The one proper soviet car that never came to be
The Moskvitch 408 "Tourist" concept was a fascinating attempt for the soviets to create a desirable car.
The story of the 408 lineage
The Moskvitch 408 was built by AZLK to improve on the second generation 407. It had a longer wheel base, the rear lights were designed to look like the rear lights of the BMW 700 . . and that's about it. It got a facelift in 1967 with a new front grill and a new logo. It used a conventional rear-wheel drive and it was powered by a 1357 cc overhead valve straight-four, producing 50 hp (37 kW). There was also a diesel option that arrived in 1968 with a 1760 cc Perkins engine, producing 60 hp (44 kW). The car was fairly light at around 945 kg (2,083 lb) and was initially equipped with self-adjusting manual drum brakes, then from 1969 with power brakes with a hydrovacuum servo and a split circuit braking system.
The concept was ridiculed internally for being a too obvious copy of a US cars from the back with the vertical tail lights.
The concept that never was
At that time soviet manufacturer AZLK was making every single possible variant of the Moskvitch - from saloons to estates to three-door cargo vans and even had some aspirations to produce an SUV version for the isolated rural areas with no roads, to replace the usual mode of transportation - a tractor with a trailer. But what the engineers in AZLK were really seeing in their heads was a joy-ride, so they created two concept cars on the same platform that were neither wanted or planned. Pictured above and below the concept was a two-door fastback convertible with a removable hard top, inspired by the capitalist West, with unusable rear seats, lower roof, stiffer back springs and faster steering rack. The body was now made entirely out of aluminium, so it was even lighter and stiffer. The engine was now using electronically controlled fuel injection system, producing 54 hp (+4) and the rear-wheel drive system was tweaked to behave better at cornering. It was a bold proposition, but it was never approved due to the immense struggle at the factory to produce enough cars to satisfy the demand. After all, the 408 was a cheap car and it was incredibly popular in the Warsaw Pact countries. It was so popular in fact that it had 11 years of production, in four factories - ALZK and IZh in USSR (today's Russia), Scaldia-Volga in Belgium and Balkancar in Bulgaria.
With the roof down
The elephant in the room
By far the biggest issue with the concept was the hard top. The engineers never really found their way around the problem of storing it anywhere near the car. Worse still, in order for the roof and the back window to be light, the engineers used thin (and soft) aluminium, making the top so prone to bending, they couldn't fit it back on the car when they first tried. And when they've attempted to demonstrate the conversion to a convertible to their bosses, the hard top bended enough to release the back window, which fell on the ground and broke. The decision was quickly made not to mass-produce it. Only two cars were ever built and one is still surviving, pictured below in 2019 in absolutely mint condition as part of a private collection in Russia.
The last surviving specimen, pictured in 2019