The Soviet Union was manufacturing cars from its earliest days. The first of them was Pobeda (Victory in English), a much respected car made after World War II. Today, the streets of Russia are flooded with some of the best foreign automobile brands. Well, that escalated quickly, didn’t it? Don’t worry, I will make sure to fill out the missing information.
Named in honor of victory in the Battle of Stalingrad, Pobeda first came down the assembly line on June 28, 1946, whose manufacturing was approved by Joseph Stalin himself!
Manufactured by GAZ, Gorky Automobile Plant, this car came to be a symbol of postwar Soviet life. As a replacement, in 1956, appeared the very famous Volga. With its modern design, it quickly became a symbol of higher status among the Soviets. Such cars were mostly used by government officials, taxis, road police, and so on. There were about four generations of Volga cars, each undergoing updates as the years past. Truly a dream car of every Soviet person, the Volga was only available to the Soviet elite.
Twenty years ago, my parents rolled in a luxury Chaika limousine for their wedding day. From the same manufacturers as Volga, this ride would once again be mostly utilized for government, as well as rented for weddings and other big events. In that time, the Chaika limos were the fanciest you could get, so it was quite impressive and very chic. My parents for sure rolled in style for their big day!
In the Soviet Union there wasn’t a big market for cars, since not that many people could afford them, and well, there wasn’t even a big necessity for them (side note: there were no cars being imported into the USSR). In the big cities, such as Moscow, people would make use of public transportation, which was plentiful and well organized—buses, trolleybuses, metro—you name it. Moreover, traffic jams were simply nonexistent… when nowadays the lack of traffic jams is nonexistent!
The majority of Soviets that did opt to have a car, would choose the beloved Zaporozhets, native of Soviet Ukraine. This car was destined to become a “people’s car”, because it was affordable to the majority of the people. Since city life didn’t require a car, the most common use of the Zaporozhets was to go to the dachas, summer houses; therefore the cars would stay unused for the most part of the year.
Then there are the Zhiguli, more commonly known as Lada. These cars became extremely popular during the last two decades of the Soviet Union, and were even exported to the West. The Lada was more prestigious and costly than the Zaporozhets, so not every family could afford them. A more affordable alternative ride was the Moskvitch, which would be ranked between the Zaporozhets and Lada.
Today, Russia is home to some of the most expensive cars. Visitors say that Moscow is the only city in Europe where you can meet two or three cars worth of more than 200 thousand dollars each in one street or standing at one traffic light! Insane. Expensive car brands include Bentley, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lexus, BMW’s, Mercedes, among others I can’t list because I don’t know what they are… Such is the appetite for luxury cars in Russia.
Upon my visit to Russia after some years of absence, my naive eyes grew wide as I peeked from my parents’ car window. It was like driving through a car museum. I find it interesting how in such a short period of time, twenty years, Russia underwent such transformations. The realities of the Soviet Union and today’s Russia are shockingly contrasting. From half empty streets with Volgas and Ladas to packed avenues with the most luxurious cars ever made. It’s a big hop.