Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Lord K's Garage - #87. Soviet Streamline Cars

After all those red-starred steam streamliners it's time to look at streamline cars made in the USSR.

Most of these cars, built between 1934 and 1950, were one-offs based on serial production models.

The GAZ-A-Aero was designed in 1934 by Alexei Nikitin (1903-1974). At this time Nikitin was a Military Academy aspirant working on aerodynamics. He gathered information about the design and production of race cars from all over the world.

He built an aerodynamic tube and concentrated on designing a car body with optimal aerodynamic characteristics, testing various miniature models.

After a series of experiments, he built a real car in his garage, using the Soviet GAZ-A (a license-built Ford Model A) chassis. The streamline two-door sedan body (steel sheets on a wooden frame) was rather "tall", 1700 mm and had a V-shaped windshield. Its drag coefficient was quite remarkable: only 0,207. The standard "A" 3.3-liter engine was fitted with an aluminium overhead block and tuned up to 48 h.p., allowing a sharp increase in speed - from 80 to 106 km/h.

Nikitin's innovative car was the result of his Ph. D. work and was accepted for a design trial in the automotive industry. Handed over to the Automobile Council for further tests, it quietly disappeared, and its designer dealt mostly with tracked and half-track vehicles.

Another streamliner built on a GAZ-A chassis was the GAZ-ZAKS, built by Vladimir Tzipulin in 1937 under the auspices of the Central Auto Sports Club. It was a two-seat spyder, powered by a special version of GAZ M-1 3.3-liter engine, tuned up to 60 h.p.

The A-model frame and suspension were seriously modified and fitted with hydraulic shock absorbers. The car appeared light - 900 kg only, and had detachable headlights for "street" use. Its designed speed was 135 km/h. Tested by Vladimir Kulchitsky, an experienced tank driver (sic!), the GAZ-ZAKS achieved 131.1 km/h. Its designer was arrested in 1937 and died in detention three years later.

The GL-1, designed by Evgeny Agitov of Gorky Automobile Works and built on a GAZ M-1 chassis, began its life in 1938 as a spyder. It was powered by an M-1 engine 3.3-liter engine tuned up to 65 h.p.

With test driver AF Nikolayev at the wheel, the GL-1 showed top speed of 147.84 km/h. This achievement wasn't too impressive: a serial-built GAZ M-11 sedan was capable of speeds up to 140 km/h.

The car was rebuilt into coupe and re-engined with a GAZ-11 inline-six (license-built Dodge D-5), tuned up to 100 h.p. In 1940, the "new" (and heavier) GL-1 set the USSR land speed record of 161.87 km/h.

The replica, built at Alexander Bushuyev workshop, was presented to the public in February 2010. It took more than three years to recreate the Red Racer (see more photos by diecast43 @ LJ).

The ZIS-101a Sport was a one-off derivative of the first serial-production Soviet luxury car. In its standard version the 101, manufactured at the Stalin Automotive Works (ZIS) in Moscow, had a seven-passenger sedan (or limousine, or convertible sedan) body designed by Budd in the United States and resembled American luxury cars like Packard 180 or Cadillac Aero-Dynamic.

Nearly 6 meter long, weighing 2.5 ton, it was not an obvious choice for conversion into a sporty two-seater. But three young designers, Vladimir Kremenetsky, Nikolai Pulmanov and Anatoly Pukhalin have chosen the 101 as a platform for their dream car, built to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Komsomol (Young Communists Association).

Their ambitious plans were widely advertised, although the actual car had little in common with the "sports limousine" pictured above (Komsomolskaya Pravda, October 17, 1938). Being ZIS employees, Kremenetsky, Pulmanov and Pukhalin were provided by everything they needed to create a streamliner with top speed of 180 km/h.

Their car was huge, just a bit shorter than the 101 limo (5.75 m), and heavy - 2 ton. Under the long hood there was a tuned inline-eight (a copy of the Buick engine), its volume increased to 6.06 liter.

The engine, fitted with an aluminium overhead block, two carburetors and a custom-designed camshaft, developed 140 h.p. (versus 90 h.p. in the serial 101). The serial-production gearbox has been modified.

1939 photos:

The car, approved by no other than Comrade Stalin, has never achieved its designed speed. The best result showed by the 101a Sport during tests was 162.4 km/h.

The fate of this car is unclear. There were rumors that German command used it in occupied Crimea during WWII. By the way, the "standard" ZIS-101 was streamlined in 1940, receiving a rounded GM-style grille (above left and below).

Finally, after the war, a truly fantastic design has been developed - the Pobeda Sport. Its platform, the wartime-designed Pobeda M-20 four-door fastback sedan, was quite an advanced car for its time, feature-laden, with all-metal "pontoon" body. It was powered by a 2.1-liter engine, a new version of the venerable Dodge P-5 reduced to four cylinders.

The Pobeda Sport, designed by Alexey Smolin, an aviation engineer, was 160 mm lower than standard sedan and had a duralumin body. Its engine has been tuned up to 75 hp and fitted with two carburetors. In 1950, the car set a number of national records on long distances - 30, 50 and 300 km.
A series of 5 cars was built, at least one of them had an open-top body. All five were extensively modernized, fitted with Rootes rotor compressors and twin-chamber carburetors. From 1951, they were re-engined with an experimental NAMI 2.5-liter four-inline OHV developing 94 hp. Pobeda Sports were the winners of three national championships, in 1950, 1955 and 1956.
I could include some other postwar cars in this review, some of them powered with gas turbine or even jet engine. Instead, I'll show you a modern Pobeda hotrod built in Yalta, Crimea:
Sources: Russian and Soviet Auto Sports Legends; ImWerden E-Library

Headline picture: diecast43 @ LJ

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Comment by lord_k on May 8, 2011 at 8:21am

To Pilsner:

there is also some resemblance between ZIS 101a Sport and Lincoln Continental prototype. I believe the source of inspiration is the same - Ford / Lincoln Zephyr grille and headlights.

Comment by Pilsner Panther on May 8, 2011 at 7:47am

The GL-1 bears a definite resemblance to a classic American sports car, the 1935 Auburn Speedster. Whether this is a coincidence or not, I don't know.


Comment by Sparky Gage on May 6, 2011 at 7:19pm
Just goes to show how good a "committee" can be a killing good ideas.  If the soviet people of that era had been free to pursue these ideas, there's no telling how different history might have been.
Comment by Mason on May 6, 2011 at 4:50pm
These cars are killer. Oh what i would give to have one of these to drive and work on.
Comment by lord_k on May 6, 2011 at 3:35pm
I see.
Comment by Dr. Quantum on May 6, 2011 at 3:31pm
The g force, as in the push from the acceleration you would feel in a jet
Comment by lord_k on May 6, 2011 at 2:01pm
To Dr. Quantum:

Excuse me, who are the Gs?


Comment by Dr. Quantum on May 6, 2011 at 1:54pm
I can feel the Gs just look at the pics.
Comment by Deven Science on May 6, 2011 at 12:34pm
I LOVE that modern hot rod! It looks very inventive, with a lot of bodywork.

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