Debunking the persistent legend of Russo-Italian rust.
Fiat’s cooperation in the establishment of the VAZ factory, along with Alexei Kosygin’s new policies(1), helped mobilize the Soviet citizenry en masse. With the quite excellent Fiat 124 as a basis, the end-product was arguably a better car to own and drive than anything offered by ZAZ(2), AZLK(3) or GAZ(4) at the time.
The establishment of the VAZ factory was, as we now know, politically motivated(1). For the Soviet government at least, the project was a major success: they took a good initial design and successfully adapted it to their country’s conditions and needs. They even sold it successfully in export markets. For the Italians, though, things played out somewhat differently: Continue reading “VAZ: Diplomacy, Politics, and Urban Legends (Part Three)”
No one could ever accuse Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States from 1963 to 1969, of lacking confidence in his own power or in the power of his office and country. Quite the contrary, as Greece’s ambassador found out in 1964, when Johnson told him in no uncertain terms what he thought of the smaller nation’s sovereignty(1). Yet, a persistent feature in US and US-aligned political discourse proved to be a double-edged sword for him: the words ‘Russia’, ‘Soviet Union’, ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ were and remain veritable berserk buttons(2) for legions of politicians, pundits, and voters on the right of the political spectrum. This sort of sentiment, of course, is not unique to US political discourse, but it remained especially acute, even more than a decade after the McCarthyite purges of the late 1940s and early 1950s, which created near-hysteria at the time.
Investigating the overlooked and unexplored history of VAZ.
VAZ (in Russian: ВАЗ)(1) is well known in the automotive world. It was established in 1966 as a joint-venture between the Soviet Union and Fiat to mass-produce affordable, reliable, and technologically relevant family cars for the Soviet people(2). Its first product was the VAZ-2101 Zhiguli saloon(3), a more rugged version of the Fiat 124, adapted to cope with the adverse conditions of the USSR. The Zhiguli was so successful that VAZ/AvtoVAZ would become the country’s largest car manufacturer.
Much has already been written about both the Zhiguli, which was exported under the Lada (Russian: Лада) brand, and its maker. Here on DTW you can enjoy features on both the Zhiguli(4) and the factory in Tolyatti(5) where it was built, written by my fellow contributors Sean Patrick and Andrew Miles respectively. There are, however, unexplored and unreported details of the history of VAZ. This is precisely what we will attempt to bring to light in this three-part series, primarily by examining the US State Department’s historical archives. Specifically, we will examine the politics and the diplomacy behind the establishment of the Soviet automaker.
Goodness, it’s May already. I started writing this in BC-19, that’s Before Covid-19 and planned it as a light-hearted retrospective on otherwise terrifying geopolitical matters. Well, how was I to know?
Leonid Brezhnev was astute in having cars offered as sweeteners for diplomatic (or otherwise) talks to occur. Thus, wildly differing guesses flit anywhere from fifty to five hundred cars being accrued by the former Soviet Leader.
With the Russian Bear (as always) rather keen on security, most of the information is speculative at best, we simply do not know what happened to the majority of those automotive gifts. Those we do however, have quite the story to tell. Brezhnev preferred the foreign motor but would occasionally Continue reading “An American In Red Square”
Once, car choice was easy. Saloon, estate or, if your were really naughty, sports car. Even with brand – your dad bought Vauxhalls, and you did too. Now it’s not like that. Brand loyalty has gone out the door and there are so many choices and niches, each trying to appeal to your specific lifestyle needs. Except, speaking for myself at least, they don’t. Now, politics in the UK is catching up. Ever since the days of Tony Blair, the old Left/Right polarity has been a bit ropey, but is the UK Independence Party, to give it its full name, the first of the true Crossover Hybrids?