Curtain Call (Part 3)

DTW’s Eastern Bloc party of stillborn concepts and prototypes continues.

FSO Warszawa Ghia and Syrena Sport. (c) /Auto

FSO Warszawa Ghia, 1957

In search of a suitable replacement for the dated GAZ/Warszawa M20, FSO enlisted Ghia of Italy to deliver a proposal. Designed under Sergio Sartorelli at a cost of US $62,000, this Warszawa Ghia was the result. Looking somewhat like a shortened Lancia Flaminia, the car had a pleasing and up to date look. FSO sent the car to its research and development centre to be stored until further notice. Apparently no action was ever taken to make the car a reality – the M20 would continue to be built until 1973 – and the prototype was destroyed in the late seventies.

FSO Syrena Sport, 1960

Designer Cezary Nawrot was in charge of a special project to test a number of solutions and production technologies which were to be implemented in a future FSO sedan. Nawrot decided that the test car need not be a functional, nondescript vehicle and so he produced a small roadster. Fiberglass-bodied and weighing just over 700kg, the Sport’s engine was a newly designed flat-twin four-stroke (the existing Syrena had a two-stroke flat-twin) that developed 50hp.

Apparently, Nawrot disliked that two-stroke so much that he made sure the bonnet line of his car was too low for that engine to fit. Unusual for a sporty car – certainly in those days – the Sport was front wheel drive. Some influence from beyond the iron curtain (Mercedes 190SL for example) is undeniable when looking at the Syrena Sport. The car was displayed at the 1960 Labour Day Exhibition and generated positive press; the Italian newspaper Il Giorno named the Syrena Sport “the most beautiful car built behind the iron curtain“. Unfortunately both FSO and Cezary Nawrot knew that it was only a prototype, never intended for production so it remained a pretty one-off.

GAZ 3105. (c) /Old

GAZ 3105, 1987

The perennial favourite of higher ranking party members, the GAZ Volga 2410, had become hopelessly dated by the mid eighties. Under the project name GAZ 3105 work was ordered to start on a successor. The goals set were lofty – Audi’s recent aerodynamic 200 Quattro was stated as the benchmark for the engineers. The GAZ 3105 was thus to have four wheel drive like its Ingolstadt example, but it was to be fitted with something Audi could not (yet) offer: a V8 engine.

The car’s development, during which President Gorbachev’s perestroika and the looming collapse of the USSR significantly hindered progress, was lengthy and the 3105 was only declared production-ready in 1992. A little over fifty cars were built before the plug was pulled in 1996, although none of these had the prototype’s distinctive Subaru SVX-style side windows in the doors. The main reason for the 3105’s failure was its high price: for the same amount of money one could also have bought a Mercedes S-Class, or an Audi V8 Quattro for that matter – which most did.

Skoda 760. (c) /

Skoda 760, 1972

The Skoda 760 was part of a huge joint-venture project initiated in 1970 named RGW (Rat für Gegenseitige Wirtschaftshilfe / Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) between Skoda and the East German VEB Automobilwerke in order to replace the Skoda 100/110, Wartburg 353 and Trabant 601. An assortment of five newly developed aluminium four cylinder engines with displacements between 1100 and 1800 cc plus manual or automatic gearboxes was to be engineered and supplied by Skoda. Other chassis parts such as brakes, suspension and driveshafts were to be Wartburg and Trabant’s task.

Each car model under the RGW banner would have its own distinct body; Skoda and Wartburg would get a four-or five-door sedan, coupé and minivan, the Trabant was to be a three- or five door hatchback. The ultimate goal of RGW was to have all car lines in production by 1982, with a planned total production of 600,000 vehicles per year. As with its previous 720 prototype, Skoda turned to Giorgetto Giugiaro for the styling of its RGW car whose general appearance offered a bit of a preview of the work Giugiaro would produce for VAG later in the decade. Had it made it to market, the 760 would have been Skoda’s first front wheel drive car.

The RGW venture would prove to be a logistical nightmare however: the various components were produced in over a dozen factories spread across two countries. The Czech railway network in particular proved not up to the task; the results were severe delays, delivery errors and quality problems. The fact that the Warsaw Pact started to increase the amount of money invested in defence as the 1970s went on – at the cost of all other sectors – bogged down RGW as well, eventually leading to the termination of the project in 1979.

After the RGW failure, new car development behind the iron curtain came almost to a standstill, especially in East Germany which was by this time more or less, financially exhausted.

The series will continue in due course.

Author: brrrruno

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

18 thoughts on “Curtain Call (Part 3)”

  1. That blue Skoda (bottom right picture) reminds me a bit of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta – the shape of the rear door, the C-pillar vent and the truncated tail. Overall it’s quite different, though.

  2. Good morning, Bruno, and thanks for unearthing another selection of hidden gems.

    FSO Warszawa Ghia really was rather nice and it’s a shame it didn’t make production. Vic beat me to it regarding the resemblance of the Syrena Sport to the Dart SP250. It’s almost a dead ringer:

    The production GAZ3105 owes a lot to the Mk3 Granada/Scorpio, both inside and out:

    1. The side windows on the GAZ are very Scorpio, indeed. It wasn’t visible in the prototype photo with the ‘full height’ windows. The design was much straighter there (even including the wheelarches).
      What I find very strange on this car is the frontal treatment. It looks like a facelift from the beginning, like when you have a 1970s car with a relatively high front end where new, slimmer headlights were grafted on in the 90s. There really is a strange hump in the bonnet behind the front fascia. They should either have put the bumper higher up, or used another strip of metal between the lights and the bumper. As it is now, it looks as if the lights and grille have slid down from their original position.

    2. Hi Simon. Funnily enough, I thought exactly the same thing, but I envisaged it like the ‘Roverisation’of the R8: an unadorned smooth front end onto which was grafted an ornte grille to give it more ‘presence’. As to the downward curvature of the front end of the bonnet, it looks like they anticipated current pedestrian safety regulations that has forced many cars to look droopy, for example the new Octavia.

    3. Hello Vic and Daniel,
      I absolutely agree with the likeness to the SP250; I’m puzzled how I did not see that myself. Another likeness candidate (for the front end at least) is the 1958 Packard Hawk. And the production GAZ3105 definitely has a Granada/Scorpio flavor in the side DLO. Speaking of DLO, if you mentally (or perhaps Daniel being handy with photoshop could give it a try?) remove the lower SVX-style windows from the GAZ3105 prototype and replace it with sheet metal, what is left of the DLO looks quite a bit like the Audi 100/200.

    4. Hi Bruno. Happy to oblige:

      Yes, the DLO is very similar to the Audi 100 C3

    5. One of the designers of the 1991 Chevrolet Caprice, Dick Ruzzin, (in an interview which is no longer available online) talks about how he struggled to finesse the A-pillar because it was “wavy”. This photo of the GAZ clarifies exactly what he was on about, and why.

    6. The production photo, I mean. Sorry for not being clear, need a motion sickness pill.

  3. Unless am thinking of the Skoda 720 and Skoda 740 was under the impression the Skoda 760 along with the Skoda 780 preceded the RGW joint-venture project with Wartburg and Trabant such as the Wartburg 360, Wartburg 610M, Trabant 610, (Trabant?) P603 / P1100 / P1300, Trabant P601 N, Trabant P601 Z, Trabant P601 WEII (or P601 WE2).

    Sure there was the Wartburg P760 / Trabant P760 (the odd prototype or few dubbed “Hangebauchschwein”aka Paunchy Pig) though understand they ended up eventually evolving into the smaller Skoda Favorit after a very long 14 year or so gestation period via the Skoda 780 prototype.

    It would be interesting to further delve into the specifics of the joint-venture project by Skoda, Wartburg and Trabant to chronicle the various prototypes to resolve any confusion.

    Very unfortunate the 52-95 hp 1107-1771cc 4-cylinder Skoda 760 engines never reached production, the same goes with the 66-95 hp 1236-1772cc OHC in the Skoda 720 as well as a 36-56 hp 893-1197cc OHC in the Skoda 740 that may all be one and the same engine family.

    Get the impression the 54-67 hp 1289-1397cc Skoda OHV engine was capable of further enlargement and development then it ultimately merited to receive, as was done with the 138 hp (others claim 148 hp) 1500cc engine in the Skoda Rapid Gunsch though cannot determine whether it featured a turbocharger or not.

    Skoda also apparently had their own 99-101 hp 1.6 / 1596cc OHC engine they wanted to fit into the Favorit / Forman and Felicia that was tested in Favorit prototypes and rally cars, which was to apparently spawn a smaller 1300-1375cc version.

    Also understand Wartburg were looking at developing their own four-stroke OHC engines from a 60+ hp 1191cc 3-cylinder to a 80-83 1588-1593cc along with a possibly related 34 hp 1103cc 3-cylinder diesel used in the Trabant 601 diesel prototype, whilst investigating Renault/Dacia engines (from the Wartburg 355 prototype to Dacia-powered 610M) and even the A-Series engine* before settling on the 1043-1272cc Volkswagen EA111 engines (though a 80 hp 1390cc Renault E-Type powered prototype with 5-speed gearbox was soon considered as it was reckoned to offer a potential saving of 1000 DM per car over the Volkswagen engines) . –

    *- Andy Thompson’s Cars of Eastern Europe on page 245-246 mentions at the time of Wartburg’s imminent departure from Britain during the 1970s, there was also talk of shipping Wartburg Knights to Finland and retrofitting them with the 1275cc A-Series engine though nothing came of the plan between Wartburg and British Leyland.

    1. There was the proprietary Ryman A series conversion kit for the Wartburg 353:

      Factor in the cost of a new A series and it would probably make a new converted 353/Knight uncompetitively expensive.

    2. Just as well the mid-1970s time period suggests one of the reasons the talks between Wartburg and British Leyland went nowhere was because the latter went bankrupt. Still it would have been an interesting side note had a deal been made for the A-Series Wartburgs to be official (with the conversion properly developed like the Renault/Dacia engined prototypes and Volkswagen engined cars), yet would have remained to be seen whether BL would have derived any benefit from providing the East Germans with A-Series engines until reunification.

      Have to wonder what version of the A-Series was mentioned in the image below and what year since the conversion is claiming figures of 54 (SAE) hp at 5400rpm, which suggests either a 1098cc or a detuned 1275cc (as on the Mini 1275GT) with the less likely unit being the 55 hp 998cc engine in the Austin de Luxe (ADO16) for the Spanish, Danish and Greek markets from 1974-1977.

    1. Unusually for its genre, the ESVW1 is a bit of a looker – far better resolved and detailed than most production VAG offerings in 1971-2:

    2. Agreed. With more conventional front and rear ends, the ESVW1 would have been an interesting and characterful production model. I wonder if Giugiaro had any input?

  4. RGW does not only mean a joint venture of a couple of car manufacturers, it’s the whole system known as Comecon of which RGW is just the German translation.

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