 763 was no fireball, even though at 920Kg it was not very heavy. Even so, the CSSR Ministry of Internal Affairs criticized it by remarking that the 763 was significantly faster than their public security (police) cars which were Skoda 120 sedans.

This, coupled with structural problems that arose from the combined steel and fiberglass body plus substandard space utilization and luggage capacity caused the 763 to be cancelled.

This series will continue.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

15 thoughts on “Curtain Call (Part 2)”

  1. Another selection of the weird and wonderful, thank you Bruno. The VNIITE taxi looks like something from a 1960’s sci-fi movie. One can imagine it running around Portmerion in an episode of ‘The Prisoner’. Its short wheelbase and the extremely long front overhang must have made steering it a strange experience for the driver.

    The Moskvich C1 is intriguing looking. Very Saab-like, and reminiscent of a 1970’s safety vehicle concept. It desperately needed more refinement on the detailing, but those underpinnings made it a non-starter in any event.

    The coupés are interesting in that they seem incompatible with Soviet ideology by being too frivolous, impractical and elitist, particularly the Tatra. Of course, they were Czech rather than Russian and the Czechs were pretty independent-minded. Did Russia ever mass-produce a coupé of any sort? I can’t recall one.

    Looking forward to the next instalment.

    1. I am probably the only follower of DTW who can happily admit to having once bought a Moskvitch – the first vehicle I ever bought new. It was a 434 (the van version of the 412), in 1972. And I still maintain that the reasoning was sound.

      Not long married and with a decrepit cottage to renovate, a van made sense; particularly with no purchase tax to pay. Choices were several, ranging from a Ford Escort (too expensive if you wanted it to have a front passenger seat, heater, or even paint – it came in primer) via Citroen, Renault (think Irish post vans), Simca (1100) to Moskvitch. The Moskvitch beat them all on interior space. Plus it had a heater good enough to cope with Siberia (and we had proper winters in the Peak District in those days), a solid 3/4 height bulkhead behind the seats, full tool kit, a 114-page fully illustrated hardback service manual…. and it was the cheapest. In short, it was great value for money and, in my experience, did exactly what it was supposed to do.

      The Slough-based importers ran a highly successful racing team of 412s. Class wins every time, as their adverts proudly proclaimed – without mentioning the fact that there were no other competitors in their class.

    1. I did wonder if it was perhaps a little cheesy, Laurent, but it was irresistible…

  2. Looking at the Skoda Mini (posted in part 1) and the 720 / 740 / 760 / 780 prototypes as well as the Tatra JK2500 and other Tatra prototypes such as:

    – The Fiat 600-sized Tatra P604 Lidovka (posted in part 1)

    – Tatra 603X

    – Tatra T-625 saloon / coupe project

    – Tatra MTX V8

    Along with the Erich Ledwinka designed four-stroke air-cooled Flat-Twin engine for Steyr-Daimler-Puch for their small car project from the U1 to U3 prototypes before it eventually found its way into the Fiat 500-based Puch 500

    It is very unfortunate Czechoslovakia ended up becoming part of the Eastern Bloc instead of the Western Bloc or even a neutral country (like Austria, Sweden, Finland, etc) after WW2 or at minimum just the Czech portion (had there been a way for it to be liberated by the Western Allies instead of the Soviets), since the likes of Tatra, Skoda and possibly others could have potentially gone much further then they did despite being arguably viewed as among the best of the Eastern Bloc Carmakers.

    1. Here is the missing facebook link for the Tatra 603X prototype, there should be more info and images available online.

    2. The Tatra 625 is interesting – the early ‘80s version looks a lot like the Type 4 Alfa-Romeo 164, Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema, SAAB 9000 quartet. The later, light-coloured one looks like a mid-‘80s Ford Scorpio.

    3. Agree

      It seems the later model’s styling along with the Citroen AX also had some influence on the following possible Wartburg / Trabant / Sachsenring successor proposals of the mid-late 1980s, which would also been worth knowing more about.

  3. The engine of the Tatra 625 Project was actually built and tested in the 80’s. The available data suggests it would have been quite competitive with other contemporary 4 valve v8’s ( 172kw at 5200 rpm from 3.5 litres)

  4. Bruno – the Tatra JK2500 is interesting – I wonder if it was ‘adopted’ by Tatra, as it appears to have had Volkswagen suspension, in addition to the Alfa engine. I hope it still exists, somewhere.

    Daniel – yes, some Soviet design is very ‘other’ – enjoyably so. They don’t appear to be afraid of challenging design conventions, or working on a huge scale. This site has some interesting / terrifying examples:

    I’m not aware of a mass-produced Russian coupé. It’s a pity – I’m sure Lada could have got a starting point from Fiat.

    1. Hi Charles. Wow, there’s some seriously weird stuff on there! I love some of the mid-century futuristic drawings. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Did anyone notice that the Moskvitch C1 concept has the same design concept for the roof edge as the 1987 Skoda Favorit, ascribed to Bertone. However, the 1985 Golf Mk 2 has it as well. Have a look at the big strip of black plastic rubbery stuff between the door frame and roof panel where the gutter would normally be.

  6. Hi Bruno,

    I always liked USSR-era design proposals so that was a really good read. They often reminded me of Citroëns somehow or cars Citroën could’ve come up with. Maybe it’s owing to the scarse resources and pitiful develoment budgets they both had for years.

    I just found this page with more C1, C2 and C3 prototype pictures with a few other links in it if anyone is interested.

    1. Thanks for this interesting source, NRJ. There really is a lot of Saab in these prototypes, for example the front indicators / position lights of the C2. The C3 somehow looks Japanese at the back, maybe the light clusters are sourced from a Japanese car?

      What I found odd on the C1 is the separate piece of fixed material on the B-pillar. I wonder if it became necessary because of the ‘hidden’ door handles, or if there was a different reason. All the other prototypes don’t have this feature.

    2. Thanks for sharing those photos, NRJ. The C3 is the most conventional looking of the designs:

      The ‘rat-hole’ where the front wing, bonnet and indicator (don’t) meet is large enough to give Mr Herriott palpitations!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: