ZAZ 1102 Tavria

1988 was a happy year for some. For the Soviet Union, the mighty Buran shuttle was launched, Estonia declared itself a sovereign state of its own, and Mikhail Gorbachev's economic restructuring, known as Perestroika, began.

For the sturdy eastern republic of Ukraine, all three of these were significant. Ukraine at that point was a significant industrial powerhouse for the Soviet Union, having constructed not only the magnificent Buran shuttle itself (twice the size of America's shuttles) but also the Antonov-225, the shuttle carrier and world's largest aircraft. It was also home to a significant number of the Soviet's vehicle manufacturers - KrAZ, LAZ, LuAZ and ZAZ, and was rightfully considered a Rather Important Area. It also had some making up to do over the rather embarrasing Chernobyl incident.

All that productivity would see its end with Perestroika. No more Five Year Plans, no more planned economies; things would come down to an almost-Western supply and demand style economy, where factories only produce what the market can afford to buy. And there wasn't exactly a huge demand for space shuttles, or 600-tonne-capacity planes in the domestic market. As cool as it would be to go to the local cabbage shop in a six-turbined Antonov, what people really wanted was cheap, economic, reliable transport and the available model, the air-cooled rear-engined ZAZ-965, was by then a shuddering monstrosity of '50s technology in a 70's shell. ZAZ needed something modern, new, technologically comparible to the market economies it would be competing with, if it had any hope of weathering the economical reforms.

By "modern" of course I mean "what Ford did with the Fiesta ten years previously." Enter the ZAZ 1102 Tavria, a wedgy little box with a 1.1 litre engine, squirting out 51hp was competitive with its micro-class companions like the Talbot Sunbeam or Lada Samara; the little ZAZ had McPherson Struts and a five-speed gearbox, technical revolutions for a country like the Ukraine. In its defense, it was planned at the end of the 1970s, but deemed at that point "unnecessary" for the grand old USSR, and temporarily shelved. The financial demands of Perestroika, however, brought it back off the shelves and into the factories, where it was churned out alongside the old ZAZ-968 until that model was retired in 1994.

Of course, with Estonia getting riled about its status in 1988, and the other satellite countries in the Union grumbling, it wouldn't be long before the Soviet Union collapse would shake Ukraine's economic might to its foundations, and despite its productivity, ZAZ wouldn't escape the fallout; with its protecting overlords running for the hills, the company had little room to manouvre in terms of development. The little ZAZ Tavria therefore remained in production for the next twenty years, spawning a booted version (the Slawuta), an estate (the Dana) and even high-body Courier-style vans and pickups.

There's no surprise this little model has ended up in Warsaw - being only 200km from the border, the economical little runaround would have no qualms bouncing its way through the crumbling heartland of post-Soviet Poland. Even less so when you consider it stands only 5km away from the FSO factory, owned 20% by parent company UkrAVTO... who coincidentally own ZAZ too.