CC Global: The Cars of Georgia – Not a General Lee to be Found

My brother and his wife recently fulfilled a life desire and are now working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Eastern Europe called Georgia CDR (Community Development and Relief). They enjoy walking around the local area, and he’s shared photos of a number of vehicles with me. We’ll start with the oldest, which is visible in the lead photo.

This flashy Moscovitch 400-420 was manufactured sometime between 1947 and 1956, and its design is essentially a copy of the pre-war Opel Kadett K38 made in Rüsselsheim, Germany.

The Opel plant ended up in the American occupation zone after the war, and the Soviet Union requested the K38 tooling as part of war reparations to compensate for loss of the KIM-10 small car production facility during the siege of Moscow. The Soviets also considered acquiring the tooling and designs for the KdF-Wagen (VW Beetle) or Auto Union DKW F8, but neither were similar-enough to the KIM-10 for their liking.

As the Opel plant had been bombed repeatedly, there was little usable tooling and engineering data remaining, so eleven captured K38s were reverse-engineered to create the 400-420. Power came from a 23 HP inline four-cylinder engine that could return around 30 MPG.

The subject car seems to be a “work in progress,” as it’s been stationary for some time.

Automobile Numbering System in the Soviet Union and Russia

RangeFactorySample Models
1-99GAZGAZ-13, GAZ-14
100 - 199ZILZIL-130
200-299YaAZ, KrAZYaAZ-200, KrAZ-255
400-449MZMA (AZLK), IZh-AvtoMoskvitch 412
450-499UAZUAZ-452, UAZ-469
500-599MAZ, BelAZMAZ-500, BelAZ-540
650-699Buses - PAZ, LiAZ, LAZPAZ-652, LiAZ-677, LAZ-695
700-999ErAZ, LuAZ, ZAZ, RAF, trailersErAZ-762, LuAZ-967, ZAZ-968, RAF-977

Before we go any farther, I’ll share a table that shows the automobile numbering system used in the Soviet Union and Russia from 1945 through the mid-1970s, when an updated numbering scheme finally gained traction after having been introduced in 1966.

Up next is a GAZ-69 light truck, manufactured between 1953 and 1972. GAZ stands for Gorkovsky Avtomobilnyi Zavod, or Gorky Automobile Factory. Manufacturing was shifted to UAZ (Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod, or Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant) in 1954, but all of these trucks are known as the GAZ-69, regardless of the source.

The GAZ-69 replaced GAZ-67s and Willys Jeeps as the military’s light off-road vehicle, and advertising claimed the ability to scale very steep slopes. From a period print ad: “Here in the picture you can see how the car climbs the slope of 30 degrees. Maybe it’s an artist fantasy? No, the image is made from a photograph!” Comfort was not ignored, either: “Elastic suspension and soft seats provide peace for passengers when driving on rough terrain. GAZ-69 – a new victory of the Soviet automotive industry!”

Here’s another product of the Gorky Automobile Factory, this time a GAZ-24 “Volga.” Produced from 1970–92, they were considered an ‘executive’ car and carried a certain amount of status – a special permit was required for a member of the general public to purchase one.

The simulated woodgrain dash insert combined with the ignition switch mounted at knee-level below the dash pegs this car as a 1973 model – the switch was relocated to the steering column the next year to prevent knee injuries in road accidents.

Power came from a 95 HP inline four backed by a four-speed manual transmission. Reinforced unibody construction ensured the car would hold up well on bad roads – the lack of a power steering option earned the Volga the nickname, “barzha” (barge).

A variant of the Volga was the GAZ-24-03 ambulance, here being used in its later life as more of a contractor or street vendor conveyance. Note the orange-lens spotlight on the cowl?

Well, there’s what it originally looked like.

The mural on the side depicts scenes from the 1964 Georgian WWII film, Father of a Soldier, that won a Best Actor award for Sergo Zaqariadze at the 4th Moscow International Film Festival.

The GAZ-24-03 was built with a heavy-duty suspension and could seat 7-8 passengers or haul up to 880lb. of cargo with the seats folded flat – earning the Estate variant the nickname, “The Shed.”

The GAZ-24 is famous for its durability, with some examples having traveled well past 1 million km.

And now for something completely different! The LuAZ-969M was manufactured from 1971-92 by the Lutsk Automobile Factory – earlier versions were made by ZAZ (Zaporizhia Automobile Building Plant) and were the first Soviet vehicles with front wheel drive, mainly because the rear axle supplier was unable to meet demand. Later units such as our subject car (manufactured by LuAZ) came with 4WD standard.

While very crude-looking, the LuAZ-969M was actually a very capable vehicle and had more ground clearance than a Jeep Wrangler.

Speaking of ZAZ, the ZAZ-968M was a horse of an entirely different color. Where the ZAZ-969M above had the engine up front driving the front axle, the ZAZ-968M had an air-cooled engine driving the rear. These were considered super-minicars (they only made 40HP!) and the last of the series represented by our subject car was produced from 1979 through 1994. You can view one spinning out on the Nürburgring here.

While far slower than a 40 HP minicar, this ZIL-130, manufactured by the Public Joint-Stock Company – Likhachov Plant (Zavod imeni Likhachyova), was produced in far greater numbers – over three million from 1964 through 1994, in fact. Power came from a 6.0L V8 backed by a five-speed manual transmission.

Here’s a shape and name that’s likely more familiar to a western audience – the venerable Citroën 2CV, manufactured sometime between 1965 and 1975. This particular car was photographed on Santorini (an island off the coast of Greece) while my brother and his wife were celebrating their anniversary. Note the “rock chock” behind the rear wheel.

While traveling through Amsterdam, they snapped this Citroën DS, looking for all the world like a retro-futuristic spaceship.

Quad, directional headlights peg this as a Series 3, manufactured sometime between 1968 and 1975.

While in Germany for the wedding of their youngest son (serving in the US Air Force), my brother caught this Mercedes Unimog 421, which is a medium-sized truck that’s somewhat of a hybrid between the smaller Unimog 411 and somewhat larger Unimog 406. The air intake is the giveaway, as the 421 has it’s schnorchel mounted on the right side of the cab.

Our final vehicle is another very capable off-roader, the 4th generation Mitsubishi Space Gear (the Delica name was not used on vehicles sold in Europe). Manufactured between 1994 and 2007, it could be powered by a number of different engine options and it looks like this one is being used as intended.

As almost all of these are vehicles with which I have little familiarity; I had to rely on often-scant online information, so feel free to expand on or correct the descriptions in the comments.

There’s something here for everyone – what would be your pick?

All photos by David Stembridge.

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1974 AZLK Moskvich 412 – Cod War Icon (by Tatra87)

Junkyard Outtake: Mikhail Krasinsets’ Auto USSR – Museum or Junkyard? (by Yuri Goliak)