The 5 Best Soviet Cars of All Time (5 That Are Death Traps)

The Soviet Union will never come to mind when talking about high-end cars. As a communist power and devoting most of its resources to the military, the USSR did not consider high-class cars for the masses a priority. So many Soviet cars were built for the best possible price and ignored things like safety features or even a properly functioning car.

Yet sometimes the Soviet bloc produced surprisingly good automobiles. Keep in mind that even the best Soviet cars can make a Vega look like a Lamborghini in terms of power and not style, but some might still be surprisingly good compared to the disasters nations of the era produced. These are five of the best Soviet cars ever made and five of the worst to recall the mixed bag of the USSR auto industry.

ten Worst: Lada Oka

It’s harder to be more avoidable than a car openly dubbed the “death capsule.” Also known as the VAZ-1111, it was one of the last cars built before the collapse of the Soviet Union and shows how scarce resources were at the time.

Originally intended to be driven by people with physical disabilities, the Oka itself seemed to have the worst possible body, capable of collapsing just by encountering another parked car. Being something of a good seller for its time, the Oka is also one of the worst cars in Russian history.

9 Best: Melkus RS 1000

It may not be the most powerful car, but the “Ferrari of the East” not only looked cool (well, by Soviet standards), but was also one of their best sports car attempts.

Yes, the 90hp 3-cylinder 2-stroke engine might make Ferrari fans laugh, but the styling was great with the gullwing doors. The transaxle sent power to the rear wheels properly, and it was firmer than most Soviet offerings to make it the closest Soviet-era owners can get to a Ferrari.

8 Worst: SMZ SIL1

The “Invacar” program was intended to provide cars to people on welfare. That might sound nice, but it also meant that these folks had some of the worst automobiles ever on the road. The SMZ SIL1 might have been the worst of the bunch, starting with the three-wheeled design that looks more like a tub.

The “engine” delivers just four horsepower and a top speed of 18 mph. It’s on top of a weak frame that makes the car easily overturned. There’s a good reason why they literally had to give these cars to the public.

Related: 10 Weird And Ridiculous Soviet Cars America Never Had

seven Best: Lada Niva

The Lada Niva can be a divisive car, with some calling it awful and others deeming it far better than its reputation. Boasting a lightweight, unibody design at a time when most SUVs were rigidly built, the Niva also had good suspension.

It was never a fast car, but it is incredibly tough and reliable to the point that it was used in Antarctica for 15 years. The fact that it was slated for a revival proves that the Niva was a much stronger car than many claimed.

6 Worst: LuAZ 969

One of the worst excuses for a “utility vehicle” ever on the road, the LuAZ 969 was actually considered revolutionary by Soviet standards in the late 1960s. On the one hand, it was actually capable of anything -terrain and later models with sufficient power of 40 hp.

But it was also slow, difficult to handle, very uncomfortable and had no safety devices. There have also been 60 deaths attributed to carbon monoxide leaks, making this an SUV to be avoided at all costs.

5 Best: GAZ M21 Volga

When a car is considered essential for the KGB, it indicates that it is a good Soviet product. Produced in Poland, the Volga copied the look of late 1950s American cars with a tactile body and chassis.

The four-cylinder 2.4 offered decent performance and a top speed of almost 90 mph. It also had luxury technologies such as reclining seats, larger radio, cigarette lighter, etc. It was a popular ride, especially by police and government officials, while a later V8 upgrade provided better performance for a solid ride for the USSR.

Related: 8 Cool Soviet Sports Cars You Didn’t Know Existed

4 Worst: ZAZ 965

As one of the first mass-marketed mainstream cars for the USSR, the ZAZ 965 was a commercial success. Too bad it’s also a lousy car.

It performed fairly decently at first, but got worse over time, thanks to the cheap materials used in its construction. It had cylinders and exhaust pipes that were too short and thin which caused overheating and engine fires. It was also horribly slow, and while later models were slight improvements, the first ZAZ offering is not a car to be fondly remembered.

3 Best: ZIL-117

The rare case of a Soviet “luxury” car that lived up to its name, the ZIL-117 was an offering that felt like it was made in another country. A 1970s Soviet car with a 300 horsepower V8 was beautiful and aided by a well-built body that protected passengers.

Perhaps because it was of such high quality, only 50 were produced as the USSR simply could not afford to maintain it. But the ZIL-117 was a gem of the era to show that Russia knew how to make good cars when it tried.

2 Worst: ZAZ-1102 Tavria

A rare case of a Soviet car that enjoyed success abroad, the ZAZ-1102 Tavria had a better engine than its predecessors with around 51 hp. This is where the good stuff ends as they were made of incredibly flimsy and cheap materials.

Interiors were even cheaper, with few safety features. They have moved hundreds of thousands of people, but that’s more because of their low cost than their real success. This is yet another case of a Soviet car that belonged to a junkyard.

1 Best: Skoda 110R

Calling something the “best Soviet sports car” might not be the highest praise, but it is praise nonetheless. “The Porsche of the East” was a better car than we thought. Skoda itself is the most successful Soviet manufacturer with cars not only in former Soviet countries, but also abroad.

The 110R was an updated version of the typical Skoda sedan with a firmer 62 bhp engine and quad headlights to help it stand out. It was a good car with surprisingly stunning performance and can rank among the best cars the Soviet era has ever produced.

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