The man in the pic above, is the man who guided for several years the destinies of half world: Stalin, resumed while he touches the symbol of the labile pride of the USSR. The history of the ZIL ("Zavod Imeni Lihacheva") is essentially a metaphor of the Soviet power, with big ambitions and equally large contradictions, that carried the USSR to the disaster and to an hard rebirth, but without the symbol of the hammersickle. 


The beginnings

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The history of the ZIS/ZIL is, about some feature, similar to the history of the Czech Tatra : like the Czech brand, in fact, it produced mainly truck (also under FIAT license), reserving a smaller section for the production of luxury car. The ZIS borns in 1933 from a reconstruction of AMO (Avtomobilnoe Moskovskoe Obshchestvo, that stands for "Moscuvite Automotive Enterprise", founded in 1924), the factory of the first Soviet truck; the name of that period was "Zavod Imeni Stalina", therefore dedicated to Stalin. In the first pic above, the first ZIS , the "101" of the 1936, in the Kremlin, encircled by the "fathers of USSR": from left to right, Lihachov (the director of the ZIS), G. K. Ordjenikidze (Minister of the heavy industry), Stalin, Molotov (Minister of the foreign trade), Mikoyan (Minister of the trade).

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The ZIS "101" was equipped with a 8 cylinders in line, 5800 cc., 90 hp and 115 km/h. The evolution of this car, the "101-A" (first pic above), has 110 hp, for approximately 130 km/h of maximum speed, and it was produced until 1941. Differently from the Czech Tatra , the ZIL "101" is not the result of an original project: the car is of  American inspiration (Packard), thesis strengthened by the presence of an automatic gearbox with 3 speeds and torque converter. Indeed, in order to replace the "101", the aircraft engineer J. J. Dolmatovsky designed in the 1940 the car in the third pic above, much more original, with aerodynamic coachwork and V8 air-cooled engine, placed rear (reminding the Tatra limousines). However, this car remained only as a sketch, and the ZIS/ZIL continued to produce American-inspired cars. 

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   From the ZIS "101-A", a beautiful sport version was obtained: the "101-Sport" of the 1939 (four pics above, courtesy of Andrei Nikitin, http://www.autohistory.de the third pic is taken from a number of the "Pravda"), first of a series of attempts for the production of sport cars. The engine was the same 5800 cc. of the "101-A", but boosted up to 141 hp, for a declared max speed of 162 km/h (although the "Pravda" says of 170-180 km/h). This two-places car, designed by Valentin Nikolaevich Rostkov, was realized in 1 or 2 exemplars; however, it remains among the best Soviet cars ever builted, although the not very original layout. 

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 The ZIS production was temporary stopped in 1941: the lines of production were dismantled and sent to Miass (in order to build the UralAZ, another truck factory) and to Ulyanovsk (to create the well-known UAZ ). The Moscow truck production of the ZIS was resumed just a year after, in 1942. The production of cars, instead, was resumed only in the 1946, with the "110" model . This car - similarly to the previous car-  is a Russian copy of an American vehicle, the Packard "180" of 1938: therefore, 8 cylinders, 6 liters of displacement, 140 hp, beyond 140 km/h. Above, a "gallery" of photos of that period, the normal and cabrio versions. The "110"  remains in production till the 1958.

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Above, two pics of the factory, where the car were handmade. These cars constitutes occasion for a short dissertation about the "Russian pride" typical of the Soviet era (and also post-communist): there is not a superiority in the field of the technique and the industry (automotive, aerospace, etc), if the shorter way for the production of an official state car, is to copy brutally the cars of the "yankee" enemy...

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But the ZIS reprised even the trend of the American "dream-cars"...and the result was the car in the four pics above: the ZIS "112" prototype (1951), with a look very similar to an airplane! This 3-places car (with a lenght of 6 meters!) was inspired to the American Buick "Le Sabre", although it wasn't totally copied like the previous cars; it was equipped with an experimental 6-liters V8 engine (two carburettors on the first version, and four after some time), with also an oil radiator and the manual quick-adjusting system for the ignition. The power was of 182 hp, for a declared max speed of 204 km/h. For that period, it was a real wonder, considering that the Russians rarely had, during that period, cars capable of similar speeds...

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The ZIS "112" was profitably used in several national competitions (although the not very "racing" layout: the weight was of 2450 kg!!), and it was modified several times, with a shortened lenght, a reduced weight, the elimination of the hard-top and a slight increasing of the power: 192 hp for 210 km/h (first and second pics above). In the third pic, instead, the "112" at a competition start, and, in the fourth pic, with the driver Nikolaj Kurbatov on the driver seat. Differently from the American brands, this type of futuristic cars (very rare in URSS: the others examples are some GAZ) was launched only with propaganda intentions, without commercial targets, considering the very limited market of luxury cars (and not only of luxury cars...). Anyway, a very beautiful "Russian rocket"!


The post-stalinist years and the "perestrojka"

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After the Stalin's death , the new Russian nomenklatura does not hesitate to thrash the iconography of the "Iron Man"; the "ZIS" changes name again, and definitively becomes "ZIL" (Zavod Imeni Lihacheva, that stands for "Lihachev Industrial Plant "; Ivan Alekseyevich Lihachev was the director of ZIS for 22 years). In the 1959, after the early prototypes of the mid-50s (first pic above), the "111" (second and third pic above) cames into existance, first model called "ZIL", engineered by A.N.Ostrovtsovym. Also this model is brutally copied from American models, in the styling and in the technique; V8, 6.000 cc., 200 hp, with single-camshaft in the block, automatic gearbox..."born in the USA", not in Russia! For my personal opinion, this big "Russian" car can be very well in a museum about the years 50's in America, besides a juke-box and a photo of Elvis, or in a drive-in...This way to copy the USA product was a defect, during that period, of Russians, Japaneses (but the Japs, later, have made other things...), and also of the Chineses, with their sedans "Hongqi", equipped with an "American" external, but with a kitsch tapestry (purple with gold borders!)

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Same substance for the cars in the second and third pics above (in the first pic there is a prototype of the 1961): the "111" second series, sedan and  cabrio, produced since the early 60's. The likeness with the Cadillac is dramatic, and lacks only a beautiful pair of "fins" at the rear, to obtain a Russian "Eldorado"! In the 1960, for the visit of the American president Ike Eisenowher, a new car for the official parades (fourth pic) was designed by the designer E. Molchanov; and, in the 1964, also a luxury minibus (called "Start", fifth pic above) was realized; however, they never were produced. 

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But the ZIL's engineers copied not only the American limousines, but also the European and American racing cars! During the '60s, the Soviet Union tried to show its power also in the automotive competitions...obtaining humiliating defeats from more refined and tested cars of Countries large a fraction of the "giant" USSR. However, the efforts of the ZIL's engineers were encomiable, considering the usual lack of resources in USSR. In the first pic above, the ZIS "112/4" (1958), still strictly derived from the limousine "110": it had a "Cadillac-style" rear part...indeed, it was not very racing, also because the total weight was of 1800 kg!!! The engine was the same of the "110", equipped with four carburettors K-25 (of Moskvitch derivation), 200 hp (subsequently increased to 220), max speed 230/240 km/h. In the second, third and fourth pics above, instead, the ZIL "112 Sports" (1960/62), designed by V.F. Rodinov. It was equipped with the engine of the limousine "111", equipped with four carburettors K-85, for 240 hp of max power. The steering components and the front suspensions were derived from the GAZ "M-21 Volga"; the brakes were all with drums, and, on the rear axle, they were mounted at the exit of the differential gears (fifth pic). The rear suspension were De Dion-type with triangular levers. The car was capable to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 9 seconds, the total weight was 1330 kg, the max speed 260 km/h. In teh 1965 the car was evolved with disk brakes and the engine boosted to 270 cv. An English magazine published, during that period, an article where the car was defined as "the Russian Ferrari Testarossa"....indeed, the external look of the car was very similar to the Italian model!

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The work of imitation of the ZIL follows the evolution of the USA sedans, therefore the end of years '60 marks the return to squared and austere shapes. The ZIL "114", "117" and "115" (three pics above), produced respectively since 1967 and 1971, are different for the length, and, consequently, for the number of seats (5 or 7). The displacement grows (just like the Americans of the period...), making a jump of one liter, and reaching the 7000 cc., with almost 300 hp. Both these models were produced until the 1985. During the same range of time, with the same engine, also a luxury autobus was realized: the "119" (fourth pic above), used by the official Soviet delegations, very different from the poor and smoky autobuses used by the common Russian man!

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During the years of the "perestrojka", the new "41041-41047" (acronyms respectively for the versions with 5 and 7 places) cames into production, since 1985. The V8 engine reach the "monster" displacement of 7700 cc.: the power remains the same (300 hp), but the torque, already remarkable, was incredibly increased! 

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Above, some special version "for parades": a solemn and huge funeral wagon - perhaps for funerals of entire families?- and a cabriolet realized on the "short" floorpan. The "41041" had the honor to accommodate on the seats the last president of USSR, and also the best one (although ignobly forgotten from the Russians): Mikhail Gorbaciov.

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The first and second pics above, instead, were sent to me by Bill Palmer of the "Washington Post". These pics were realized in Washington, in the front of the Soviet embassy, during the Gorbaciov's visit, in the 1990. This version of the ZIL "41041" differs from the previous version for the shape of the headlights, square, and not round. Probably, it was the Russian car that remained more impressed in the eyes of the world: for the first time, the black and vaguely threatening sedans of the Soviet nomenklatura were symbol of mutual acquaintance (and many newspapers published articles about the mysterious car of the Soviet "nomenklatura"). In the third pic, instead, a more recent image (2002), referred to a visit of the former USA President Jimmy Carter in Cuba. 

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In the 1988, the ZIL realized also a new prototype, the "4102" (two pics, above), on the same mechanical base, but with the great novelty of the front-wheel drive: a real revolution for the old Soviet limousines! The look remains quite "American", but the car had a look more modern than the previous models. The developement of this car was stopped by the cut of the funds of the Soviet government, and it remained as prototype. A pity! 


Recent models

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To tell the truth, there are no recent models....In the first and second pics above, the last version of the ZIL "41041" (this is the "short" version...), totally similar to the version of the early '90s (only the center of the grille is different, black and not more chromed); it has still the carburettors! In the third pic, instead...it's not a crazy experiment on the snow: it's simply an exercitation of the Vladimir Putin's escort (better than Colin Mc Rae!!!) The "41041" is officially still produced...although only 11 exemplars were realized in the 1999 (but the production of the Russian factory was always limited to few exemplars per year). 

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The ZIL is still the official Russian limousine, but the car is outdated, and more modern Mercedes and BMW are used by the Russian governement. However, there is some project for the future. The sketches in the first and second pics above were realized some year ago; the drawing in the third pic, instead, is more recent. These aren't the definitive drawings....

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...but some prototype has been already realized! Above, two images of the new car, called ZIL "4112". This car will be based on the same mechanical layout of the previous version: therefore, the engine wil be a 7700 cc. , but equipped with injection, and capable to develope 400 hp of max power. The weight will be 5 tons, inclusive of armor plating! The car will be realized in three versions (cabrio, "short" sedan, landaulet). The factory has  planned to produce 8-10 exemplars per year, since the 2005; the price will be around $300.000! The same price of 40 Lada "110"...

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In the four drawings above, instead, another prototype, called ZIS "GT", with a very advanced design...but it's only an exercise of design, realized by the firm "Autoexotica", and shown at the "Autoklassika 2003" exposition. It is an hypotesis of natural prosecution of the "101-A Sport" of the years '30s. Although it's only a drawing, not directly realized by ZIL, this car shows that this brand is still present in the collective memory of the Russians!

Anyway, also the ZIL are now a symbol of a fallen empire. The "new riches" of Russia prefers Mercedes or BMW with a lot of electronic gadgets...but the ZIL, although dated and copied from American models, had a certain austere and mysterious fashion...simply because it's a Russian car! For some people, these cars will remain as the expression of a great and proud Nation (the USSR), capable to built an own automotive industry, and especially an own identity; for other people, they will remain, instead, as symbol of a cynical and dull power. Probably, both the opinions are correct. 

Some pic taken from www.sovavto.cjb.netwww.autohistory.de , www.autogallery.org.ru , http://auto.whatodo.ru