March 01, 2016

Zhiguli's Birth

Zhiguli's Birth
The first Zhiguli model, the VAZ-2101 (the "Kopek"), introduced in 1966.

When I was a child, I remember reading with fascination about the cars being produced by a new factory in Tolyatti (or Togliatti, if spelled like the name of the Italian Communist Party leader for whom the city was named).

My interest was purely abstract. Of course, neither my parents nor any of their friends had a car. One of my father’s childhood friends later bought one, but, as my father explained with a hint of embarrassment, since his friend was an actor who had to travel from performance to performance, he really needed a car. The idea that someone might own a car just to go to work or a country home was unthinkable back then. We did, however, know another family that owned a Volga, but they were obviously no ordinary family. The father had even been abroad several times. There was a toy gondola in their apartment, a souvenir from Venice that I found much more captivating than their car.

In 1966, the same year the Volga Automobile Factory (VAZ) opened, a wildly popular movie directed by Eldar Ryazanov, Beware of the Car (Берегись автомобиля), was playing in theaters. The plot centers on Yury Detochkin, a do-gooder insurance agent who turns amateur sleuth to identify cars that have been purchased with ill-gotten gains. He then steals these cars, sells them, and anonymously donates the proceeds to orphanages.

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