Generally when we think of Eastern European cars of the Soviet era things like the Trabant, Ladas, Skodas and, if you are a bit more of a nerd, the big, blocky Zil limousines that the evil leaders rode around in in 1980s movies where the USSR were the bad guys.
But they made some WAY cooler cars than that. Here are five of them.
While most of the Soviet Union top brass seemed largely joyless, clearly someone, somewhere thought that fun was okay in some situations – hence the 112 Sports was built in 1961 by Zaqod Imani Likhacheva, more commonly known as ZIL.
The ZIL-112 Sports was an honest-to-God Soviet-era V8-powered racing car, with two example built – one packing a 171kW 6.0-litre V8 and the other a 200kW 7.0-litre V8.
It weighed 1,330kg, looked like a Ferrari 250 and won the USSR Championship in 1964 and 1965. Yes, apparently there was such thing.
Melkus RS 1000
With its gull-wing doors and Lotus-esque shape, the sleek, sexy Melkus RS 1000 that first appeared in 1969 looked like it could go a million miles an hour. It couldn’t.
Built by Melkus, an East German racing car manufacturer, the RS 1000 packed a mighty 992cc two-stroke three-cylinder Warburg engine that pumped out 67kW, pushing the tiny thing to a top speed of 175km/h. Which would have, admittedly, been terrifying.
Milks built 101 RS 1000s over 10 years of production, including a racing version with 88kW and a top speed of 210km/h.
While Ferdinand Porsche would rip off Tatra’s most famous design with the VW Beetle, the Czech company would persist with the rear-engined, air-cooled streamliner idea for some time into the Soviet era, with the absolute pinnacle being reached with the awesome 603 from 1956.
The 603 was powered by the proven (in both racing cars and military trucks – a phrase that could only ever have come from the Soviet era…) air-cooled 2.5-litre OHV V8 that produced 74kW and 152Nm.
The 603 was generally only made available to senior political figures, so private ownership was rare.
GAZ Volga 24/24-10
The brilliantly boxy 70s British styling of the GAZ Volga 24 was understandable in a car from that era, except for the fact that the 24 actually soldier on in the same form until 1985. When it was facelifted, renamed the 24-10 and carried on until 1992!
Even then the 24 couldn’t be killed, as redesigns and updates saw it stick around until it became the GAZ-31105 that ended production in 2010.
So, it was a Soviet era car that you could actually buy new up until a few years ago. If that’s not cool (albeit accidentally), we don’t know what is…
The tiny Zaporozhets was a rear-engined, air-cooled city car that was designed to be the USSR’s “people’s car”, much like the VW Beetle or the Brabant in East Germany.
While the cutesy first generation that was built between 1960 and 1969 was cool, it really didn’t become really cool until the first facelift off the second generation model in 1971.
With its Hillman Imp looks and loads of chrome, the 968 packed a 30kW 1.2-litre V4 engine and featured some much-improved safety features, such as replacing the metal dashboard with a plastic one.