Soviet Style and Speed: Unconventional Racing and Concept Cars from the Soviet Union

The history of the Soviet Union’s automotive industry traces its origins back to the late 1920s and persisted until the nation’s dissolution in 1991.

It commenced with the establishment of significant car manufacturing plants and the restructuring of the AMO Factory in Moscow during the initial five-year plan in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Throughout this period, the Soviet automotive landscape flourished with innovations, culminating in the creation of some of the most noteworthy racing and concept cars.

Among these remarkable vehicles are these pioneering examples that stood out for their distinctiveness, combining a blend of the coolest, weirdest, and fastest attributes.

These cars not only reflected the technological prowess of their time but also encapsulated the Soviet Union’s bold approach towards automotive engineering and design.

(The information originally collected by: Old Concept Cars blog).

1. GAZ A-Aero (1934)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

In 1934, engineer Aleksei Osipovich crafted the sole GAZ-Aero, derived from the GAZ-A model. Its wooden body was encased in metal plates.

Improvements to the standard engine included an aluminum head and an increased compression ratio. Despite these enhancements, its speed didn’t match up to other sports cars.

The car featured a 4-cylinder gasoline engine with a displacement of 3.285 liters, delivering 48 horsepower at 2300 rpm.

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

2. GAZ GL-1 (1938)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

Manufactured in 1938, this race car, built upon the GAZ-M1 model, stood as the fastest Soviet race car pre-war.

Initially equipped with a modified GAZ-M1 engine pushing 65 horsepower instead of the standard 50, it underwent testing and received an upgrade to a new 6-cylinder engine from the GAZ-11, boasting 100 horsepower.

Alongside this engine enhancement, specific details were revamped, including new wheel caps, a dome above the driver’s head, and rounded grill plating.

With the original 65-horsepower engine, it achieved a top speed of 148 km/h. However, with the installation of the 100-horsepower engine, it soared to a top speed of 162 km/h.

3. GAZ M-20 Pobeda Sport (1950)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

In 1951, a sports car based on the GAZ-20 “Pobeda” production model emerged. This iteration saw three vehicles equipped with “Rutz” rotary blowers, replacing the previous setup of two carburetors with a single unit.

This enhancement significantly boosted the maximum power output to 105 horsepower and propelled the car’s speed to a remarkable 190 km/h.

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

4. ZIS-112 (1951)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

In 1951, the Russian automaker ZIS introduced its inaugural ZIS-112 Concept Car, nicknamed the Cyclops, crafted by Valentine Rostkov.

Drawing heavy inspiration from the 1951 GM LeSabre concept car, this two-seater prototype boasted a removable hard top and ran on a robust 140-horsepower V-8 engine sourced from the ZIS-110.

Later, it underwent an upgrade, housing an experimental 186-horsepower V-8 engine outfitted with four carburetors. Additional features included an oil radiator and a manual quick-adjusting system for ignition.

5. GAZ Torpedo (1951)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

The vehicle houses a four-cylinder 2.4-liter engine, generating 105 horsepower at 4000 rpm. Its top speed reaches an impressive 191 km/h.

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

6. GAZ TR Arrow (1954)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

The GAZ TR “Arrow,” powered by a jet engine, was designed to achieve a targeted cruising speed of approximately 500 km/h.

However, due to the absence of a specifically prepared track and suitable high-speed tires, the actual maximum speed during the test trials was expected to cap at 300 km/h as outlined in the test program. This innovative vehicle was constructed in 1954.

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

7. Zvezda 5 (1955)

Soviet Racing Concept CarsEquipped with a compact 0.245-liter two-cylinder engine, the vehicle delivered a potent 50 horsepower at 7200 r/min.

Its transmission operated with 3 gears, while measuring a length of 3.2 meters and boasting a curb weight of 360 kilograms. Impressively, this vehicle reached a top speed of 200 km/h.

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

8. NAMI-050 “Belka” (1955)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

In the late 1940s, Yuri Dolmatovsky, brother of the Soviet poet Yevgeny Dolmatovsky, contemplated the advantages of wagon-style design. His contribution paved the way for the inception of the initial Soviet passenger MPV.

Despite earning favorable reviews in foreign automotive publications, Dolmatovsky’s efforts failed to garner higher-level backing.

Regrettably, only a sole prototype was manufactured, and by 1954, it met its end in the scrapyard.

Seven years later, the Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier debuted in the U.S., drawing inspiration from Dolmatovsky’s visionary concepts.

9. Moskvitch-C2 (1956)</h2

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

The Moskvich-G2, an exceptional racing car crafted by I.A. Gladilin and I.I. Okunev, was constructed in 1956.

Renowned for its record-breaking achievements, this vehicle secured three Soviet speed records in long-distance racing.

Participating in the 1959 USSR Championship, it emerged victorious in the under 2500cc class. However, its active years concluded in 1960, and by late 1963, it was officially decommissioned.

Despite only two units being built, both were eventually disassembled for spare parts.

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

10. Zvezda 6 (1957)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

The engine boasted a capacity of 245 cm3, churning out an impressive 54 horsepower at 7200 rev/min.

With a 4-gear transmission, the vehicle measured a length of 4.5 meters and maintained a curb mass of 420 kilograms, achieving a remarkable speed of 200 km/h. Notably, the Zvezda 6 clinched two world speed records.

11. Hadi-5 (1960)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

The vehicle featured independent suspension on all its wheels, ensuring a smoother ride. Equipped with a 4-cylinder engine boasting a capacity of 3000 cm3, it delivered a robust 126 horsepower at 4500 rpm.

Sporting a 3-gear transmission, the car measured 4.25 meters in length, weighed 550 kilograms and achieved an impressive top speed of 290 km/h.

12. VAZ-Porsche 2103 (1976)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

In 1975, Porsche’s chairman Ernst Fuhrmann engaged in discussions with Viktor Polyakov, the Soviet automotive industry minister, forming a three-year partnership aimed at Porsche’s involvement in designing Ladas.

The outcome of this collaboration resulted in the VAZ-Porsche 2103, marking a failed endeavor.

Intended as a facelift for the existing Lada model, Porsche undertook modifications by refining the suspension, overhauling the interior, and streamlining the exterior.

Notably, metal accents were replaced with plastic. However, in retrospective terms, the design distinctly reflects the era it belonged to.

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

13. Yuna (1977)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

In 1969, engineer and car enthusiast Yuri Algebraistov conceptualized a homemade car, yet its assembly only commenced in 1977.

This unique vehicle garnered extensive acclaim and secured multiple awards at international exhibitions.

Despite its commendations, it never entered mass production, resulting in the construction of only two units, with one enduring till today.

On the road since 1977, this car has covered over half a million kilometers throughout its journey.

14. Pangolina (1980)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

Engineer Alexander Kulygin, known for his creation of a six-wheel all-terrain vehicle and a military concept car, conceived another remarkable homemade sports design: the Pangolina.

Constructed in 1980, this vehicle proved highly successful. It not only participated alongside its creator in various Soviet racing competitions but also made an appearance at the “EXPO 85” International Auto Exhibition in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Additionally, the car was featured in Soviet pop music videos before finding its current place in a museum.

15. Laura (1982)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

Back in January 1982, in a small workshop on Leningrad’s outskirts, Dmitry Parfenov and Gennady Hainov embarked on crafting their own car.

What set this vehicle apart was its unique construction—unlike most homemade cars, it was almost entirely built without factory parts. Remarkably, even the engine was meticulously designed and handcrafted by these two enthusiasts.

Notably, the car received high acclaim from then General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, and made appearances in several international exhibitions. However, despite its accolades, it never entered mass production.

16. NAMI Okhta (1986-87)

Soviet Racing Concept Cars

Manufactured between 1986 and 1987 at the Leningrad Laboratory of Advanced Prototyping of Light Vehicles by NAMI (the Central Automobile Research Institute), the Okhta automobile stands as a remarkable concept car.

It offered seating for up to seven individuals, with removable second and third-seat rows.

Additionally, the front seats could rotate 180 degrees, while the rear seat could be folded to create a convenient table.

Notably, during that era, the inclusion of a multiplex system in a Soviet car was considered futuristic. The sole surviving instance, restored after a crash, is currently showcased in a museum.

(Photo credit: OldConceptCars.com / Russia Beyond / Wikimedia Commons).