The Patriotic War of 1812, as it is known in Russia, ended with a catastrophic defeat for Napoleon, with over three-quarters of his 450,000-strong army lost to the vastness of the great steppes of Russia. That’s right; it wasn’t some military mastermind who out-played Napoleon, but measly logistics that cast a shameful defeat upon Bonaparte.
Due to a nearly total lack of supply roads, the majestic French army marched to Moscow with minimal provisions. Lack of food and water quickly turned into an epidemic of lice, hunger, and typhoid fever. The French soldiers were dying in their tens of thousands every week, without even once seeing an enemy uniform.
Finally, Napoleon fled, leaving his near-mythological aura of tactical genius shredded to dust, together with some 380,000 of his troops. Something the German military of WWII should have paid greater attention to when the invasion of the USSR began in the summer of 1941. Despite their technologically superior means of transportation, the Nazi army fought (and lost to) the same enemy – the Russian geography and climate were every bit as fierce as the Red Army.
The pride of the Blitzkrieg, the German tanks, constantly got trapped in quagmires and the rest of the mechanized divisions. History repeated itself – on a larger scale and with an unprecedented impact. Despite having the apparent advantages of horsepower and aircraft, the conditions on the ground rolled the dice.
On the other hand, Russians, being accustomed to their country’s particularities, have devised clever solutions to counter the attritions of Mother Nature. Some of the weirdest self-powered vehicles in the world bear the ‘Made in Russia’ stamp – from the ZIL E-167 6x6 behemoth to pretty much anything else with wheels, tracks, wings, propellers, and pistons. Naturally, evolving in such a demanding habitat sharpens minds and develops skills not commonly found elsewhere.
Take the city of Novosibirsk, in the south of Siberia, relatively close to Mongolia. That’s where the general headquarters of Garage 54 is located. You might have heard or seen them before – they have an insatiable appetite for everything automotive – on the ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ side. Over the years, these YouTubers have devised, built, and tested several piston-powered contraptions, ranging from outrageously abstract to downright genius.
They developed a portal axle Lada with chain-driven rear wheels (the notorious Soviet-built automobile inspired by a FIAT is a rear-wheel drive machine). After installing a levitating tensegrity suspension on a similar test mule of a Lada, they discovered it had quite a wobbly road stance (primarily due to insufficiently calculated engineering).
So this time, they didn’t tamper with the factory-installed suspension, steering, or transmission. Instead, they welded solid vertical H-beams to the front suspension knuckles. For the rear, they went for a more sophisticated approach, given the drive assembly. Another pair of H-beams was bolted to the axle housing. To transmit the motion to the wheels, a sprocket is welded to the axle shaft and a corresponding one at the other end of the 12-inch (300 mm) steel beam.
And don’t call the Russian team of vlogging mechanics ‘armchair engineers’ – they hate it. Not the name, the armchair – see the heightened Lada drive over said piece of furniture, just to see if it will clear. With around 20 inches of ground clearance (around half a meter), the Soviet symbol of personal transportation crushed it. Again, the armchair, not the challenge. I guess Napoleon and Hitler should have thought twice before pushing their armies across the Russian borders.