- ZIL-4102 - Credit: Dmitry Mehedov

The last Soviet attempt to challenge Mercedes

It was never mass-produced, but is still regarded today as been a worthy competitor to the German executive saloons of that era

Last of a dying breed

Along with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the unique developments of factory designers, sports cars and "Motherland" car enthusiasts have sunk into oblivion. Even today in the connected age it's becoming increasingly difficult to restore history and find a reliable information for those models. The ZIL-4102 executive class car did not have a chance to go into production. Very little information on this executive saloon has survived.

The story goes that the car was developed at the request of the last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev. The promising limousine was supposed to replace the "outdated" five-seater ZIL-41041 saloon. In 1985, a new Rolls Royce Silver Spirit was purchased to serve as a basis. In 1987, the ZIL workshop manufactured one prototype of the ZIL-4102, followed by two more in 1989. It was planned that a whole family of cars would be built on the platform of this model. However, Gorbachev did not like the new development. There was no money to fine-tune the car and after one more prototype in late 1990/early 1991 the project was canceled.

Identity crisis

Despite the fact that Rolls Royce was used as an "inspiration", the exterior and interior design were carried out with an eye firmly towards the American cars. The vehicle was very similar to the 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Limousine - low shoulder line, flat headlights and sides. Seen from the side, the shape of the windows resembles the Volvo models of those years. That's not surprising, because Swedish cars were held in high esteem in the Soviet Union. Compared to its monumental predecessor ZIL-41041, the new saloon looked more . . democratic. There was a good reason for that - according to the marketing team, it was meant to compete in the foreign markets with the likes of Mercedes-Benz W126, Mercedes-Benz W123 as well as Audi 10.

As for the powertrain, there was a choice of four different engines - 4.5L V6, 6.0L V8, a huge 7.7L V8 used in the Chairman's ZIL limousine and even a 7.0L V8 diesel option. The diesel remained as planned, but even a prototype was never build. The giant petrol V8 was pushing 315 hp and could accelerate the heavy beats to 100 kph in just 10.5 seconds. The fuel economy was a horrific by today's standards 18 to 21 litres per 100 km (11/13 mpg). There was also a choice between a 5-speed manual and a 4-speed automatic gearbox. No weight was officially ever mentioned, it is known that it was a monocoque, unlike most big ZIL limousines and it was "a ton less" than them. The intriguing bit was that the engineers were actually working to actively keep the weight down and so the roof panels, the floor, the trunk lid, the bonnet and the bumpers were all made of fibreglass. Even just before of the Soviet Union, this many fibreglass elements were unheard of in any "homemade" cars.

ZIL-4102 - Credit: Dmitry Mehedov

ZIL-4102 - Credit: Dmitry Mehedov

Chairman's luxury for the masses

Inside, there were no crazy folding seats, so all the luxury was available for only four people, including the driver. The split rear seats were electrically adjustable, a ceiling-mounted lights, a separate air conditioning zone with a control panel, even the floor had hinged footrests for the back passengers. The front seats were still divided by a wide central tunnel. As a result, all four sat in the corners of a huge suede interior with a leopard-like carpets and wood paneling. Power windows, an electronically tuned radio, a CD player and a 10-speaker speaker system are nothing special today, but don't forget that it was the late 1980s. The car was equipped with an on-board computer with a speech synthesiser. As in previous ZIL models, to ensure reliability, some of the units and electrical systems of the car were cleverly duplicated for redundancy.

To have an even more competitive product for the Western market, ZIL were even allowed to introduce different models and trim levels. There were three different models planned - a four-door family saloon, a four-door touring saloon and a two-door touring coupe. All three had very similar standard options, except for the standard engines and transmissions for both the touring coupe and touring saloons.

Spoiled for choice

Not really. There were only two trim levels for all three models. Base interior trim on the family saloons was composed of an AM/FM radio/tape player, suede seats and head liner, two-way power bench (only the family saloons had benches), adjustable rear bench, power windows, power locks, heating and ventilation, power steering, 4.5L V6 engine, front disc brakes and rear drums (family saloon exclusive). The second trim level on the family saloon contained the features on the base trim but added leather seats, air conditioning and the 6.0L V8.

The touring saloon and coupe's base trim was almost identical to the family saloons except that they offered leather seats as standard, 4-way front bucket seats, 6,000 rpm tachometer, 6.0L V8, 5-speed manual transmission (standard on the coupe only), front and rear disc brakes. The second trim level focused mainly on the drivetrain offering a slightly tuned version of the 6.0L V8 with about 15 more horse power, a bit more torque and tighter shift ratios for the manual. It isn't clear where the bigger engines and the CD player would've slotted in.

ZIL-4102 - Credit: Dmitry Mehedov

ZIL-4102 - Credit: Dmitry Mehedov

Dark fate

During the existence of the USSR, a unique team of designers of representative cars was formed at ZIL and even their own school was created. However, the difficult situation at the plant in the early 1990s did not allow the development of passenger cars to continue.

β€œWe can only hope for rich patriots with philanthropic inclinations.”

Unfortunately, they were not found. According to eyewitnesses, the very first ZIL-4102 was last seen live in 1997 on the territory of the plant and in 2000 the car was re-registered with the traffic police. Nothing else is known about his fate. The second car belongs in a museum now while the faith of the remaining two vehicles in unknown.

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