In 1940s, people in the Soviet Union were able to buy two cars: ZIS-110 (for the higher class) and GAZ-M20 Pobeda (for the lower class). So, when the Soviet government saw a gap between these two models, they requested a production of a 6-seater car (3 rows of 2 seats) for the middle class. The project started in 1948 and two years later, the ZIM was born. Its name stood for "Zavod Imeni Molotova" or "The Molotov factory".
Not a copy
Even though some sources (especially Wikipedia) claim that ZIM was a rebadged American car, that is not true. ZIM was made entirely out of scratch, and it was the world's first unibody limousine with 3 rows of seats. The chassis was borrowed from the M-20 Pobeda, and by making it frameless, the head designer Andrei Lipgart reduced the weight of the car by 200kg. That meant that ZIM didn't need a very powerful engine.
Smooth...like a glove
So, the 3.8-litre straight-6 engine was borrowed from a truck GAZ-63, now producing 95 HP (25 HP more than in the truck). But apart from the frameless chassis, ZIM was also the first Soviet car to come with a hydraulic clutch. Instead of being connected to the flywheel, the clutch was connected to the crankshaft, powering the coupling located at the rear. This solution gave it a much smoother driving start, which was very important thing for cars used by the government officials.
The hydraulic clutch also gave it a smooth ride without any unnecessary constant gear changes. For example, many drivers were starting off with 2nd gear, which allowed them to drive between 0 and 80 km/h without any problems, thus saving one gear change in order to have a smoother ride.
A very cool feature of this car was the hood, which was made out of one piece of sheet metal, and could open on both left or right side. Also, if you wanted, you could take take it off completely by just unhooking it on both sides.
On 15th February 1950, ZIM was presented to Stalin, who liked it so much that he immediately approved the production of it. The first ZIM rolled of the production line on 13th October 1950, and for the next 10 years, it was a dream car for many Soviet citizens.
Every car badge represents something that is significant for the company, either the founder's name or the symbol of a country. ZIM's badge looks very beautiful, but what does it actually represent? Well, the deer is the symbol of the Gorki city (now called Nizni Novgorod), and above it is a representation of the Kremlin wall, painted in red. The top of the badge is actually a Kremlin tower with a red star standing high, showing the power of Communism.
Not for everyone
At that time, if you wanted a ZIM, you had to be very rich. Most people could barely save up 9.000 Russian Rubles to buy a Moskvich 401, so when ZIM showed up with a price of 40.000 Russian Rubles, it's no wonder that only the government officials could have it. In fact, the officials were so obsessed with having a ride in it, they were often criticized by a satirical magazine "Krokodil". This magazine made a serial called "Stop! It's red!" in which they made fun of how every head honcho of the state worries more about getting his ZIM rather than focusing on the society.
"The Memory Remains"
However, the chaos of having a ZIM soon came to end as the officials found their new dream car, ZIM's successor GAZ-13 Chaika. When that happened, they started selling their ZIM's to "ordinary" people, meaning that ZIM could finally be a privately-owned car. But, that wasn't bad, because many owners took good care of this beauty, and a lot of ZIM's are in a good shape even today. The models made from 1957 didn't wear ZIM badges, since the Molotov factory was shut down. For the next 3 years, it was being made as GAZ-12.
The production ended in 1960, after 21.527 units made. The last ZIM featured a duo-tone paintjob and is currently resting in the GAZ factory museum. The workers even refused to put a GAZ badge on it, saying that ZIM logos would be better for this little piece of history. It shows that a car may lose its name, but peoples' hearts will never forget it.
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