On this day in 1918, the Moscow Automobile Society (AMO) became a state-owned entity. The car manufacturer – Russia’s oldest – was established in 1916 by two entrepreneurial brothers. The company would go on to become one of the largest in the Soviet Union and a symbol of Soviet industry.
When the company was first established, they licensed blueprints from Italian automaker Fiat. Their first trucks were identical to those made by Fiat, except for their red color.
The most notable creation of the AMO (which had, by then, been renamed the Stalin Car Factory) was its first luxury car, which it built for Josef Stalin in 1943. The car, designed specifically for the security-obsessed dictator, weighed almost 7 tons. It could reach speeds of 75 miles per hour and required special high-octane fuel that was manufactured especially for the vehicle. It featured 220 pound, 3 inch thick bulletproof windows which could only be opened or closed with the assistance of a special hydraulic axle jack. The body’s steel shell was tested on firing ranges to ensure maximum protection. A total of three limos were made for his use. Even Stalin’s drivers did not know which car he would choose on a given day, and all had to be ready to go when he was ready to travel.
The car manufacturer, now known as ZIL, fell on hard times after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The company has struggled further with the global financial crisis. ZIL still makes luxury hand-built passenger cars, but they are largely unknown outside the FSU. They cost about the same as a vehicle from Maybach or Rolls-Royce, and the company produces around a dozen each year.
Check out some of the cars made during the company’s history below:
The ZIS-101, their first limo, which was based on then-contemporary Buicks.
The ZIS-110, inspired by Stalin’s many Packards.
A mid-50s model of the ZIL-111.
The ZIL-41047. The company ceased production of this model in 2002 due to the increasing preference for Western vehicles.