Just following Mike’s great post on the obscure but strangely awesome Shamrock from Ireland, I received an e-mail from my friend which contained photos of another even more unusual car – now from the Soviet Ukraine !
So, what exactly do we know about it ? Not much, actually. It was built in 1969 by some enthusiast from Cherkasy, Ukraine, and was officially registered and driven by him for at least several decades. Custom car building in the USSR spread like an epidemic during the 1960s, infecting not only individual tinkers and shade-tree mechanics, but whole factories, too. The industrial Eastern Ukraine, a large-scale producer of steel, aluminum, fiberglass, agricultural equipment, heavy trucks and, starting in 1960, small cars, was in its epicenter; including the Start and the Zarya (“Dawn”), just to name a few examples.
As I was told, this car here is larger than a Volga, which implies a respectable length of about 5 meters or some 200 inches. The body is entirely hand built of aircraft grade aluminum around a steel tubular space frame. Not only the size alone, but also the amount of material used in its construction make this car truly outstanding among the rest of the Soviet home built cars of the 1960s, which were for the most part cycle-car sized and powered by 2-stroke motorcycle engines. The aircraft inspired styling, which actually somewhat reminds me of the cars built by Spohn Coachworks of West Germany, seems to be thought out quite well, while the execution is, obviously, less than perfect.
The interior is quite roomy and features a complete ZIM GAZ-12 dashboard, which sets my estimation of the car’s width at 1900 mm/75″. By the late 1960s, the ZIMs were already aged cars and many of them started to be written off, so it is no wonder someone managed to put some of the parts to good use.
The 877 cc, 30 hp air cooled V4 engine is located in the tail and is teamed up with a 4-speed manual transmission; both came from a ZAZ car. If my eyes do not betray me, it was converted to a steering-column mounted shifter, which is visible on the previous photo. The central tail fin seems to be an integral part of the engine’s rather complicated cooling system, which feeds the fresh air right into the aircraft turbine-like centrifugal blower, then down into the cylinders’ finned cooling jackets. The Zaporozhets played in the Soviet custom car building the same role as the VW Beetle elsewhere, providing a readily available chassis and drivetrain, if not as easy to build upon as the Beetle’s platform chassis separate from the body.
While the car may seem to be grossly underpowered, the choice of power plant becomes more understandable considering that the 1967 requirements limited home built cars to engines no larger than 900cc. By the way, according to the same legislation, the overall length had to be no more than 3500 mm; so I wonder how this gargantuan creation got its license plates in the first place ? Anyway, as far as I know – it was not the only one to do so; there were other home-built cars which exceeded the official requirements and were registered “in a special order”.
Suspension is independent all-round – no further details provided, and the tiny 10″ wheels and tires seem to be derived from the SMZ cycle car.
I can’t be sure, but some details, like the somewhat boat-like shape of the frontal part and the location of lower door edges above the “waterline”, tell me that this car may also have amphibious capabilities; amphibious vehicles were very popular among the Soviet garage car builders at the time. If so, the purpose of the tiny sized wheels becomes more apparent, as they would create significantly less hydrodynamic drag.
One last touch – the car was for sale last time I’ve heard. The asking price was $18,000; which looks like an obvious over-reach, even considering its unique nature. In any case, in my opinion, such a piece of automotive history of this country deserves a place in some public museum or private collection.
While this car may not represent the finest examples of coach building in terms of styling and craftsmanship, it tells us that the joys of open-air motoring were not completely alien to people behind the Iron Curtain – even if one had to get real creative to experience it !