Skip to main content

Sons of Moscow


The first Moskvich was built on an assembly line seized from Germany.
   Moskvitch, or Москвич in Russian Cyrillic script, means, you guessed it, a resident (literally "son") of Moscow. The English translation is Muscovite.
   Moskvich – no "t" – means a car built in a factory near the Moskva River in southeast Moscow. (Some people insist on including the extra letter in describing the car company, but that's not the spelling the automaker used in export model badging or sales literature.)
   The first vehicles to come from that factory were the offspring of Detroit, not Moscow. In 1929 the plant, initially called KIM (for Communist Youth International, and please don't ask me for the Cyrillic translation), opened to assemble Ford Model A cars and Model AA trucks from kits supplied by the American manufacturer.Later it was assigned to produce Russian cars, these ones from fellow Soviet automaker GAZ.
   It wasn't until a decade after it opened that the Moscow factory was given its own models to build, the KIM 10-50 two-door sedan and 10-51 convertible. Both were based on the British Ford Prefect.
   Even as the assembly line cranked to life in 1940, however, factory officials learned that Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin thought the Prefect both dowdy and impractical. Stalin ordered the development of a sleeker four-door model, something more like the Opel Kadett produced in Germany, the Soviet's non-aggression pact partner at the start of the Second World War. It should be lower, the factory was told, with headlamps incorporated into the body, and without running boards.
Generation 2: 588,000 produced.
   That car, the KIM 10-52, would never get beyond prototype stage. In June 1941 Germany invaded Russia, its one-time ally. The Soviets rushed to convert their auto plants to military production in support of what they would call the Great Patriotic War.
   The first cars bearing the Moskvich name arrived after Germany's defeat. But while the brand was new, the vehicles were once again based on an existing model – that same Kadett with which Stalin had been so taken before the war. As part of reparations the Soviets seized an entire Opel assembly line in the German city of Rüsselsheim and carted it back to the Moscow complex, now called MZMA (Moskovsky Zavod Malolitrazhnykh Avtomobiley).
   Debuting as the M-400, the Moskvich version of the Kadett would have a long run, with nearly 250,000 produced as the Soviet Union resumed its war-interrupted industrialization drive. A successor model arrived in 1956 with new body and chassis, though initially still using the 400's flathead four-cylinder engine. Between 1956 and 1965, some 588,000 variants of the second-generation Moskvich – sedans, station wagons, even some jacked-up four-wheel-drive versions – came out of the Moscow factory.
   Given Russia's still low rates of vehicle ownership, the 400-series and the series that followed were as close as the country could get to a "people's car." Some would be exported to Soviet satellite nations and trading partners such as Finland. But it was the model that arrived next that would make the Moskvich name known  even on the far side of the globe.


Advertisement and factory drawings from sovavto.net


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Discovered in Cuba, a rare Mercedes bird

(December 2012 note: See update link, below.)

 GUESS I'LL have to set aside my search for the younger Batista’s 1956 Corvette. An even tastier trophy has emerged – a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, better known as the Gullwing.
   Even on the Island of Surprises, I’d be astounded to come across one of these rare beauties. But in a brief section on Cuba in Automobiles Lost & Found(Haynes Publishing, 2008), I see a photo of a battered 300SL observed by author Michael E. Ware outside a private garage near Havana.
   The Gullwing, unmistakable lift-up doors in place, is dented and rusting and missing its engine, yet still would be prized by collectors the world over . . . if only they could extract it from Cuba. Restored, the Silver Metallic example with Lipstick Red interior might be worth more than $700,000 U.S.
   Reached in England, Mr. Ware tells me he was holidaying in Cuba when an acquaintance brought him to an unnamed community to see the car.
   “I never asked where it was – I was just …

Crosmobile wagon: A little car lasts a long time

A LONG while back, I put up photos of this tiny wagon in Havana. Most students of automotive history would have identified it as a Crosley, from the short-lived Crosley Motors Inc. of the United States.
   As the additional photo above reveals, however, it's actually a rarer yet Crosmobile, which was Crosley's export nameplate. The change was reportedly necessary to avoid conflicts with England's Crossley Motors.


   Crosley made cars from 1939 through 1952, less a four-year interruption for military production in the Second World War. The station wagon was its most popular model, but it also offered  convertibles and sedans, a sports car and even a tiny pickup truck. This wagon is from Crosley's final CD series (1949-1952), and we can further tell from its roll-down windows that it's a 1950 or newer; the '49 had sliding side windows.    The company was a long-held dream for Powel Crosley Jr., the Cincinnati, Ohio, businessman whose Crosley Radio Corp. had become t…

Havana and Detroit: Sisters under a well-worn skin

   VOLUPTUOUS, PRE-1960 American cars are the obvious link between Detroit and Havana. One city built them, the other relies on them.    But the Michigan and Cuban capitals share more than pontoon fenders and Dagmar bumpers.
   There's the architecture –classic, often crumbling, with flashes of contemporary. 
   The permeating music – different in genres, yet descending from the same African roots.
   The vivid art – best represented, in the Motor City, by the product of two Mexico-born painters: Diego Rivera, whose working-man murals would be as at home in a Havana barrio as they are on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Frida Kahlo, whose surreal folk-art images could command prime space in any Cuban gallery.
   And beneath it all, murmuring like a Hemi-powered '55 Chrysler, the energy of a place alive and assured within its own well-worn skin.
   It follows, then, that as Cuba becomes more open to Americans, Detroiters might be better equipped than many of their fell…

The Remarkable Story of Fortune Magazine's Confusion Over Cuba

WE KNOW THAT some American news outlets get Cuba, and for that matter, get cars. Fortune appears lacking on both counts.    Sad evidence of this is supplied in "The Amazing Tale of How Cuba Saw Its First New U.S. Car in 58 Years," a web piece in which staffer Sue Callaway accompanies Infiniti design boss Alfonso Albaisa on his first visit to the island his parents left in 1962.
   Also on the trip: a pre-production 2017 Infiniti Q60 coupe for Albaisa to show off in a country where, in his words, "the romance of the automobile is still completely alive."
   U.S. car?
   Despite the contributions to its styling by Infiniti's San Diego design centre, the Q60 is about as American as sukiyaki.
   Just like its predecessor, the Infiniti G37, the Q60 shares its platform with the Nissan 370Z. And it's built at the same Tochigi factory as the 370Z.
   It's Japanese.
   Perhaps Fortune was confusing it with the similarly named QX60, the sole Infiniti model produced at N…

A man and not his bicycle

THIS MAN is Canadian, and so is the 10-speed he holds, an iconic Supercycle from the Canadian Tire retail chain. But this isn't his bike. It would have arrived in Cuba, perhaps years ago, with one of his countrymen. It's long been a practice for Canadian visitors to bring old bikes, ride them for the duration of their stay and then leave them on the island in the hope that Cubans can put them to good use. And the Cuban who now owns this Supercycle has done just that, renting it to tourists such as this gentleman for 10 CUC a week.
   Good deal all around.


The last cars out of Cuba

(First of a series)

   It's Oct. 31, 1960, and the SS City of Havana, an automobile and passenger ferry that began life as a Second World War landing craft carrier, is easing to its berth at Safe Harbor in Key West, Florida.    Sixteen years earlier, this vessel, then known as HMS Northway, carried amphibious trucks and their Canadian and British crews to Juno Beach in the Normandy Invasion. But on this day, those aboard are fleeing, not approaching, conflict. Of the 287 passengers, 232 are Cuban citizens who hold United States residence permits, key to their own economic and political safe harbour.
   Also aboard are 86 cars, of which most belong to the U.S. embassy in Havana. After imposing an embargo on trade with Cuba in retaliation for the Castro government's seizure of U.S. property and alignment with the Soviet Union, the United States now is cutting diplomatic ties. This photo, taken upon the City of Havana's arrival and provided by Key West History magazine, shows ro…

In pursuit of hire powers

   MOTORCYCLES MAY BE the most common type of taxi in Santiago, but they aren't the only choice. For travellers seeking more comfort and security – not to mention room for more than one passenger – here are some alternatives.


1. Gladway three-wheelerAt one time, it was safe to assume that any motorized trike in Cuba – flatbed, van, tuk tuk-style taxi – was an Ape (pronounced ah-pay, hand gestures optional) from well-known Italian manufacturer Piaggio. Even the homegrown coco taxis in Havana and Varadero ride on Ape underpinnings. Now, three-wheelers from China have joined the Chinese buses and cars already common on Cuban roads. The Gladway above is a product of the Shandong Mulan plant in Jinan, south of Beijing. Parent company Gladway Holdings Ltd. specializes in electric vehicles, but also offers gas-powered models.


2. Peugeot 404   In other Cuban cities, late-model Hyundais and ageless Ladas make up the formal taxi fleets, while older cars – generally American – served as fixed-…

Where Cody LeCompte went wrong

It seems that detained tourists in Cuba areput up in beach resorts while the island’s wheels of justice grind along like the gearbox in a Russian tractor.
  Cody LeCompte, a 19-year-old from Simcoe, Ontario, has been forbidden from leaving the island since an April traffic accident in which the rental Hyundai Accent he was driving (hmmm, sounds familiar) collided with a dump truck. LeCompte and his three passengers were injured, and all spent time in hospital.
  Since then, LeCompte has been staying at a resort in Santa Lucia with his uncle. It's not clear who’s paying the bills.
Although the family insists the other driver was at fault, a Cuban court this week apparently decided that LeCompte must stand trial. His mother told reporters she’s heard the trial may not take place for six months to one year.
  Canada’s Foreign Affairs department says traffic accidents “are a frequent cause of arrest and detention of Canadians in Cuba” -- although if that’s the case, such incidents haven’t…