The That Got Away

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
the that got away

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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  • Hank Hank on Jul 01, 2011

    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.

  • Andy D Andy D on Jul 02, 2011

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

  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…
  • Mike978 Wow 700 days even with the recent car shortages.