Uncovering more unrealised projects of the former USSR and its influence sphere.
Bosmal/FSM Beskid 106 – 1983
The Polish Bosmal research centre worked together with FSM on a few projects, one of which was the Beskid 106 – named after a mountain range in the Carpathaians. An up to date proposal for a successor to the license-built rear-engined FSM/ Fiat 126 was needed and Bosmal did not disappoint; styled by Krzysztof Meissner, the Beskid 106 presented in the spring of 1983 was more than contemporary.
Its drag coefficient of 0.29 was excellent, and the front-engined and front-wheel drive Beskid offered five person space within dimensions that were not much greater than those of the 126; seven inches longer, while its axles were twelve inches further apart. It did use the same 594cc two-cylinder engine, although a larger 703cc version was fitted to later versions. Development was halted in the late eighties, the most cited reason being that Fiat was going to produce its Cinquecento at FSM and the Beskid was seen as unwanted competition had it reached the production stage.
IZH-13 (1972) and IZH-19 (1975)
The Izhevsk Machine-Building Plant started development of its first front-wheel drive car in 1968. The first result was presented in 1972. Styled by chief designer N.I. Slesarenko and V. Abrahamyan, the IZH-13’s overall
silhouette was in line with several Western and Japanese products of the era. The prominent power bulge on the bonnet reduces some of its aesthetic appeal however and is a result of using the tall Moskvitch 412 engine.
Unfortunately, upon viewing the IZH-13, Moscow machine industry apparatchiks declared the prototype “untimely and too innovative (!)” forcing IZH to abandon its project. The Izhevsk engineers and designers consequently lowered their ambitions and developed a vehicle that -while still looking modern- made use of the resolutely conventional RWD Moskvitch 412 underpinnings and engine. This would result in the IZH-19, shown in 1975.
Although hampered by a similar bulge in the bonnet to make room for the engine and a tippy-toe stance, the body of the IZH-19 in general was actually quite dynamic looking, certainly for 1975. The four round headlights in black pods look like an afterthought (and similar to what the Citroen GS and CX were saddled with in certain markets) which in a way they were: originally the IZH-19 was to have more streamlined one-piece headlight units but these turned out to be more complex to manufacture than IZH could manage.
Imagine it with those smooth headlights, without the power bulge and on a competent chassis providing a lower, more confident stance and a picture emerges of a rather pleasing looking car. But the IZH-19 did not get any of this of course -nor the green light for production – so was destined to spend the rest of its days in the IZH Auto Museum.
ZAZ KD Sport 900 1963
Ukrainian ZAZ started producing cars in 1958, having previously produced combine harvesters. Its first passenger car was the ZAZ-965, in essence the iron curtain’s take on the Fiat 600. Using the ZAZ-965 as a base a small 2+2 coupé prototype was built in 1963, named KD Sport 900. The initials KD are from ZAZ director Kuzma Durnov who was the driving force behind the project.
The KD Sport 900 had a fiberglass body mounted on a tubular frame; it may have looked swift but with the ZAZ-965 engine (887cc and just 30 hp) this was a definite case of more bark than bite- even if the car tipped the scales at only just over 500kg.
Between 1963 and as late as 1969 five more KD’s were built, all with detail differences, but that is as far as it went. Today ZAZ still builds cars but none are of their own design; it is a selection of old Chevrolet, Daewoo and Chery models- but not a single lithe coupé among them.
Moskvitch – Porsche, 1973
In 1973 Moskvitch/ AZLK asked Porsche to develop a range of totally new cars: a compact, a medium sized sedan, a coupé and a minibus. Towards the end of that year, Porsche duly submitted its proposals. Zuffenhausen’s styling bureau had produced proposals for both four- and six-cylinder versions of their designs; an example of the six-cylinder version can be seen above: a pleasing, clean shape that would not have looked out of place in the model range of any self respecting West-European manufacturer.
The four-cylinder designs display a stubbier look – in the case of the car shown in the top right corner a somewhat American feeling. Notwithstanding Porsche’s nice presentation, nothing came of the project.
Wartburg 355, 1968
This concept for a modern successor to the two-stroke engined 353 first saw the light of day in the turbulent year of 1968. Christened 355, it was a strikingly clean and modern design. Shorter and lower (by 85mm) compared to the old 353 it nevertheless had superior living space inside. The rattling and smoking two-stroke was gone, replaced by a more appropriate 1397cc, 55bhp four-cylinder engine sourced from Renault.
The glassfibre bodied prototype weighed 840kg which allowed a top speed of over 90 Mph. Depending on the source consulted, between six and eleven 355 prototypes were constructed. Unfortunately, the same fate that befell several other modern concepts within the USSR’s sphere of influence happened to the Wartburg 355; when a high ranking representative of the East German leadership was shown the fresh 355 – his curt response was “We should not be making cars for Playboys here“, and that was that.
What a pity that such short sightedness and orthodox, normative rigidity permeated virtually all aspects of life in the Eastern block at the time. It is instructive to compare the Wartburg 355 to the first Volkswagen Passat that appeared five years later: visually a broadly similar silhouette and technically in the same vein but conceived in a much more open environment.
Part 6 follows shortly.