50 years ago, the project which motorized Russia


It is never easy to assess the importance of an event that happened fifty years before, especially when it refers to automotive history.

But the collaboration agreement signed between Fiat and the Soviet Ministry of industry for the construction of a car plant in what was then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (URSS), and which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, deserves to be remembered.

On August 15, 1966 in Moscow, the signature of a definitive agreement between the Ministries of Automotive Industry plus the Foreign Trade of Soviet Union and the leaders of the Turin Company, made operating a project that would directly involved thousands of people and that would lead, in a few years, to the mechanization of a Country larger and more populated than the United States, but lacking in automotive production and distribution.

The importance of the event was not so much in the construction of the plant or in its size, however important, but in the economic scope and in the political meaning of the agreement.

It was the period of the Cold War and the Vietnam War, and there were continuing tensions between the Western bloc – especially the United States – and the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union in the 60s rivaled the United States in the race for the arms and heavy industry development, it had surpassed them in the Space competition but it was very backward in terms of automotive production.


The US production was close to 10 million cars per year, the Soviet one, based mostly on Volga with an antiquated design, barely exceed 200.000 units.
Fiat alone had already reached one million cars produced in a year.

The choice to motorize the Soviet Union occurred with the advent of Kosygin and led to the creation of a huge industrial complex on the banks of Volga in Stavropol region, then renamed Togliatti.

The agreement between Fiat and the Soviet Government stated that, the Italian company, would provide a complete project for the plant and the production lines of two models, moulded on Fiat 124, modified to suit the different weather and road conditions, and acquire the necessary machinery.

The productive area was completed by the Soviets in less than 4 years and the car production started before the entire structure was completed.
With the engine speed of the Volga factory, the Soviet car production reached more than 1 million cars a year!

The plant covered more than 5 million square meters of which 1.5 million were under cover. In addiction there were 134 Km of overhead conveyors and 16,000 machine tools.

There were 157 automatic lines of mechanical processing and 15 automatic welding lines.


The cost for the construction of the entire factory was evaluated in $650 million, of which nearly 250 million used for purchases in Italy and about 55 million for the purchase of machinery in the USA, France, England, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany.

According to these data, it is possible to understand the discontent expressed by the French for not having been chosen despite the attention and the visit of General de Gaulle in Moscow during the months before the signing of the agreement and also by many American industrialists who would gladly take up position better than the ones of the Congress (that authorized the export of machine tools for the Togliatti factory only after immediate payments and severe restrictions).

Today, 50 years later, The Soviet Union no longer exists, Fiat has changed name and the Russian auto market is suffering – even more than others – of an economic crisis that in recent years has once again changed rules and behaviours.

The agreement of the century”, as defined by Italian press, the program that motorized Russia, is really far away in time.

Translated by Federica Izzo

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