Every people of the world has, in his mind, a "dead zone" where it identifies the cars considered as poor and ridicolous. These cars are the victim of the comparison with more luxurious cars: for the Italians, a typical car of this type is the Autobianchi "Bianchina", unfairly humiliated by some national movie. For the Germans, this type of car is the NSU "Prinz", although it was a good and reliable car. And for the Russians? The answer is in three letters: "ZAZ" (that means "Zaporozhsky Avtomobilny Zavod", "Zaporozhe's Automotive Factory). The same name "ZAZ" has a strange onomatopeic effect, like a mosquito...for the Russians, this brand is synonim of poor confort and performances. 

The beginnings

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Born in the 1958 by a decision of the Governement of the USSR (like all things...), the ZAZ was, in the intentions of the creators, the typical "people car", like the VW Beetle in Germany or the Citroen 2CV in France. This operation was limited by the Stalinist ideology (still present during the '50s), that not allowed the diffusion of the private transport. In the four pics above, the first model of this factory: the "965". This car is called "Humpbacked" by the Russians, because of the quite "stumpy" coachwork...anyway, now it's almost like a beautiful toy! If you are Italian, you can see clearly the resemblance of the front part with the Fiat "600"...and, effectively, the same Russian Minister of the Industry, N. Strokin, ordered to the engineers to copy the Italian car. 

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But, except for the front part, the ZAZ "965" is totally different from the Fiat "600". Initially, the adoption of a twin-flat engine, the same of the Ural motorcycles, modified with the fan cooling system (17 hp), was taken in consideration. Subsequently, new prototypes, realized by the Moskvitch factory, were designed (first, second and third pics above, Moskvitch "444"), and two new engines were realized, a flat-four and a V-four, both air-cooled and projected by the engineer A. Ajzenberg: the V4, that features also an anti-vibration shaft, was choosen for the definitive production (fourth pic). The V-four engine, 750 cc, had a power of only 23 hp...and 26 for the following 900 cc. version! The ZAZ "965" had also a little appearition in the "007 Goldeneye" movie: in this movie, the car is driven by an old and fat Russian spy, with the busby worn also into the car (the usual American humor...). Obviously, in the movie, the car has a breakdown, and the Russian spy and Pierce Brosnan must to continue with their feet... 

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After the launch of the "965", the Zaporozhe's factory tested a slightly bigger car: the "966" (in the first and second pics above, two prototypes of the early '60s, slightly different from the definitive version). This car was launched in the 1967 (third, fourth and fifth pics above), with a design copied from the NSU "Prinz" (and the NSU was inspired to the Chevrolet "Corvair", in small dimensions). However, the engine was always a V4 air cooled, 900 cc and 30 hp (1200 cc. and 39 hp on the following versions), therefore totally different from the NSU's unit. Unfortunately, with the years, the honest NSU "Prinz" suffered of the comments of the people...and also the ZAZ "966", now, is the joke of the Russian people. A shame, because the car has some little interesting feature, as the separated heating system, with a fuel tank that agree the heating of the interior also when the engine is switched off: imagine that the car breacks in a snow-storm, with another car your destiny is to transforme yourself in an ice cube...

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The "966" was equipped, for some European market, also with a Renault 956 cc. engine; this version was called "Yalta". I have seen an exemplar of "966" in the city of Lecce (South Italy, my country): the sound of the air-cooled engine was similar to the VW Beetle, even higher! In the first pic above, another image of "966"; in the second and third pics, the following "968" version (produced until the 1994); in the fourth pic, a rare pick-up version...i think that, on this car, is possible to carry only a pocket of cigarettes, considering that the rear engine takes a great part of the space! In the fifth pic, instead, the little truck "970", with the same rear-placed engine. In the sixth pic, another light truck with ZAZ engine: the ERSPO "ET-600", produced by a little factory in Estonia for a short period since the 1967. The ZAZ "966" engine was placed on the front axle, into the cabin; the max speed of this vehicle was only 84 km/h.

In the pic above, a rare advertising page of the 1977 of the Italian importer "Bepi Koelliker". The car is described as already equipped with "foldale seat and anti-theft steering block..."....stop! Note also, in this page, that the importer had a "section for the Soviet cars" (ZAZ, Volga and Moskvitch). For instance, the price (2.070.000 Lire) was lower than the Fiat "126" and even than the Skoda "105": the ZAZ "968" was substantially the cheapest car on the Italian market. Although this outstanding feature, the success of the car was obviously quite modest, although the big dimensions of the Italian importer. Incredible to say, Bepi Koelliker was also the historical Italian importer of Jaguar!!! Till the early '80s, it was not impossible (with a good dose of luck) to find a ZAZ or Moskvitch along the Italian roads (the sold Volga, instead, can be counted on the fingers of one hand). Today, the few existing exemplars of this car are totally disappeared in Italy.

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 From the ZAZ "966" (with the same rear air-cooled engine), also a prototype of minivan was obtained. The "Maxi" (three pics above) was realized in the 1966-67 by the VNIITE, a Russian design institute: it had several interesting features, as the "space-frame" with coachwork realized in fiberglass, the adjustable pedal block and the seats turnable of 180 degrees: many of these characteristics are present on the MPV vehicles today!

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In the first and second pics above, another interesting prototype realized by the VNIITE on the ZAZ "966" engine: the "KD" coupè , designed by E. Molchianov in the 1969. It has a fiberglass coackwork reinforced with polyester, fixed on a longeron frame. The weight was only 500 kg, allowing to the 30 hp of the engine to reach the 120 km/h. Indeed, the car was very interesting and actrattive...but, in my opinion, they choosen the wrong engine (too little and weak) to make a sporty coupè! In the third pic, the prototype NAMI "086-Sputnik" (the NAMI was another Russian research institute), realized by V. Rostkov e E. Molchianov in the 1962. It had a 500 cc two-cylinders engine, obtained "cutting" the four-cylinders engine of the ZAZ "965", with only 15 hp of max power; the gearbox was four-speeds with electromagnetic clutch (an outstanding feature for that period), the suspensions were indipendent with torsion bars, the total weight 520 kg. It was realized especially for the invalid people, but, like the "KD" coupè, it never was produced. 

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In the first pic above, a prototype of the years '70s, that was an evolution -never entered in production- of the "966/968": the engine was the same, but a bit more powerful (45 hp). In the second half of the '60s (therefore in the same period of the "Maxi"), instead, the Russian designer A. Demenin realized the self-made cars in the second and third pics above: a little hatchback-coupè and another minivan, both based on the rear-placed ZAZ air-cooled engine. Especially the "hatchback" is very interesting, reprising the concept of "city-coupè" diffused by the Japaneses in the '80s and '90s. Unfortunately, also these cars remained as prototypes.

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During the '70s, also other prototypes, designed by the team of the engineer V.P.Steshenko, were realized (five pics above), in order to prepare a new front-wheel drive car to replace the "966". The prototype in the first pic above was realized in the 1970, and, although the date, is more similar to the current model produced by ZAZ: the "Tavria". The cars in the second and third pics, instead, were realized in the 1973, and the car in the fourth pic in the 1974: these three prototypes are more similar to the previous "966" (i'm not sure about the front or rear location of the engine). The car in the fifth pic, instead, was realized in the 1976, and is quite similar, about the design, to the best Western small cars of that period. Anyway, the definitive production of the "Tavria", the substitute of the "966/968", was started only in the 1988...almost 20 years after the first prototype!! This is a real record...


Recent models

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During the years '80s, the "perestrojka" started up...and the ZAZ decided to produce a new car. In the 1987, the ZAZ "Tavria-1102" (four pics above) was put into production (although the project was decided in the late '70s!). This was a totally new car: front wheel drive, four-cylinder SOHC engine (liquid cooled), electronic ignition, 5-speeds gearbox, front disc brakes, 3-door hatchback coachwork, with a Cx=0,37. For my personal opinion, this car is very similar to the Talbot "Sunbeam". The power is 50 hp, the max speed 145 km/h. 

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The "Tavria" is still produced, under the control of the Korean brand Daewoo (now the factory is called "AvtoZaz-Daewoo"). Several components are new, considering that the reliability of the previous version was a real disaster. Now, the engine has also a single-point Siemens injection. Also a 1300 cc. version (64 hp) was produced, but now this engine was reduced to 1200 cc. (maybe for reliability reasons). In the first, second and third pics above, two images of the current version (restyled in the far 1991). The "Tavria" was realized, in the 1988, also in a powerful rally version, with a 16V turbocharged engine derived from the Lada "2106", with 180 hp! Unfortunately i don't own images of this car, that keeps, of the normal "Tavria", only the shape of the coachwork, the doors and the windshield...Sometime the "Tavria" is also used in the autocross competitions: in the fourth and fifth pics, an exemplar of this type, very essential! 

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Above (first and second pics), the sedan version of the "Tavria", called "Slavuta" (and, in the third and fourth pics, a more "luxurious" version launched in the 2001, the "Ladoga"). The sales of the ZAZ, now, are lower than other brands, because the dimensions of the factory are not very high; but the most important cause of this poor consideration of the Russian people about this car, is the reliability, still too low.  

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However, the Ukrainian factory planned, between the late '80s and the early '90s, some interesting new models, never went in production because of the usual economical reasons. In the two pics above, the prototype "Debut", realized in the 1988 by the "NAMI", a State institute for the research and design. The car (also called "NAMI-0284") had the engine of the "Tavria" 1100, and it was intended to be equipped with pneumatic suspensions with variable road clearance, electric clutch control; there was the smooth bottom of the body to improve the habitability, and the seat was swivel to improve the access. The frame was skeleton type, with attached plastic panels; the body was very aerodynamic, with a Cx=0,23, very good considering the lenght of 3,6 meters! 

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Between the 1989 and the 1990, the "NAMI" realized also the little "minivan" in the six pics above, called "Kompakt", or also "NAMI- 0288". Also this car, designed by Aleksej Ponomarev and Alexandr Mironov, had the engine of the "Tavria" 1100, with a slightly higher power (56 hp, 155 km/h); also this car was enginereed to be equipped with pneumatic suspension and electronic clutch, and there was also some other interesting feature, as the fuel tank placed under the front seats to improve the space. Also the construction was realized for a perspective robotized production, with the engine/front part of the body assembled in only one module, connected to the rest of the body. It was realized also in a variant powered by hydrogen, with an autonomy of 170 km. Unfortunately, also this car (exposed in Tokyo and even here in Italy, in Bologna, in the 1992!) was one of the several Russian projects never put in the serial production. A pity, because it was not different from modern "citycar" as Hyundai "Atos" and others! 

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The car in the three pics above was not realized directly by ZAZ, but it is equipped with the engine of the ZAZ "Tavria" 1100. It's the "Mishka" (that means "little bear"), a minicar that will be realized by the Russian ASM-Holding in collaboration with the American "Venture" company. In the intentions of the producer, this is a potential "people car", simple and cheap (too cheap, in my personal opinion...). The fiberglass coachwork is mounted on a space-frame (you can see the frame in the fourth pic above, behind the pick-up version). The other engine of this car (the design is not definitive) is a little 2-cylinders diesel engine, 30 hp, produced by GAZ. Also an hybrid version (gasoline+electric engine) will be available. Date of definitive production: unkown! 

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Above, other pics of the ZAZ "Tavria": in the first pic, the truck version, and, in the second and third pics, the station-wagon, called "Dana" (not yet produced, although it was presented several years ago). In the fourth and fifth pic, the new restyled version of the "Tavria": it will enter in production in the 2003-2004. It's not a bad idea, if the factory will produce cars of European quality (i don't know when this will be a reality...), to replace the brand name: do you imagine to say "i have a ZZAZZ", with the laughs of the friends? 

But, probably, even a child can guess that the ZAZ is similar to a scooter...but this little car, although the several lacks, is funny and "human" like a toy!

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