Curtain Call (Part 6)

A further peek through the iron curtain, courtesy of Bruno Vijverman, taking in the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Poland and mother Russia herself. 

Trabant P610. (c) trabantegyegy.uw/ hupommerngreif.de

Trabant P610 1974

Powered by an 1100cc Škoda engine, this was yet another failed attempt, started early in 1974- to replace the old P601. Four P610 prototypes were made, of which at least one has survived. In November 1979 the SED
(Socialist Unity party of Germany) ordered Trabant manufacturer, VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke to cancel development, spelling the end of the road for the P610.

Škoda Super Sport 110, 1971

Skoda 110 Super Sport. (c) Favcars/ 1cars.org

Under the project name “type 724” work began in 1969 on the development of a light, mid engined Škoda sports car. It would be displayed to the public, even outside of the Eastern Block, gracing the Škoda stand at the 1972 London Motor Show for example. Being a fully functional prototype it was even subjected to a roadtest by CAR magazine.

The coupé enjoyed a second life appearing in a few Czech films, sadly however being thoroughly restyled – comparable to what was wrought upon the Lincoln Futura which became the first Batmobile – making an appearance in the 1986 comedy film The great film heist.

And yet it started out so promisingly. Only 44 inches high, featuring a futuristic forward opening canopy and weighing less than 900kg the Super Sport 110 cut a dashing figure. Its Škoda 110 based engine of 1100cc delivered 73hp allowing for a top speed of over 110 Mph – not bad for a light sportscar at the time. In mid-1971 a more powerful 104hp engine was fitted that raised the claimed maximum speed to no less than 130 Mph.

The forward opening canopy certainly was an eye catching feature, but ease of entry and egress were criticized by most who tried it. Likewise, not everybody was enamoured by the somewhat origami styling. These deficiencies, the market position of Škoda, plus a regime that did not exactly encourage frivolity in business and design (or life in general), meant the Super Sport 110 was destined to remain a one-off concept.

It made a few appearances in some Škoda press photos and brochures in the early seventies, and after that began its movie career ultimately resulting in an unfortunate restyling. By the way, the word Škoda translates as pity in Czech, which certainly seems apt in this context.

Moskvitch C3, 1976

1978 Moskvitch C3. (c) Autosoviet altervista.org

Replacing the earlier C1 (see part one) which suffered from having to utilise the ancient underpinnings of the Moskvitch 412, the C3 prototype was created in 1976. With front McPherson suspension and an independent rear suspension, more or less copied from the E12 BMW 5 series (a 5-series was purchased for comparison testing and benchmarking purposes) C3 was decidedly more up to date on the chassis front.

The styling of the C3 was not nearly as distinctive as the C1- from the A-pillar backwards it looked somewhat like an enlarged first generation Vauxhall Astra. The third side window and larger glass area addressed criticism on the C1 for having substandard driver visibility. C3 was still a conventional rear-wheel drive car however, and the growing amount of front-wheel drive cars and especially the crowning of the Simca 1307/1308 as European car of the year 1976 would result in cancellation of its further development.

The next year, AZLK held a technical council, on behalf of the Russian Ministry of Industry, where it was decided that the future was front-wheel drive only for any new car to be developed. Following this directive Moskvitch purchased a Simca 1308 to use as a template for its own front-wheel drive car, under the code name C5.

Moskvitch Aleko – Image hooniverse.com

Moskvitch designers and engineers had not exactly been happy with the cancellation of the C3 which was nearing production readiness; subsequently they also expressed disappointment at in essence being ordered to copy an existing car instead of developing their own ideas. The usual bureaucracy issues and top-down management style meant that progress was slow – it was not until 1986 that Moskvitch’s version of the Simca 1307/1308 (itself ironically having just been discontinued in that same year and renamed Talbot or Chrysler along the way) was ready.

The Moskvitch 2141 – named Aleko in most export markets – unsurprisingly strongly resembled its French example. With driven front wheels, a practical and roomy five door hatchback configuration, MacPherson suspension up front and a torsion beam at the back the 2141 would become a popular car in its home market. Its most often named strong points were robustness, ease of repair and good offroad capabilities. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union the Moskvitch company fell into decline and was declared bankrupt in 2002.

FSO 1100 Coupé, 1974

FSO 1100 Coupe. (c) (c) Wykop.pl

FSO’s contribution to the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the liberation of Poland was this 2+2 coupé, based on a heavily modified Zastava 1100 floorpan and engine. Designer Zdzislaw Wattson was responsible for the styling, which resembles the Lotus Esprit more than just a little bit. Still a few years away from public introduction in 1974, the Esprit itself was essentially a productionized version of a 1972 Ital Design concept that was built on a stretched Lotus Europa chassis.

The 55hp 1100cc engine could only propel the 1100 Coupé to a top speed of 87 Mph which would have been a bit of an anti-climax to most who laid eyes upon it. More disappointing however is the fact that the one-off prototype is believed to have been unceremoniously destroyed in the chaotic period following the lifting of the iron curtain.

Part 7 follows shortly.

Author: brrrruno

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

18 thoughts on “Curtain Call (Part 6)”

  1. Another selection of the weird and wonderful, thank you Bruno. The blue P610 prototype has more than a whiff of the Talbot Samba to it, while the purple and orange ones look a bit like the Citröen Visa. It’s interesting that French cars seemed to be the inspiration for many Eastern Bloc prototypes. Maybe it was because the republic was perceived to be more left-leaning than its western European neighbours? (That said, the one in the black and white photo looks like a ‘slammed’ Fiat Panda.)

    The Moskvich C3 does look like the Mk1 Astra, but actually predated it by three years. Had it reached production, that would have caused some consternation in Rüsselsheim! From the rear, it also has a chunky solidity that reminds me of the (pre-GM) Saab 900. If you are going blatantly to copy another manufacturer’s design, the E12 5-Series is not a bad choice, although the Simca 1307 probably made more sense and the Aleko had the virtue of being perceived as thoroughly contemporary.

    1. Hello Daniel,
      It is possible that the Eastern Bloc engineers and designers were receptive to French designs because of that country’s indeed somewhat left-leaning stance at the time; but Italy was even more to the left than that: the city where the Lada factory was located was named Togliattigrad in honour of the leader of the Italian Communist party Palmiro Togliatti.
      The P610 wagon prototype has a bit of Fiat Panda about it, yes, but I also see some SAAB 95 Wagon in there.

    2. I remember the following cooperations over the Iron Curtain:
      Fiat – Lada (USSR)
      Fiat – FSO/Polski Fiat (Poland)
      Renault – Dacia (Romania)
      Citroen – Oltcit (Romania)

  2. Was the Trabant P610 part of the Trabant P760 and the overall joint RGW project between Trabant, Wartburg and Skoda that eventually led to the Skoda Favorit via the Skoda 780 or a separate development like the 1982 Trabant 601 WE II prototype? https://smallcarsclub.com/catalog/trabant/trabant-601-we-ii/

    Perhaps it is a reflection of how chaotic things were in the Eastern Bloc in trying to replace their old models, yet it is difficult to believe there was no link or carry over between the above given the chronology of development on such prototypes and the common features they were intended to have.

    Of two minds about the BMW E12-derived Moskvitch C3 prototype and production Simca Alpine-derived Moskvitch C5, can understand why they opted for the latter yet there is some appeal about the odd Eastern Bloc carmaker shamelessly producing cars that are more or less copies of BMWs beneath the exterior styling as well as other fundamentally good Western Bloc cars (which in the case of Moskvitch are powered by engines that reputedly share some similarities with the BMW M10 as was said to be the case with the Moskvitch 412).

    The fact BMW were able to use the M10 as a basis for the M30 6-cylinder as well as looked at experimental M10-based V8 and M30-derived V12 prototype engines, opens more possibilities for Moskvitch and others had the Soviets (and other Eastern Bloc countries) focused less on white elephant projects and more on their own industries to earn some hard capital.

    Like the look of the FSO 1100 Coupe notwithstanding the underpowered 55 hp 1.1 engine, fascinating it uses a similar basis and general theme as the Fiat X1/9 and De Tomaso 1600 Spider. Despite the issues with civil war and other problems, Zastava missed a trick in continuing to produce the X1/9 (and A112) alongside the 127-based Koral and 128-based Skala given how long the latter two remained in production for.

    1. Hello Bob,
      It is my impression that the Trabant P610 and P670 as well as some other projects under the RGW banner were are more or less closely related. But as you pointed out the chaotic and secretive nature of things at the time make it difficult in our time to exactly pinpoint what company did what and when- but this is also why I find it an interesting subject.

    2. Bruno

      Agreed. Other accounts claim the Trabant P610 was to also feature a 1300cc engine, while there may or may not be a link between the Trabant P610 and Trabant 601 WE II .

    3. Were it just one carmaker, the notion of a related family of cars covering about 2-3 or so segments would be a sound idea.

  3. I find it interesting that the FSO 1100 is said to be based on a Zastava rather than a 128. Same car but it makes the project seem less ‘official’, which is odd given the close relationship with Turin – Z Wattson spent some time working beside Walter de Silva at Centro Stile.

    On a more personal level, Zdzislaw Wattson’s surname is intriguing. He must have been descended from the 16th and 17th century Scottish diaspora of east coast merchants who sought their fortune trading in Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and whose genetic heritage is marked by distinctly Scottish surnames mostly now in Polonised form; Czochran (Cochrane), Djiaksen (Dickson), Forseit (Forsyth), Fraiter (Fraser / Frater), Kietz (Keith), Loson (Lawson), Ramze (Ramsay) and Szynkler (Sinclair), as well as Morey (Murray), Machayski (Mackay), and Machlajd (MacLeod).

    (There’s also reference in various places to a Zbigniew Wattson. Were there two Wattsons in the FSO styling department, or is it n alternative form of the same forename?)

    1. Hello Robertas,
      Thanks for the interesting insight in Polish surnames and their Scottish influence- I was not aware of this at all. Perhaps we have a Polish national among the DTW readership that knows whether Zbigniew and Zdzislaw are unique names or variations/nicknames for the same original name?

    2. I think it was also about foreign exchange back then, and these were scarce. A Zastava was certainly cheaper to get than a Fiat.

  4. Hi there Bruno

    More splendid finds, nice one, sir.

    The black and white headline picture of the Trabant resembles the result of an experiment twixt a Renault 4 and Citroën H Van; bizarrely interesting. It must be today’s heat affecting my vision.

    As for the Škoda, I have these pictures from their 125th anniversary booklet . I believe the car is in the Mladá Boleslav museum but could quite easily be corrected on such matters

    I have to admit for having a soft spot for this silver screened beast, although I’ve yet to see the films the car starred in.

    How many extra curtain calls can there be? We’ve had dozens of totally unknown and unexpected delights to feast on, but by all means, bring ‘em on!

    1. I fully agree – more of this sort of thing.

      I don’t want to anticipate what’s coming up, but when I was trying to find out more about Z Wattson, I encountered a well pre-Espace ‘minivan’ in a glassy style rather like Bill Towns’ Minissima, and an early ’70s Syrena hatchback prototype which looked rather like a Daf estate, although the impact of the fresh back half was rather let down by the 1963-on bodywork from front end to the B-pillar.

    2. Another ‘hear, hear’ from me.

      I similarly did some research on one of the vehicles, but I’m going to wait to see what’s coming up – I’d be surprised if it isn’t covered.

  5. Market domination VAG can only dream of.

    I visited East Berlin three years before that picture was taken, and was surprised by the variety of the carscape. It was then the Russian Sector so more international than the DDR hinterland. There were also quite a few relics – EMWs and AWZs from the days before Wartburg and Trabant, and many unexpected western ‘captives’.

    More here: https://driventowrite.com/2016/12/31/snapshots-from-occupied-europe-east-germany/

  6. Hello all,
    Thank you for your encouraging words- there is some more coming up in this series but by its very nature it can and will never be complete.
    Robertas: the two Wattson designed prototypes you mention were not on my radar, but I had a look to see what I could find. The pre-espace minivan is a mystery- I did find one photo of a Wattson design that looks like the Minisimma, and named simply “250”: https://i.imgur.com/DgMzUDs.jpg
    The DAF Estate like vehicle you refer to turns out to be the FSM 607 prototype from 1970-71. One prototype has survived and surfaced in 2011 and is currently being restored. https://i.imgur.com/ADePnoc.jpg
    and

    There was another, earlier DAF Estate like prototype from FSM, named “Delta”- oddly enough this one has a more modern looking front end (a bit like the Trabant P603 prototype) even though it is said to be a decade older:

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