Hooniverse Bookshelf: The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc

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This is different kind of car book. If you’re the guy who unironically launches into a recitation of gophernet-era jokes such as “How do you double the price of a Lada? Fill it up with gas!” then this isn’t a book for you. Also, if you’re that guy, the one who feels it incumbent upon himself to inform everyone that ZAZ 968s probably couldn’t compete in a head to head test with a Chevy Citation, this book isn’t for you either. If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of person who always wondered why getting around the Russian city of Naberezhnye Chelny was always such a pain (haven’t we all?), you might like this book. Likewise, if you’re the kind of person who often wondered how you could move up the waiting list on a Polski Fiat, this just may be the book for you.

Composed of eleven different essays by different authors, and edited by Lewis H. Siegelbaum, The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc grew out of a conference organized by the Free University of Berlin that examined various issues relating to automobility in the USSR and its satellite states. So this isn’t a book about cars per se, but rather a book about car ownership and the various social structures and economic phenomena that existed around private cars at various points in the history of socialist states. The Socialist Car presents a number of case studies that examine issues concerning automobility in Eastern Europe and the USSR.

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V.I.S.I.T. – The Snows of Kilimanjaro Edition

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For the record, these aren’t the snows of Kilimanjaro. These are merely the snows of Connecticut. Mount Kilimanjaro, on the other hand, barely even has ice anymore, due either to increased production of new iPads for Black Friday, or relentless, round the clock stamping of Justin Bieber DVDs half a world away. By the middle of the next decade, Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t expected to have any ice at all. Like the snows of Kilimanjaro, the rear-wheel drive Volvos are receding from New England’s roads, which made finding this 145S station wagon even cooler.  

If there was one series of station wagons that ruled New England’s not-particularly-treacherous roads since the 1960s, it was arguably the Volvo 145 and 245. Numerous appearances in film, such as the 1988 documentary Beetlejuice where Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis’ characters drive a yellow 245DL wagon in the fictional town of Winter River, Connecticut (actually filmed in East Corinth, VT, as Connecticut doesn’t have too many covered bridges) have cemented its place in the pantheon of all things New England. Even in Greater Volvoland, the 145s and 245s were ubiquitous even in staunch French and Italian car enclaves of Poozhoe Province and Alfaville.

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ZiL 130 is Cooler, Heavier Than All of Your Christmas Toys Combined

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Remember those light, flimsy Tonka trucks that you had a kid, and that you now see at antique stores for $245.00 plus tax? Well, this isn’t one of those trucks. Oh no. This is a gigantic scale model of a ZiL 130 V1 with an OdAZ-885 semitrailer that’s nearly three feet long. Made in Russia from the early 1970s onward, these were made out of steel so thick you couldn’t dent it with a hammer, weighed as much as a typewriter, and featured amazing detailing.

ZiL (Zavod imeni Likhacheva) was a longtime producer of trucks and limousines, with the ZiL 130 being its staple truck from 1962 till just a few years ago. A V8-powered truck, the midsize ZiL 130 spawned a huge number of versions, ranging from the 3-axle ZiL 133 with a KamAZ diesel engine, to the 6×6 ZiL 131 army truck, in addition to the hundreds of different bodies and equipment that were fitted to the base ZiL 130 chassis. While the ZiL factory itself didn’t produce the ZiL toys, being busy building the real thing and whatnot, the neighboring Moscow-based passenger car maker AZLK did. 

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V.I.S.I.T. – Alfa Romeo GTV6

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I’d imagine there isn’t a hoon around who hasn’t lusted after an Alfa GTV6 at some point. Even I remember trying to convince myself that I could handle the maintenance on these while admiring a gleaming GTV6 at Greenwich Concours, saying to myself “If anything breaks, I would just buy the part on eBay and bolt it in myself. Hah, how hard can it be?” A tall order perhaps, but a man can dream. But hey, some people maintain these all by themselves, without expert intervention (of Santo Spadaro) or mining for unobtainium in the vast stretches of the eBays. And a couple weekends a year they take their prized machine to a concours, where people marvel at the concept of a running, non-rusted, concours condition GTV6, and say to themselves “I could totally get one of these. And if anything breaks, I would just buy the part on eBay and bolt it in myself!”

Well, as you can see in the first image, this example is far from a concours-grade one, but it is running, as I assume it arrived at this spot all by itself. The GTV6 above appears to, umm, have lost some structural integrity along the way, but that’s okay. It is used in the winter months after all, and that alone deserves our respect.

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V.I.S.I.T. – AMC Concord Station Wagon

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Now here’s a real classic (in our sense of the word) and a candidate for the pantheon of all things Hoon. This is none other than an AMC Concord station wagon, which I saw for sale some time ago in Connecticut. Sadly, this fine machine is no longer for sale, though I hope the owner decided to not part with it after all.

These were made for just 6 short years and came in several forms, ranging from a 2-door coupe to a 4-door station wagon. Back then AMC’s market share hovered just above 1% (a fact not fully appreciated today) which is about equal to the market share enjoyed by Volvo for the past few years. But American Motors made up for that measly share of the market by offering some truly, umm, interesting packaging solutions. 

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V.I.S.I.T. – Peugeot 505 SW8

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Here’s a car we don’t see a lot these days, a Peugeot 505 SW8 station wagon. This was Peugeot’s largest wagon offering in the North American market, being the long-wheelbase version of the 505 wagon. The SW8 had 3 rows of seats, and boasted (admittedly snug) seating for 8 people.

This one appeared to be in extremely good condition in person, certainly looking less used-up than most daily driver examples that I see today (which kind of sounds like I see a lot of 505 daily drivers, which is far from the case).

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V.I.S.I.T. – Peugeot 405 S in Manhattan

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It’s probably a stretch to say that the Peugeot 405 has become a rare sight on our roads, since it wasn’t exactly abundant on our roads to begin with. Rather, it was arguably Peugeot’s late and somewhat halfhearted attempt to transition dwindling numbers of Peugeot buyers on to a new model. The 405 S above was seen on the not-particularly-mean streets of midtown Manhattan not too long ago.

Sold for four short years stateside, the 405 came in sedan and wagon form, with a severely reduced range of engines compared to other markets. We got the 1.9 liter DL, S and Mi16 versions of Peugeot’s four cylinder engine, while the UK got a dozen 405s with cool trim names like Hunter, Quasar, and Executive (okay, Quasar is probably not a cool trim name). Not to mention Europe got a ton of different turbodiesels. That’s right, that’s what we were denied on this side of the pond. Add to that the entire range of Pug 205s.

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V.I.S.I.T. – Toyota Soarer in Quebec

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Last time I was in Quebec I spotted this JDM Toyota Soarer sitting on a quiet street in the center of Montreal. Bedecked with an admittedly restrained body kit and aftermarket wheels, this Soarer was pretty low key and didn’t really stand out visually, in fact I almost walked by it. If there is one thing I’ve noticed about private JDM imports in Canada, is that they are either the, ahem, racing kind (Skylines, etc) or the quirky kind (Figaros, S-Cargos, Paos, kei cars). Which made finding this large coupe, available in LHD all day long on eBay and dealerships of ill repute for the price of an overmileaged Volvo wagon, somewhat surprising.

I think I know what most of you are thinking: isn’t this just an RHD Lexus SC? The short answer is yes. The long answer is probably no, though Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube could have a very lengthy argument about the differences between the two cars.

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V.I.S.I.T. – Rover 400 in Quebec

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When visiting Quebec some time ago, I came across this Rover 400 parked on the street, which likely HAS to be the only one in North America. If the profile and details of the car remind you of something else, namely a Honda, that is because the Rover 400 was based on the Honda Domani, which itself was related to the Civic.

This example was in, ahem, okay shape for its age, but had clearly led a hard life with a bunch of unrepaired bumps that had started to rust due to lost paint. This is the second-gen Rover 400, which was made between 1995 and 1999. Engines ranged from a 1.4 liter inline-4 to a 2.0 liter inline-4, with a diesel also available. Its predecessor was also Honda-based, and was sold as the Honda Concerto in Europe.

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Classic Profile: 1984 Opel Senator CD 3.0E

Jay Ramey November 19, 2012 Cars You Should Know

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The late 70s and early 80s gave us a huge helping of German sedans that we’re still drooling over. Mercedes-Benz unveiled its W126 S-class in 1979, BMW came out with the E28 5-series in 1981, and Audi brought out a freshened 100 sedan in 1982, of which a grand total of 8 survive to this day. If you were on the other side of the pond, Ford of Europe also offered the Cologne-built Mk II Granada, a large sedan that came with a 2.8 liter engine in its top spec. You’d be forgiven for not remembering the offerings from Opel, as GM stopped selling Opels in the US in 1975. But the German company had a full lineup of cars that were sold in Europe and elsewhere in the world, with the Opel Senator saloon being its top offering.

Sold from 1978 till 1986, the first-generation Opel Senator premiered with a range of four and six-cylinder engines, and was arguably the marque’s first serious attempt at carving out a chunk of the executive saloon market (not to be confused with the fullsize land barge market on this side of the Atlantic). Whereas some of the other Opel models were typically present in some diluted, rebadged form in North America, the Senator was a sedan entirely of Opel’s creation, one whose platform and engineering didn’t cross over to the General’s US offerings. And as you’ve probably guessed by now, the Senator we’re going to take a ride in today is the sole example in America.

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