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This Long Dead Russian Carmaker Just Returned From the Crypt, Here's Its Bizarre Story
The Russian Federation is one crazy place to be at the moment. The reasons why should be self-evident and need not be re-hashed for the umpteenth time. What matters about the circumstances in Russia from an automotive perspective is that Western brands are out, and a flood of long decades-old Russian brands are in.

This Long Dead Russian Carmaker Just Returned From the Crypt, Here's Its Bizarre Story

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One of the most prominent revivals of long-dead Soviet automotive brands is Moskvich. Named for a Russian slang of sorts that roughly translates into "a proud citizen of Moscow" or "Muscovite," a bit like what a New Yorker or a Philadelphian is to their own native cities. News began making the rounds in November 2022 that the brand was initiating production of brand new Moskvitch models on the property of a former Renault production plant that was sold to the Moskow government in May 2020 for "one symbolic ruble," as the French automaker stated.

But why Moskvitch? What about the brand do the powers that be in Russia see as a desirable replacement for recently departed Western vehicles? Well, the answer needs the context of the history behind the brand to uncover. Founded under the direct orders of the Kremlin in 1930, the iconic factory in which Moskvitch's were made was completed the year prior.

Though the newly formed AZLK manufacturer, the makers of the Moskvitch brand, wasn't the first Soviet automotive design bureau, they were certainly inspired by them. The NAMI-1 became the first natively designed Soviet passenger automobile in 1927, but it failed to be a success. By the 1940s, AZLK was manufacturing a car more fitting of the title of the first successful Soviet passenger car, the KIM 10-51, under license in their factory. Of course, the 10-51 itself was a rough copy of the British Ford Prefect.

After World War II, AZLK commenced production of their own bespoke passenger cars. Doing so with the benefit of a newly "acquired" East German Opel factory that had survived the war. Using the schematics left over from the Opel Kadet/Olympia K38 platform, the company built the Moskvitch 400-420 starting in December 1946. From then on, Moskvitch would grow to become one of the more recognizable names in Soviet automobiles.

This notoriety was to the point where its existence was even somewhat known in the United States thanks to their en-masse export to nearby Cuba. Perhaps the most famous vehicle to come from the Moskvitch brand was the 412 full-sized sedan and its lower-trimmed sibling, the 408. A car that's about as polarizing as the brand itself.

To quote from the famous Eastern European vlogger Life of Boris's humorous review of a Moskvitch 412, "The base configuration comes with not one, but two completely functioning windscreen wipers, which you can use to clean off any wildlife that you have hit. And in front, there are two-directional lanterns that you can use to illuminate a target that you are driving towards. And you will hit because the breaks are completely made of pancakes."

Of course, that video was no doubt played up quite a bit for the camera. In truth, there is a small but very dedicated fanbase of old Moskvitch cars, the 412 and 408 especially. This fandom exists most notably in ex-communist nations where a generation of citizens either grew up in the back of one or was able to drive one themselves.

In the 80s and 90s, the brand was defined by their Moskvitch-2141, also called the Aleko. Admittedly, this Aleko was one of the more refined and sophisticated designs to originate from an AZLK design team. In 1991, the AZLK iteration of Moskvitch was reorganized into the OAO Moskvitch firm in 1991, lasting until 2001. Its final passenger car before OAO Moskvitch's bankruptcy was the 2142. A mid-sized sedan with the option of a two-liter, four-cylinder Renault engine.

And thus, that brings us to 2022. Safe to say, the Russian Federation is a far different paradigm than it was in the days of the 412 or even the 2142. It's a time in which Russia is so starved for native brand notoriety that even the Mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, expressed his support for the Moskvitch brand to return and return it did. Doing so with the Moskvitch 3 crossover SUV. A vehicle that appears to be identical to a Chinese JAC Sehol X4. More information on the facts and figures of the Moskvitch 3 have yet to be revealed.

Using drivetrain components delivered from China and body panels that admittedly do a good job of bringing old Soviet design cues into the 21st century, the end result is nothing short of bizarre. Given the circumstances, it's tough to gauge exactly how appealing a brand like Moskvitch could be to native Russians. But with the remaining western vehicles in the country now more valuable than most homes, it appears citizens won't have much choice soon.


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