Almost forgettable Soviet-era vehicles.
Communism severely hampered the progress of multiple countries in Eastern Europe. Consequently, the so-called Eastern Bloc showed little evolution regarding cars too. While a decent number of cars had injection, a few were stuck with tiny, air-cooled engines and oil in the fuel tank.
Without further ado, here are the five worst cars found in the Eastern Bloc, during the Soviet-Era.
ZAZ Zaporozhets was a Ukrainian brand renowned for building and developing superminis, now recognized as Segment A cars. They truly encapsulated the essence of an automobile for the people, like Volkswagen with their Beetle. Even Vladimir Putin owned a ZAZ-968, gifted by his mother.
Produced in 1960, the ZAZ-965 was the first car ever produced by ZAZ, with a carefully thought-out design process. It sported a 750-cc air-cooled V4, with an output of 23 horsepower, linked to the rear wheels via a four-speed manual transmission. It weighed in at a paltry 1,470 pounds while almost reaching 11 feet in length. The Ukrainians studied the then-new Fiat 600; thus, the ZAZ-965 looks like a bloated Fiat.
As all socialist vehicles go, a waiting list was formed for the 1800 Russian rubles automobile. Moreover, the ownership was something else, seeing how the ZAZ-965 had a plethora of issues. The short exhaust resulted in a noisy ride, the cylinder walls were too thin, resulting in overheating, and the heater happened to catch on fire, just to name a few.
However, the car was designed to be fully serviceable on the go, a common trait in all Soviet-era automobiles. If something went wrong, you could fashion a fix from the nearest bush. The car was quite cheap, with people often joking about how its price is equivalent to 1000 bottles of vodka. Even so, it was quite the departure from a possible western alternative, the Citroën 2CV.
2. Dacia Lăstun
For a short period, Dacia developed their vehicles from scratch, and the quirky Lăstun is one of them. Dictator Ceaușescu wanted to give the people a car half the price of a regular Dacia 1300 and ran a little contest to search for innovative ideas.
The winners created an automobile that heavily resembles an actual Smart ForTwo, but even smaller. It was only 9.7-feet long and weighed in at a measly 1,300 pounds. Despite this, it managed to offer a 2 + 2 seating configuration. Considering the weight, the car was adequately powered by a 499 cc in-line two-cylinder engine that developed 22.5 horsepower. It was linked to the front wheels via a four-speed manual transmission, a design almost stolen from the popular Trabant. Initially, the body panels were made from fiberglass, which was quickly changed to steel panels by Ceaușescu.
Consequently, the car was a complete wonder that failed spectacularly, but not for the lack of trying. When it was released in 1988, people didn’t know what the Lăstun is, and the few who bought it faced all the issues in the world. The engine was unreliable, showcasing problems from the first-driven miles. According to another engineer from a different plant, the gearbox should not have worked thanks to manufacturing errors. Newer steel models were rusting after a few years.
When the Romanian Revolution arrived, things degraded, and soon the Lăstun was forgotten. Nowadays, they are incredibly rare, with only a few fiberglass models surviving in some sheds in Romania.
3. Zastava (Yugo) Koral
More commonly known as the Yugo, the Zastava Koral was produced in Yugoslavia and brought to the United States by Malcolm Bricklin with more success than expected. Over 140,000 Yugos were sold in the States, which is nothing short of impressive knowing the car.
The Zastava Koral is based on another Fiat, this time the Fiat 128, and it was first produced in 1980. Engine displacements ranged from 0.9 up to 1.3 liters, all of them being in-line fours. Three gearbox choices were available, two manuals and one automatic, which linked the engine to the front wheels. As Soviet-era vehicles usually go, the car is small, weighing 1,800 pounds and with a length of 11.4-feet.
The car was, as expected, very cheap for the time, having a starting price of $3,990 in 1986 or $9,420 in today’s dollars. Nevertheless, a basic Eastern Bloc vehicle has the mandatory traits of its birthplace. Build quality was abysmal. The car regularly broke down in the middle of nowhere, fuel economy was paltry for the puny engines, and not even the trims were fitted properly.
People started to avoid them, lowering their prices. They were so cheap that some bought two Yugos, drove one, and kept the other one for spare parts. Notwithstanding, when coupled with the ability that Soviet-era cars to be fixed in the middle of the road, it resulted in quite a small portion of buyers appreciating them.
4. Lada Riva
The Lada Riva is mostly a facelift of the VAZ-2101, known as the Lada 1200. It was powered by a variety of engines, ranging from gutless engines with a displacement ranging from 1.3 to 1.7 liters. The engine is linked to the rear wheels via a 4 or 5-speed manual transmission. The car is not too large and is based on the Fiat 124, weighing in at 2,300 pounds and with a length of 13.6 feet.
As the Lada 1200, they were exported worldwide and generally appreciated, thanks to their affordability and options for the price. However, their biggest issue is timing and the inability to evolve. It was produced in the 1980s and exported to the UK and worldwide around 1983. Their carburetors ruined catalytic converters, being unable to control the mixture accurately. Consequently, every one of them failed state inspections in their first years of use.
Even so, the Lada Riva was still decently popular in Russia, thanks to their general reliability, price, and ease of repair.
5. Trabant 601
Probably one of the most iconic cars in the world, the Trabant 601. Known worldwide for its unambiguous looks and one-of-a-kind construction. Simply put, the Trebie is horrendous and impressive, all at the same time.
The engine was produced by what would later transition into Audi, a 600 cc two-stroke in-line two-cylinder engine, with an output of 23 horsepower. Power is sent to the front wheels via a 4-speed manual transmission. This model weighed in at only 1,300 pounds thanks to its Duroplast (a resin plastic reinforced with cotton or wool fibers or a fiber-reinforced plastic-like fiberglass) construction. This model measures nearly 12 feet long. When it rolled out in 1964, it was noticeably modern.
However, the humble Trebie was launched in 1990, while its design was taken from another era. Its two-stroke engine needed oil added to the fuel tank, the powertrain wasn’t especially robust, and it was severely underpowered. Trabants are famous for leaving a gigantic trail of blue smoke behind. When coupled with the rise in innovation, the Trabant quickly became a notion of the past.
Despite its many flaws, the Trabant will always be dearly loved by many. Even if it was dated and faulty, its existence is a symbol of hardship and what people were forced to endure. It allowed a portion of humanity to get where we are today.
While Soviet-Era cars were shoddy and quickly outdated, they are still loved and appreciated by many. They are prize by individuals who simply appreciate their reliability and no-nonsense character.
GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons
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