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Self-made cars in the USSR: how and why did they appear so much?

Soviet Union and the socialist countries, people built their own cars. Surprisingly, not only mechanics and engineers, but even musicians and cosmonauts, doctors and teachers were able to do it. Now it looks strange, but in the seventies and eighties of the twentieth century this phenomenon was quite large-scale and well-known and attracted the attention of not only auto enterprises and the Minister of the automotive industry, but also the Secretary General of the Central Committee of the CPSU. Why did people build cars themselves and what did it sometimes lead to?

Why not just buy and buy a “Zhiguli”?
Amateur automotive industry – for brevity, we use the term “Samavto” adopted in those years, was the result of the characteristics of a socialist planned economy and conditions created during the heyday of the USSR, which is usually called the “era of stagnation”. By the seventies, a steady increase in wages made people, on average, wealthy enough to solve basic household problems. New needs began to appear, people sought to improve the quality of their lives. And freedom of movement has become one of the needs.

Thanks to the launch of VAZ, the delivery of passenger cars to the market has grown significantly, and out of luxury for the elect, which was a car in the fifties, our own car began to turn into a very attainable dream. However, revenues and, accordingly, effective demand were significantly ahead of production — especially as VAZ and other car factories were important suppliers of export products: cars brought the USSR quite a lot of currency and were supplied to the domestic market on a residual basis.

Judging by the poster of Autoexport, scarce modifications of domestic cars also went abroad.
Therefore, they were a scarce commodity, although their prices were several times higher than the cost price. It was a very profitable industry for the country.

In such circumstances, the state was not interested in a variety of types of cars produced or in frequent changes of models. Even so, buyers took apart almost everything that was in stores. For the prestigious Volga they were ready to overpay two or three times!

In the seventies, typical products of domestic plants were sedans. Universals met less frequently, but were also familiar. And those who wanted to buy something else simply had no choice but to build a car for themselves.

Sedans – the most popular domestic cars – were far from being organized by everyone, but there was no choice, by and large
Under capitalism, the issue was resolved more simply: there were always people willing to meet the demand for rare or even unique types of cars. Yes, and large automakers are constantly looking for something new to offer to customers – they will come up with a hatchback, then a minivan, then a crossover … In the USSR, with its planned system and full load of enterprises, this was impossible. It was practically impossible to organize a private business, and the car factories themselves, in order to launch some kind of original car, first had to get approval and, most importantly, funding from the relevant ministry. Sometimes the approval process took more time than designing and launching into production.

So, automobile plants could not quickly respond to market demands, there was no private business. But building a car for personal use was not prohibited. This allowed hundreds of people to realize their dream – and tens of millions envied them.

For movement and self-expression
The first homemade products appeared in the fifties, when the car was generally rare. In 1957, the magazine “Technology – Youth”, which was led by a great enthusiast of technical creativity, Vasily Dmitrievich Zakharchenko, together with the traffic police, formulated the technical conditions for the design of self-made cars. In 1965, the official “Technical Requirements for small cars and motorized cars individually manufactured” were approved. On the one hand, they introduced such constructions into the legal field, and on the other they limited them from all sides: an engine of no more than 900 cubic meters in volume. cm, length no more than four meters, speed not higher than 75 km / h.

“Leningrad”, 1956, Arkady Babich, Leningrad. Double convertible with engine from ZIM. In the early 1990s, the car (unclear – the remnants of the original or a copy) sold for $ 6000
Konstantin Gromadzky, chief designer of AZLK from 1987 to 1996, recalls that in 1962 his father built a small car with a motor from the M-72 motorcycle (0.75 l / 22 hp) and an aluminum body: “It was convertible, reminiscent of Opel Kapitän “. It looked like a typical self-made car of the time. Such a homemade product could hardly be considered a replacement for a conventional production car or simply a desire to solve its transport problem. The main driving force for the “Samavto” was still the desire for creativity.

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