By on April 28, 2011

The Zaphorozhets (aka “The Soviet Corvair”) didn’t offer much in terms of performance, comfort, safety, or style, but it was the first real attempt by the post-Stalin USSR to offer a car for ordinary citizens. The idea was that the heroes of Soviet labor would enjoy some of the bourgeois luxuries of their capitalist counterparts, and this would lead to increased worker productivity, or something. The proletariat wasn’t going to get ’57 Ford Mainlines, however; the reality of Soviet roads and repair facilities was such that their cars would need to be easy to repair under primitive conditions.

So, when ZAZ engineers ripped off the design of the Volkswagen air-cooled engine for their new car, they bent the cylinders up in a vee instead of using a boxer design. Why? So that the valves, which we must assume went out of adjustment even more quickly than the VW’s (i.e. every 200 miles instead of every 2,000), could be more accessible when working in a mud-floored shack in Turkmenistan. This philosophy was carried through for the entire car. When one of the rear brakes fails on a Leningrad street, why, you just stop right where you are and fix it with whatever rusty tools you find rattling around on the floorboards. Isn’t that the reason everyone loved the Model T so much? I say the humble Zaphorozhets needs more recognition as the perfect car for its time and place!
Image sources: English Russia,

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36 Comments on “Zaporozhets: Fix It Anywhere...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    The first secret of business success, know your customers, and know your market.
    Ohhhhhhhhhh look, air-scoops!  Sporty!

    • 0 avatar

      When I moved to Moscow in 1992 I bought a new Lada Zhiguli 06 and drove it (for the most part) for five years. I was amazed to see Russian street car repair. Guys would have rear axles out, differential gears spread out on the road and doing some amazing car repair with just basic tools. Russian driving laws actually stated that car repairs on the road were legal.

      Lada were built with such loose tolerances they worked OK better broken than any western car. Kind of like their tanks during WWII.

    • 0 avatar

      Scoops were functional, used for engine cooling.

  • avatar

    Engine adjustment every 200 miles.  LOL!
    The second picture looks fine for such a small car (compared to the woman).
    I guess only the dog would be comfortable on the rear seat. :)

  • avatar

    Didn’t those miserable cars cost about as much as a 911 if you counted the number of work hours it took to earn one?

    I seem to remember that to get a Trabant, which seems very similar to this, you had to wait something like a decade and pay an ungodly amount of worthless East German pseudo-cash.


  • avatar

    ’57 Mainlines, you say?  No, I don’t imagine there were plans afoot to ship Australian Fords to the Soviet Union.  They did, however, get a chance to see at least one ’57 Fairlane 500.

  • avatar

    The 968A was the first car I ever drove. I was 6. I still remember how wonderful it felt at 100 kph — scary wonderful :-)

    The one at the top was 1800 rubles, which was very, very expensive for an average citizen making 70-80 rubles a month. Still, it was far cheaper than original Volga GAZ-21 at astronomical 5500 rubles. Which was, by the way, the dream of every Soviet man and boy, since it was made extremely famous by a number of popular movies.

  • avatar

    You joke, but I find myself wishing that ease of repair got just a little more importance in the design of some of our modern machinery than it currently does.

    • 0 avatar

      When the CEL light comes on in a modern car it might as well just forward all your credit card details to the dealer in anticipation of the repair cost (maybe with OnStar it already does).
      When I was a kid we had a family friend who was illiterate but could fix anything wrong with a car. He used a screwdriver like a doctor’s stethoscope to listen for vibrations in the block and was never wrong in his diagnosis. I wonder what he’d do today given an OBD port scanner and a 200 page manual full of all the possible error codes.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        One of the reasons I’m thinking about buying new or CPO is I’ll have the time left on the warranty to figure out the car to the point where I’m not beholden to the stealership.  By the time the warranty expires my (yet to be conceived) children will be old enough to learn car repair looking over the fender like I did.

      • 0 avatar

        Dan, don’t bet on it. We’ve entered the iPhone/iTunes era where people no longer expect the right to do whatever they want with the product they’ve bought. By the time your future kids are old enough to open a hood, they’ll see day-glow orange paint across every bolt with a huge warning specifying $100,000 fines or two years in prison for anyone trying to perform service who is not directly employed by the manufacturer.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, it’s not as bad now as it was a decade or so ago. Nowadays you can get a code scanner for like $35-$40. I mean, it’ll just be a cheap “read off numeric codes” one, but it’ll do the job.
        I don’t even want to know how much an OBD-II scanner cost in, say, 1996.

  • avatar

    Aside from the pulchritude in the one photo, this is a perfect example of why they are stuck with AK-47’s and why AR-15’s are so expensive!

  • avatar

    Stop this romanticizing, buy the GAZ-21. Volga was a real car.

    P.S. I am quite certain that the top picture was not taken in Leningrad, because of the Tatra tram. Also, please observe the VAZ-2101 in the background. How old do you think the humble Zaporozhets was by the time Zhiguli became available? We can pinpoint it quite well by observing the Polish van Zhuk, too (they almost disappeared, when displaced by RAF).

    P.P.S. I think it’s Kemerovo in 1973 or so, deducing from the lettering on the licence plate.

  • avatar

    Later ZAZ problems were the suspension. Front camber went out of tolerance quicker than necessary.

  • avatar

    Zaporozhets…..  don’t those cause syph or some other STD or is that STP or whatever.
    The tornadoes bypassed the shanty.
    As it should be.

  • avatar

    A Russian coworker was shopping for CR-Vs, Rav4’s and the like (He just had his first child).  I recommended the then-new 2007 Forester. He said the sound of the terrible ZAZ V4 in the 968 he grew up with resembles the rumble of the Subaru boxer too closely for him to ever consider buying one.  Also, the scary handling of crudely assembled suspension and the lack of defrosters due to its rear-enginedness means Porsche 911s are a no-go as well.

    All is not lost, though: In grammar school, he was the fastest in his class at AK-47 disassembly and assembly.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    Jeez, I looked at that picture and had a flashback remembering fixing the RR brake on my ’68 Fury III in a cemetery parking lot in Malvern, PA. Circa 1977.

  • avatar

    One of my favorite features of my 124 Fiat Spider was the large trunk which could fit my tool box and a pile of spare parts.  More than once found me doing “little” repairs and tuneups (like adjusting the timing gap.)  I used to brag it never left me stranded, but not for lack of trying.

  • avatar

    and the first one seems to have borrowed some styling from a Fiat 600.

  • avatar

    I seem to remember that to get a Trabant, which seems very similar to this, you had to wait something like a decade and pay an ungodly amount of worthless East German pseudo-cash.

    And there was this joke I read.

    U pay in full for the lada and pick up the car 10 yrs from now same day, except u remember the plumber will be at your house the same day!
    So how to be 2 places at once?

  • avatar

    We drove Ladas but our really smart friend who was my physics tutor taught me in his 968A how with less horsepower you can keep better pace than faster cars in the city if you plan your lanes, anticipate, etc. He drove me to prove the point. I enjoy nowadays applying it in my “slow” car, particularly blasting by X5s and X3s in trashy turns like those Brukner approaches to Triborough Bridge. That car wasn’t bad, just bottom of the barrell, he traveled with us in it and his family on about a 1500 km loop of the Baltics.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    This car should be the official car of Dethklok, it’s got ZAZ…

  • avatar

    Ahh, Russian cars. Owned two of them, a Lada 2106 sedan, which, in a moment of masochism I traded for a Niva to drive across Canada in the winter. Can’t get into too much trouble at 90 kph. The roadside repair photo brings back many memories. The points in my 2106 would last exactly 2 oil changes. Got so I could change oil, filter and points in 20 minutes flat. Sometimes even set the timing afterwards.

    The models sold in Canada actually encouraged diy repairs, as they came with two (2) tool kits. The first was a large roll-up affair that contained the usual lug wrench as well as an engine crank, a set of 3 flat tire irons, and a manual air pump. The 2nd kit was in a small plastic case and contained points and spark plug files/gapping tools as well as remarkably crappy screw drivers and a pair of sand cast pliers.

    Despite quite a few Ladas being sold here in the late 70’s and early 80’s, virtually none still exist. Read somewhere that boat loads of used sedans were shipped back for sale in Russia in the 90’s as the export version was considered to be better quality. Could be an urban myth.

  • avatar

    I had Lada 2108 two door hatchback. No power steering, no power anything except of brakes. Well every other trip to Moscow I had to stop (actually car stopped on its own will) somewhere on the highway or freeway (sometimes in the middle) and fix something, most of time the carburetor, some time the fuel pump. I had some spare parts in the trunk. Like timing and accessory belts e.g. or fuel pump repair kit. Motor oil was of unknown local origin, I suspect it might be not actually the motor oil. But I did not see a point of spending much more for an imported real motor oil for such a car. The good thing is that it was the only Russian car I ever owned.

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