The REAF 50: A car that may have been built to scam Stalin.
And everyone involved got away with it!
This car was the brainchild of a soviet engineer named Vsevolod Bakhchivandzhi, who was the head of the Riga factory at the time. At least I think so. All the information I can find on this thing is in Russian, and Google Translate is... less than perfect. But Vsevolod was definitely an interesting guy. He has been described as an adventurer, and a brilliant inventor who never stopped inventing until his death. And it has been suggested that this car, the REAF-50, was created by him as a way to scam Joseph Stalin without harming anyone involved.
The Riga factory had access to better equipment and funding than most Soviet factories at the time, and the government had poured considerable amounts of money into the development of a car to be produced there, yet nothing ever came of it. It came to a point where they were considering cutting funding, but in desperation, Vsevolod attempted to convince them to fund the creation of a subcompact luxury car with an automatic transmission, which could be air-dropped into battle. Somehow, he actually succeeded (some suggest hypnotism was involved), and the funding was secured. But there was a catch: The project started in July, and the working prototype was expected in October!
The car was plagued with problems during development, with every design decision seeming to be the wrong one. Whether this was intentional or not is up for debate. Despite having the appearance of a front-engined car, the engine was placed in the rear, where it drove the car through a unique hydraulic automatic transmission developed specifically for this car. The design team couldn't find a suitable engine for the project and didn't have time to design one, so they took the four-cylinder engine from the GAZ-AA truck and cut it in half, creating a two-cylinder engine with about 30 hp.
After one revision of the initial four-door prototype, the car was dubbed the REAF-50, and two prototypes were made, one as a convertible and the other as a coupe. At this point, the deadline was coming up so fast that they had to test-drive the cars ON THE WAY to the exhibition! During the journey, it became apparent that the hydraulic automatic transmission was extremely rough. The cars did not drive well at all.
When several military officials and engineers got to inspect the car and decide whether it should be produced, they were appalled. They found that access to the engine was so poor that to do any maintenance at all would require taking the whole car apart! The transmission was also extremely unreliable, meaning that presumably the car would have to be disassembled often. In addition to that, the car's construction would've made it difficult to mass-produce affordably.
The REAF-50's creators were sent home with no contract for production. On the way, the convertible broke down, and they decided to simply leave it behind. The abandoned prototype was never seen again. Vsevolod was soon transferred to a different job.
The coupe was apparently gifted to a kindergarten, and was preserved, albeit in very bad shape. As for why it was gifted to a kindergarten, I can only assume it was because cars were hard to come by in the Soviet union (some could have a waiting list of 10 years, if you were even allowed to order one), so someone decided that if they have this car they're not using, even if it's a crappy car, it should go to someone who could use a car. But it allowed the car to survive to the present, and it has now been partially restored and is on display at the Riga museum.