By on June 30, 2011

I am now on an active quest to import a genuine Soviet people’s car from the former Soviet Union; if all goes according to plan, a ZAZ-968 will go into a shipping container in Odessa and make its way to Chez Murilee later this year. I have a special affection for the Zaporozhets, because it was the product of the downward-economic-spiral, economy-temporarily-propped-up-by-oil-exports Brezhnevian Malaise Era, yet was the only car that ordinary Soviet citizens had any chance of actually owning prior to the Glasnost period. However, when an elitist, Party-members-only 1956 GAZ-M20 Pobeda in not-ridiculously-far-from-Denver Iowa came up for sale on eBay last week, with a starting bid of just six grand, I decided I’d take a shot at buying it instead of a Запоро́жець.

Just to make the idea of a Pobeda more tempting, English Russia came out with this “Victory In America” piece, with photos from a Life magazine spread on M20s in the United States. The M20 was the first of the postwar GAZ cars, and it can trace its ancestry back to the 1938 Opel Kadett. Talk about history! However, I wasn’t willing to go over $7000 on an allegedly solid car 700 miles away, and the bidding went beyond that on the final day, so I’m back to my original plans of getting a rust-free, garage-queen Ukrainian ZAZ-968. Probably just as well, as the GAZ-M20’s flathead four-banger was hard-pressed to get the Pobeda up to 60 MPH (and it would be blasphemous, even by my loose standards, to change out the original engine in such a car), while the much lighter and more modern Zaporozhets can be driven like a normal vehicle.

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35 Comments on “The Победа That Got Away...”

  • avatar

    Wow! I would’ve sworn that that was an early Volvo 144!

    • 0 avatar

      It would have been a 544. The 144 was the first of the “Volvo bricks.” I owned a 1968 144. With an automatic for my non-stick driving spouse. On a rising incline, it would lose a drag race with an energetic snail.

  • avatar

    a copy of Polish car Warszawa

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    “Probably just as well, as the GAZ-M20′s flathead four-banger was hard-pressed to get the Pobeda up to 60 MPH (and it would be blasphemous, even by my loose standards, to change out the original engine in such a car), while the much lighter and more modern Zaporozhets can be driven like a normal vehicle.”

    Come on, wouldn’t a Ford Flathead V8 be an almost “What If…” of history? Old Henry did some business with the Ruskies, didn’t he?

  • avatar

    Average pre-Glasnost Soviet citizens could also aspire to a Moskvich as well as the ZAZ. Plus the Moskvich doesn’t look like a direct copy of a 1960s NSU. As for the Pobeda, it’s a shame that one got away, but $7,800 is a bit rich. From everything I’ve heard, these Pobedas were very tough and durable cars.

  • avatar

    “while the much lighter and more modern Zaporozhets can be driven like a normal vehicle”

    I’m afraid that’s pretty optimistic – ZAZs were quite shitty even by Eastern bloc standards. That’s why there are next to none in Czech Republic – nobody wanted them even in communist Czechoslovakia.

    If you want rear-engined, eastern bloc car that actually works like a car, buy a Skoda 1000MB. In it’s time, it was quite a good vehicle, unlike it’s succesors, which got only uglier, without much technical improvement…

    • 0 avatar

      Skoda exported powertrains to NZ for Trekkas, awful cars

    • 0 avatar

      My wife toured the Skoda factory and museum just last week. After the factory tour, we got to sit in on a presentation by one of their executives. Unfortunately, Skoda has no intentions of importing cars to the US. The Skoda brand has developed a reputation for reliability at a much lower cost than VW. After driving one for a few days, I would agree.

  • avatar

    And when we’re talking rear-engined Skodas, here’s one that a guy I know just finished – rally version replica:

    If TTAC’s interested, I can do a capsule review on that…

  • avatar

    Nyet, tovarich.

  • avatar

    You know, for how little a ZAZ costs (I’m told ~$100US) and how cheap it is to throw around container freight, I’d stuff as many as possible into a 40ft container. You could probably get 3 in there. That is, unless there’s some sort of difficulty around importing parts cars.

  • avatar

    This, to me, is the most fascinating vehicle you have ever showcased, MM.

    I want to know more. Please keep us informed as to this car’s progress!

    • 0 avatar

      Banned from Wiki, Zack? :-)

      • 0 avatar

        Well…outside a junkyard, for sure! Hey! this car may actually run, so that’s a plus in my book.

        I must qualify my feelings, as I am at least half-Russian by birth. Don’t know about the other half. Probably “knucklehead”. So I’m interested in many things Russian.

        You know, that car does look like a four-door Volvo PV544!

  • avatar

    ZAZ-968 – the car that I drove first when I was about 10. Years later I realized that the styling was borrowed from BMW 2002. You should also import VAZ 2101. True classic! Check out and Many fine examples or Russian fleet are showcased there.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    This looks like an awesome project. I have an inexplicable desire to import an East German Trabant – an authentic one with an original two stroke engine.

    I drove one back in ’90 or ’91 and now every time I go to a car show I wish I had one to park among the muscle cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Me too! I spent the summer of ’91 in Budapest and owned one for four months. Paid $500 for it, sold it for $500 when I went back to school. Went all over in it, even to Vienna. Memories!

  • avatar

    Geeez, why not a ZIL limo or a Trabant? Those ay least look like they were made by Allahless commie bastards, that thing just looks like something spat out by Volvo or SAAB.

  • avatar

    Model A was the infamous NKVD black raven that snatched people off the streets.

    Lets hope your ZAZ-968 don’t have such a sinister history.

  • avatar

    I lived in mid-90s post-Soviet Russia (out in the middle of the country in a former “Closed City”) and got to see a few of these survivor cars. I, too, would love to bring one over, though my real desire is a UAZ-469.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Another vote for the ZIL. The car made from the plans Boris and Natasha stole from Packard

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