Soviet Cars: History of the Copy-and-Paste Industry — Part 1 of 3

Once some music com­poser said  that “There are only seven notes which com­pose all the music in the world.  No wod­ner some songs sound alike”.  Undoubt­edly,  all cars  have got four wheels, so pla­gia­rism in the auto­mo­bile indus­try is hard to pinch.  In this arti­cle we delib­er­ately ignore a pop­u­lar Soviet point of view that a steam loco­mo­tive, an air­plane and the radio were not invented in Rus­sia.  All we attempt here is to make a small digres­sion into the his­tory of Soviet auto­mo­bile indus­try in order to iden­tify its ori­gins and its development.



A Russ­ian  philoso­pher Vasiliy Rosanov once noted that in Rus­sia every sin­gle case of wealth orig­i­nates from theft or extor­tion.  His­tor­i­cally, the econ­omy of the Russ­ian Empire before the 1917 was so deeply inte­grated into the Euro­pean econ­omy that the exchange of ideas, some­thing, which now would have been hugely copy­righted, was very com­mon.  Like, in 1901 in St Peters­burg the car­riage fac­tory Freze and the Riga bicy­cle fac­tory Leit­ner suc­cess­fully assem­bled the French oil engines De Dion Buton as part of Russ­ian car­riages. Another fac­tory Aksai in Rostov-on-Don pur­chased the license for the pro­duc­tion of the Amer­i­can Oldsmo­bile Carved Dash.  In 1906 a Russ­ian engi­neer Boris Lut­skoy organ­ised the assem­bling of  Mer­cedes cars for the Russ­ian mar­ket. At last, the main pride of Rus­sia – the auto­mo­bile Russo-Balt — was made from for­eign parts – the chas­sis with four-cylinder engine was adopted from a Bel­gian com­pany with a Swiss name Fondu.

The Octo­ber rev­o­lu­tion of 1917 cre­ated  a pop­u­lar in  Rus­sia myth that all things have been invented in, well, Rus­sia.  The rea­sons for that would be merely ide­o­log­i­cal: the new born coun­try needed new morale.  Accord­ing to an old Soviet joke, even “ele­phants come from Rus­sia”.  The most pro­gres­sive coun­try in the World, as coined by the rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­mu­nists, should strike the rest of the world with advanced tech­nolo­gies, the pro­pa­ganda advised.  In order to cre­ate the real Soviet cars,  the com­mu­nists estab­lished the Research Auto­mo­bile Lab­o­ra­tory (later known as NAMI). The very first Soviet motor car NAMI-1 was actu­ally a grad­u­a­tion project by a young engi­neer Kon­stan­tin Shara­pov.   The car turned out to be so suc­cess­ful that it was put into pro­duc­tion right away. Later,  in 1979, Kon­stan­tin con­fessed to copy­ing  the charts for NAMI-1 off the Czech Tatra-11.

Famous NAMI-1

The noto­ri­ous NAMI-1

Dur­ing the period from 1927 to 1930,  the fac­tory assem­bled 403 NAMI-1 mod­els.  Despite all its advan­tages, this car was not planned for the mass pro­duc­tion.  At the same time,  any man­ager of the robust mind realised that the Soviet Indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion needed mass pro­duc­tion.   The Soviet Rus­sia wanted giant fac­to­ries, but what would be the product?

In 1929 the USA was stricken by a severe eco­nomic cri­sis.   As the result of this cri­sis, the pro­duc­tion of Chevro­let halved, the pro­duc­tion of Ford dropped three times!   Despite the absence of diplo­matic rela­tions between the USSR and the USA, both Chevro­let and Ford offered their pro­duc­tion to the Soviet gov­ern­ment.  No need to guess,  shortly after­ward the awfully cracked Russ­ian roads were voy­aged by the daz­zling Amer­i­can beau­ties of all kinds.   The long rally was won by Ford A and, con­se­quently, this car was put into pro­duc­tion in the USSR.

Soviet Ford

The Soviet Ford

The first auto­mo­biles under the brand GAZ left the fac­tory in Decem­ber, 1932.  Quite rapidly these cars got nick­named as “Soviet Fords”.   Even the logo was very sim­i­lar – blue oval with the brand GAZ instead of Ford. The car was not a suc­cess, how­ever,  as the open body and the lack of boot turned to be its main down­sides. Within 5 years the new car GAZ M1 replaced the old model.   Now the body was copied from 1934 model of Ford, although the model was adapted to suit the severe Russ­ian con­di­tions. The front sus­pen­sion was based on two springs rather than on one, unlike  in the Amer­i­can ver­sion, and the wheels were of a dif­fer­ent shape.   Later on, the design charts for  GAZ M1 were utilised  for almost all Soviet-made cars.

Cloned Soviet cars

To be contunied. Stay tuned.


15 thoughts on “Soviet Cars: History of the Copy-and-Paste Industry — Part 1 of 3”

  1. Soviet Russia simply bought technology and some production line details from Ford Motor Company and built their own factory. There were some american technicians working at the factory at the beginning. So it wasn’t stealing or copying.
    I think it is pretty reasonable not to waste the time re-inventing bicycle but to get an up-to-date technology and move further.

  2. Personally i had probably choosen those russian cars instead of the western orignials, most of them hawe clearly much more personality. I Like them very much.

  3. The USSR has started the first person in space, has created the first hydrogen bomb and the most deep-water in the world submarines.
    And such country could not create own cars?
    You simply are afraid of Russian, Mr. Also try to impart another the paranoia.
    Read Art Buhvald books =)

    • Actually yes, such a country could not create it’s own cars. And the reason is the educatiuon system stroke off all the imagination out of designers’ heads. The effect was so strong all survived soviet designers ended up working as programmers

  4. In the Ford museum in Dearborn Michigan, the sign next to a 1903 Cadillac explains that the only difference between it and a 1903 Ford is that the Cadillac was $300 less expensive.


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