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SNAPSHOT 281: 1938 ZIS-101 limousine

This picture of ZIS-101 cars on the Moscow production line of Завод Имени Сталина (Zavod Imjeni Stalina – Plant named after Stalin) was clearly intended to impress the West with the advances made by the Soviets in automobile production.

The Z-101 was introduced in 1936 with a body that was fully up to date with current American styling and ordered from Ambi-Budd in Germany.  Although Budd in America were renowned for their all-steel bodies, those for ZIS were assembled over a wooden frame, using many screws.

Production targets were ambitious and never reached: 10,000 cars per year.  Actual production of the ZIS-101 over its life from 1936 to 1941 was around 8,700 cars.  It was equipped with an inline 5.8-litre 8-cylinder engine producing 90 bhp with a single Marvel updraught carburettor.  Later, a domestic 3-jet carburettor and aluminium pistons released a further 20 bhp, and a further 6 bhp was available from the engine fitted to the modernised 1940 ZIS-101A with a rounded grille.

In 1939 there was also a gigantic two-seater ZIS Sport, designed by Valentin Nikolaevich Rostkov and based on the limousine chassis; the bodywork had an attractive frontal design reminiscent of a Lincoln Zephyr.  Engine output for the Sport reached 141 bhp, but only one or two were built.

The ZS-101 was followed in 1942 by the ZIS-110, based on a prewar Packard 180 limousine.

The development of the ZIS factory in Moscow and the GAZ factory in Gorky, both of them making cars as well as the expected trucks, was based upon the Soviet conviction that the motor car was an essential part of the modernisation of the Soviet Union.  Advocates of car production cited the growing public image of the automobile in the West as the symbol of the modern age, as a triumph of mass production and a product of mass consumption. Although car production remained low in comparison to that for trucks, organizations arranged auto rallies across the USSR to test the endurance of both drivers and cars and to raise public awareness of the motor car and seek public investment. They also demonstrated the limited USSR infrastructure: in the USA, there were 450 km of roads for every 10,000 people, in the Soviet Union there were only 1.7 km.  In the end, however, the greatest early expansion of road construction in the 20s and 30s was made on national security grounds rather than a concern to convert the mentality of the Soviet people into a car-owning public.  That would not begin in earnest until the postwar Khrushchev years.

Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive

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