Thursday, April 30, 2009

Motor Industry: First Soviet limousines designed to copy Buicks

The development of the world car industry has had a number of different eras – from simple vehicles to comfortable luxury cars complete with latest electronic equipment. Sports and elite cars stand out as something special. The USSR used to make elite vehicles for the top administration of the country too. ZIS-101, the first Soviet limousine, used to be assembled in Moscow.

Soviet party leaders and statesmen were using big and expensive Buicks during the 1920s and the 1930s. Afterwards, the Soviet leadership put forward an idea to design a Soviet car of the same class.

The production process was launched in Leningrad in 1932. It was a perfect and technically sophisticated car with many technical advantages that were not available in any other Soviet-made cars. The company, Leningradsky Putilovets, assembled six limos – all of them appeared during the May Day demonstration in 1933.

However, all the six cars came out of order as they traveled from Leningrad to Moscow and back. The above-mentioned company ceased the production of the limousines and started working on tractors and tanks. The Moscow-based factory named after Stalin (Zavod Imeni Stalina, or ZIS) was entrusted with developing the luxury car further on instead. The latter did not copy Buick-32-90, but borrowed its engine technology and the general set-up.

US company Ambi Budd received an order from the USSR to design the body of ZIS-101. The company eventually produced the first batch of assembled bodies of the new elite car. The Soviet Union had to pay a huge amount for that work during those times - $1.5 million.

The body of the first Soviet limousine deserves special attention. It was made of wood and metal. Each body of the car had to be made manually. The car was not supposed to creak when driving.

Ivan Likhachev, the Director of the Moscow Automobile Plant, drove the new car from Moscow to Podolsk and back in the spring of 1936. The results were positive, and the cars were delivered to the Kremlin.

Two ZIS-101 cars, the black and the cherry one, were presented to Joseph Stalin, Kaganovich, Mikoyan and other leaders on April 29, 1936. The officials were thrilled with the new limousines and they all approved their serial production. Over 8,000 Soviet limousines of different modifications were assembled before WWII.

The seven-seated, 5.5-meter-long car with the speed capability of 120 km/h had a 110-horse-power engine. The car was equipped with a heater and a radio. It was consuming 26 liters of gas per 100 kilometers.

Afterwards, Soviet car-makers created a whole range of luxury vehicles for high-ranking officials. The designer of the first-ever Soviet limousine was arrested on wrongful accusation and died in Stalin camps after two years of imprisonment.
Maksim Kondratyev - Pravda
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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