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A Look Back: Classic Cold War Era

Cars of the CCCP and the


Eastern Bloc
Posted on 13/07/2009

by James Kraus

Coat of Arms of the former USSR (CCCP)

As a light rain falls outside on a chilly and moonless night in Berlin, I find myself sitting in the
front room of the Café Adler on the corner of Friedrichstrabe and Zimmerstrabe, just a few
meters from what was once Checkpoint Charlie. Men and women crossing through this notorious
portal once faced life-changing or indeed, life threatening circumstances. Visitors to the East
sometimes found that they could check in but not check out.

I invite you to throw on your trench coat, turn the collar up and join me for a glass of
Kirschwasser as I travel back in time to the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Philby Affair
and the Portland Spy Ring.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin. 19 August 1961


While literary and cinematic secret agents of the West like James Bond and John Drake travelled
in sleek and sporting Bentleys, Aston Martins, Sunbeam Alpines and Mercedes SL’s, real life
undercover operatives mostly drove around in much more prosaic machinery more suitable to the
fictional Harry Palmer and George Smiley.

Nowhere was this truer than in the Eastern Block where agents had to get by with vehicles
generally several years behind their Western equivalents. Here is a sampling of the vehicles that
were at their disposal.

>
Russian KGB
Depending on the mission at hand, operatives of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti
(KGB) had a number of vehicles from which to choose. For light reconnaissance work or
information gathering, a low level agent carrying little but a 7.62 Torkarev sidearm could utilize a
light and manoeuverable Zaporoschez.

Zaporoschez G-200

The Zaporoschez ZAZ G-200 was powered by a 750cc V4 air-cooled rear-engine, and was
roughly the size of a Fiat 600.

If First Directorate Department IV and V operatives had to enter the West toting ricin pellets,
umbrella guns and other tools of the trade, they would most likely rely on a roomier and more
powerful Moskvitch or Volga to execute their mission.
Moskvitch 407

The Moskvitch 400 Series were initially powered by 1220 and 1360 cc pushrod inline fours. In
the late 1960’s, the 412 was introduced, powered by a 1500 cc engine with an overhead camshaft
and pent-roof combustion chambers derived heavily from the design of the 1963 BMW 1500. The
400 series was one of the best known of the Eastern Bloc cars. In addition to being marketed in
Western Europe, the 412 was entered into major international rallies, finishing 20th and 22nd in
the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon and 12th in the 1970 London-Mexico World Cup Rally.

Because of its relative commonality in Western Europe, an agent driving a Moskvitch could
easily rendezvous with deep-cover assets on long-term assignment fromDirectorate
S (intelligence acquisition) or Directorate T (scientific and technical resource branch) without
drawing undo attention.
A larger alternative to the Moskovitch was the 2.5 litre GAZ-21 M Volga.

GAZ 21 M Volga

If a small team of agents armed with PPSh-41’s with 35-round magazines was needed to carry
out an assassination or other wet work and enough luggage space was needed to extract the
evidence, they would likely requisition a larger GAZ-13 Chaika (Seagull) with its powerful 6.0
litre V8, pushbutton-controlled automatic transmission and enough luggage space to
accommodate the remains of two or three ex-enemy agents.
GAZ 13 Chaika

The extravagantly baroque Chaika was also an appropriately flamboyant showcase vehicle with
which to ferry agents in style to the Glienicke Bridge outside Berlin for high profile prisoner
exchanges with the West.

Approach to Glienicke Bridge in the early 1960’s. U.S. spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers and American student

Frederic Pryor were exchanged here for Soviet intelligence officer Vilyam Fisher on 10 February, 1962.

A small number of mid-range GAZ 24’s were built specifically as KGB pursuit vehicles with a
5.5 litre version of the mighty Chaika V8 in lieu of their normal 2.5 four inherited from the 21 M.

>
East German Stasi
When Stasi (MfS) agents entered the West through the very crossing at which I now overlook,
they often crossed the border behind the wheel of the infamous two-stroke Sachsenring Trabant
with its bodywork constructed of Duraplast phenolic resin reinforced with strands of cotton fibre.

1963 Sachsenring Trabant P 60

The acrid exhaust of the two-stroke engine would handily serve to keep following vehicles
(usually Mercedes 180 Pontons, driven by West German BfV agents) at a far enough distance to
easily miss a package tossed out the window at a secluded dead drop.
Wartburg 311 Coupé

A step up was the Wartburg 311. The 311 had plenty of space for a couple of Karabiner S
carbines or an SVD Dragunov sniper rifle with telescopic sight and extended stock. A three-
cylinder 2-stroke engine powered the Wartburg, driving the front wheels. The chassis was well
designed, with upper and lower A-arms in the front and semi-trailing arms at the rear combined
with a rear anti-roll bar.

Stasi agents on a really tight time schedule would prefer carrying out operations in the more
powerful Sachsenring P240.

Sachsenring P240 in the 1966 spy film, “Funeral in Berlin”

The P240 was powered by the prewar Horch 2.4 six-cylinder engine.

>
Czechoslovakian Státní Bezpenost (StB)
The Tatra 603 was the most technically intriguing Communist Bloc vehicle. The Tatras were
often used by high level StB controllers to travel from headquarters in Prague to rendezvous with
field agents in Vienna while toting 7.65 Skorpion vz. 61 machine pistols and booby-trapped
microfilm canisters.
Tatra 603

The 603, with its 2.5 litre rear-mounted air-cooled V8 and all-independent suspension was a good
choice to hustle along either highways or war-ravaged back roads.

Škoda Octavia Touring Sport

If an agent wanted a more discreet vehicle, a variety of Škodas were available, like this 1963 1.2
litre twin-carburettor Octavia Touring Sport. Škodas were noteworthy among small front-engine
rear-drive cars for featuring independent rear suspension.

>
Polish 2nd Directorate Wojskowa Stuzba Wewnetrzna (WSW)
Agents of the WSW shouldered 9 mm CZAK P-64 sidearms and slid into trusty FSO Warszawa
202 and 223 sedans to get the job done.

Warszawa 202
The 200-Series were powered by 2.1 litre 4 cylinder engines and were available in the original
fastback (202) or later notchback (223) body styles.

If you are in the mood to immerse yourself into the gritty cold war milieu of the fifties and
sixties, I can heartily recommend watching the aforementioned Funeral in Berlin along withThe
Ipcress File of 1965, both starring Michael Caine as agent Harry Palmer, a character created in
the espionage books by Len Deighton. These films were produced by Harry Saltzman (of James
Bond fame) and were meant to be a tougher and more realistic series of spy films. They were.
Two others bear mention: Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) with Richard Burton, based on
the John le Carré novel and The Quiller Memorandum (1966) with George Segal and Alec
Guinness, based on the book by Adam Hall. Porsche aficionados in particular will enjoy this one
as Quiller (George Segal) spends a good bit of time driving around Berlin in a Ruby Red Porsche
356B T6 Cabriolet.
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This entry was posted in Porsche, Tatra by James Kraus. Bookmark the permalink.

14 THOUGHTS ON “A LOOK BACK: CLASSIC COLD WAR ERA CARS OF THE CCCP AND THE EASTERN BLOC”

1. Aurick on 14/07/2009 at 1:11 PM said:

I remember James Bond getting picked up at the airport by Jack Wade in the rear-engine
Zazporoschez ZAZ in Goldeneye!

I will second the recommendation of The Quiller Memorandum. It is a top notch thriller. Shot in
widescreen color, it really captures the atmosphere of early-sixties Berlin.

Reply ↓
2. Maximilian on 15/07/2009 at 4:49 PM said:

There is another interesting but little known 1960’s spy film series starring Ken Clark as CIA
agent Dick Molloy.

They were low-budget versions of the Bond films but enjoyable on their own. They had sexy
women, great soundtracks, and made the most of numerous European shooting locales. Try to
find Mission Bloody Mary (1965) first. If you enjoy it, try From the Orient with Fury (1965) and
Special Mission Lady Chaplin (1966)

Reply ↓

3. Maestro on 21/07/2009 at 9:10 AM said:

There was also the big Russian 7-liter V8 ZIL-111 used by members of the Supreme Soviet and
the Politburo. It was built in limousine and cabriolet versions, many being armored. A turquoise
111 Cabriolet was used to parade Yuri Gagarin (the first human in space) around Moscow in
1961 when he returned from orbit.

At the 2001 G8 Summit in Italy, Vladimir Putin rolled into town in none other than the black
1963 ZIL-111 formerly used by Nikita Khrushchev, immaculately restored down to the period
correct whitewall tires!

Reply ↓

4. Hans1 on 22/07/2009 at 10:48 AM said:

Putin seems to be somewhat of a classic car enthusiast. Recall that back in 2005, he and George
Bush drove around Moscow in a restored Volga 21. The press reported it as a 1956, but based on
the grille, it appears to be a 1958 or newer Series 2 with the M-21 OHV engine.
Here is a photo:

Reply ↓

5. Kjell on 23/07/2009 at 8:01 AM said:

The Volga 21 enjoyed a large share of the taxi market in Norway in the 1960’s.

Reply ↓

6. Declan on 25/07/2009 at 9:49 AM said:

Since the base GAZ 24 weighed only 1300 kg, it should have gotten on quite well with the 5.5
V8 under the bonnet. A KGB version of the 300SEL 6.3!

Reply ↓

7. Ian Stone on 28/07/2009 at 7:46 AM said:

Another interesting and little-known 1960’s spy film is Hitchcock’s “Topaz” which takes place in
New York City, Paris and Denmark. It covers the Cuban Missile Crisis, Russian spy rings and
more. It was based on the Leon Uris novel and features French actresses Claude Jade (from
François Truffaut’s “Stolen Kisses”) and Dany Robin as tasty ‘60’s eye candy.
Reply ↓

8. Dave on 26/10/2009 at 2:23 AM said:

That’s a brief overview!

Consider the Opels too – BXS initially used Humbers before moving on to Opels, Range Rovers
and Mercedes G Wagen to tour East Germany.
By the late 1960s, Stasi narks tried to follow them in Wartburg 353’s.

But in the Federal Republic, SOXMIS was using Opel Rekords then Asconas to tour West
Germany and tried to avoid being detained by the White Mice in diverse cars, ranging from
Humbers, Vauxhall FD 3300 Victor saloons and later on, Mk2 Granadas…

As you may imagine, I’ve spent a fair bit of time researching this…oh, and prior to the GAZ 24
with 13 motor, there were 564 GAZ M23’s built, which was M21 with 13 motor… still on single
exhaust system to not give the game away… 0-60 came down from 21 secs to around 13 – very
fast indeed for a CCCP-built car.

Reply ↓

9. Andrew Buc on 07/06/2012 at 6:43 PM said:

There was a rear-engined Škoda, the 1000MB. I imagine MB stood for Mlada Boleslav, where it
was built. But a Czech coworker once told me that in Czech, the words for “little pains” begin
with the letters MB. So the joke was that it stood for 1000 little pains.

Reply ↓
10. roy mustang on 10/01/2013 at 1:05 PM said:

That was a interesting article; thanks a lot!

Reply ↓

11. robin on 01/02/2013 at 9:53 AM said:

Great site. In the Quiller Memorandum it is George Segal, not Alec Guinness who drives the red
Porsche.

Reply ↓

o James Krauson 02/02/2013 at 9:46 AM said:


Thank you for correcting my memory; I have revised the text accordingly.

Reply ↓

12. Julian on 22/09/2014 at 6:08 AM said:

I have a railway video shot in the former East Germany in 1988 and one scene shows a Wartburg
311 coupe in mustard yellow and black, filthy dirty and it’s two stroke engine coughing and
spluttering. The video was filmed by Eisanbahn Kurier of Freiburg.

Reply ↓

13. NOUGATNARTTU on 11/05/2016 at 1:10 PM said:

My Dreamcars are IS FSO 125P, Lada 1500S 2103 and FIAT 124S
Reply ↓

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Cold War spy plane U2 on new mission to
find Taliban bombs
 MIC H A E L E V A N S

 T H E T IME S

 MA R C H 2 4, 20 10 10: 00 A M

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An undated photo of a U2 spy plane. The aircraft was used by the US in the Cold War era to fly missions over the
former Soviet Union.Source: The Australian

THE U2 spy aircraft, famed for high-altitude Cold War espionage missions over
the former Soviet Union, is enjoying a new lease of life in Afghanistan as the best
spotter of Taliban roadside bombs in the allies' arsenal.
Four years ago the Pentagon wanted to retire the aircraft, which took its first test flight
more than half a century ago. Since being fitted with new sensors and communications
equipment, however, it has become an indispensable eye-in-the-sky for Nato forces.
From its 21,300m cruising altitude its high-resolution camera is capable of spotting
slight changes in the country's dry mud paths where the Taliban often bury improvised
explosive devices (IEDs).
US military officials said that in the lead-up to the recent operation to seize Marjah in
central Helmand from the Taliban, a U2 - nicknamed Dragon Lady because of its long
wingspan - spotted almost 150 suspected bombs dug into roads and at planned
helicopter landing sites around the town.
Its success in this new role is a remarkable transformation in the fortunes of the U2. It
was designed in secrecy and began flying spy missions in 1956. In April 1960 a U2,
piloted by Gary Powers, was shot down over the Soviet Union and, during the Cuban
missile crisis in 1962, the aircraft was responsible for uncovering Soviet nuclear
missiles in Cuba.
Although it has been used in every major conflict involving the US since then, the
Pentagon believed that it had outlived its usefulness and wanted it replaced - until
Congress saved it from military obsolescence.
The U2 has since acquired a reputation in Afghanistan for spotting bombs that ground
patrols might otherwise have missed.
The Taliban have become adept at hiding bombs and explosives. They have taken to
throwing water over the site where a bomb or IED has been buried which, after being
baked in the sun, helps to remove all signs of soil disturbance.
"Earth disturbance is one crucial way of uncovering buried IEDs. The U2 can take a
series of images and then check one lot of pixels against another lot to detect changes
above and below the surface," a defence specialist said.
Although the skies over Afghanistan are full of drones, the black U2s still have the
old-fashioned advantage of having a person at the controls. "The point about the U2 is
that it has a pilot on board who can react to what he is seeing and the camera
equipment he has produces phenomenal imagery," the defence specialist added.
The U2's main surveillance equipment, SYERS-2 - or senior year electro-optic
reconnaissance system - is an advanced digital camera. The pilot also has a
communications system through which he can pass real-time images and information
to commanders on the ground.
Some of the remaining 33 U2s are expected to continue flying over Afghanistan for
several more years, even though their replacement - the remote-controlled Global
Hawk drone - is already being used in the region.