Wed, 29 Nov 2023

The names of Soviet cars were not pleasing to the ear: Models were simply identified by abbreviations consisting of strings of letters and numbers. But, their popular nicknames could reveal much more about the different makes of cars.

VAZ-2101 - 'Kopeika' (aka 'Kopek')

Dmitry Donskoy/Sputnik

The VAZ-2101 was the first real "people's car", because it was the first vehicle the USSR mass produced. Initially, it was popularly known as the 'Yedinichka' ('Number One'), because it was the first, but it was another sobriquet - 'Kopeika' ('Kopek') - that really stuck. The car was one of the most affordable models, hence the reference to the Soviet currency's lowest denomination, although it still was not cheap: It cost roughly 5,600 Soviet rubles (1.36 million rubles in today's values) at a time when the average salary in the country was 100-150 rubles a month.

VAZ-2106 - 'Shestyorka' or 'Shakha' (aka 'Number Six')

Andrey Solomonov/Sputnik

This automobile saw the light of day in 1976 and was a modification of earlier VAZ models. Its nickname - 'Shestyorka' ('Number Six') - comes from the final digit of the model number. It was also called the 'Shakha', a nickname derived from criminal slang - in card games, the six of clubs was called the 'Shakha'.

UAZ-452 - 'Bukhanka' (aka 'Loaf')


The legendary UAZ-452 minivan was informally known as the 'Bukhanka' ('Loaf'), because it simply resembled a loaf of bread. Incidentally, the model is still produced (it recently marked its 65th anniversary) - and it still resembles a loaf of bread!

GAZ-M1 - 'Cherny Voronok' (aka 'Black Raven')


When one of these cars turned up in the courtyard of an ordinary Soviet apartment block, everyone knew something bad was about to happen. The GAZ-M1 was the favorite vehicle of operatives of the NKVD (precursor to the KGB) and got its nickname at the height of the 'Red Terror' period in 1937. According to one theory, it was nicknamed 'Cherny Voronok' ('Raven' or, more literally, 'Little Raven'), because of the popular belief that the cawing of ravens brings bad luck and, since the first models of the car were only available in black, this gloomy association became firmly attached to the car.

VAZ-2107 - 'KhBM' (aka 'I want to be a Mercedes')

Vsevolod Tarasevich/Sputnik

A large number of Soviet cars got their nicknames from the final digit of the model number. The VAZ-2107 was simply known as a 'Semyorka' ('Number Seven'). But, another nickname also attached itself to it: 'KhBM', the abbreviation for "Khochu byt Mersedesom" ("I want to be a Mercedes"). The car got this strange name owing to the appearance of its large chrome-plated radiator grille, which resembles the grille on Mercedes-Benz models.

VAZ-2108 - 'Zubilo' (aka 'Chisel')

V. Knyazev/Sputnik

The VAZ-2108 was designed in close collaboration with German automobile concern Porsche and was also the first VAZ model with front-wheel drive. The design was developed by Porsche, so it differed considerably from previous Soviet-made cars. The 'Zubilo' ('Chisel') nickname derived from the car's tapered, wedge-like chassis.

GAZ-69 - 'Bobik' (aka 'Bobby')

Vadim Kondratyev (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Almost all Soviet off-roaders were popularly known as 'Bobik' and the most commonly-encountered model was the GAZ-69. There are several theories to explain the nickname: One is that a lot of collective farmers were very annoyed when people drove across their fields in such a vehicle and used to say that it was charging around the place like a 'bobik' (the word 'bobik' was frequently used for guard dogs and strays). According to another theory, it was because the GAZ-69 was frequently used by the police, who also shared the nickname 'bobik'. This model also had a lesser common nickname - 'Kozlik' ('Little Goat') - owing to the fact that, even on small bumps, the vehicle would bounce sharply high into the air.

ZIL-111 - 'Chlenovoz' (aka 'Member Carrier')

Archive of Valentin Khukhlaev / © Lumiere Gallery/Russia in photo

This extra-long car resembling a limousine was used by top-ranking party members, so the edgy nickname 'Chlenovoz' (literally 'Member Carrier'!) was devised for it. The designers who worked on the ZIL-111 tried to copy the most popular foreign models: Cadillac, Chrysler and Lincoln. The Soviet version was only made to order and the most advanced technology of the time was employed in its manufacture. For instance, a built-in air conditioning system could only be found in this ZIL model.

All Zaporozhets cars were known as 'Zapor' (aka 'Constipation')

Vladimir Akimov/Sputnik

The Zaporozhye motor vehicle plant was one of the USSR's chief automobile concerns, but its cars didn't have an easy time. They started being popularly known by the insulting nickname 'Zapor' (which, among other meanings, is the Russian word for 'constipation'!). The name was, in fact, simply a short form of the plant's first model that was named the 'Zaporozhets'.

ZAZ-968 - 'Ushasty' (aka 'Big Ears')


One model manufactured by the Zaporozhye plant was lucky, however - and ended up with a more endearing nickname. The ZAZ-968 was dubbed 'Ushasty' ('Big Ears'). As the car's engine was located in the rear of the vehicle, the engineers had installed special side-mounted vents for the cooling system, through which outside air entered when the car was moving. These openings bore a strong resemblance to a pair of ears.

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