Motoring as the Russians do

An Extended Test of the Moskvitch 407

Having driven British, French, Italian, German, Swedish and Czechoslovakian cars, I thought it would be interesting to discover what a Russian car is like, so Thomson and Taylor (Brooklands) Ltd., the U.K. concessionaires for Moskvitch and Volga cars, were contacted and a Moskvitch borrowed for test over a considerable distance.

This Moskvitch 407 is a 1,360-c.c. four-speed saloon somewhat akin in appearance to the former Opel, narrow of track, high-set so that it can cock a snoot at difficult cross-country motoring, with four doors and very complete equipment, so that its selling price here of tenpence over £759 inclusive of purchase tax is rather remarkable, the equipment including heater and defroster, a good radio, front seats that let down to form beds, petrol, oil and water-temperature gauges, towing hooks, coat hooks, starting handle, cleanable engine oil filter, and a tool-kit consisting of more than 30 items, including a tyre gauge and an inspection lamp. The car is also claimed to be rust, draught and dust-proof, but unfortunately screen-washers are not standard equipment.

Before attempting a detailed analysis of a car which should prove interesting to design teams in the Industry apart from prospective purchasers seeking a truly individual small family saloon, let us consider special aspects of the Moskvitch which, perhaps, stamp it as a car made in Soviet Russia.

The engine gives nothing away, for it is a compact push-rod o.h.v. unit of almost “square” cylinder dimensions-76 x 75 mm. —with a water-jacketed inlet manifold (with thermostat) below a downdraught carburetter which looks something like a Carter, a four-branch exhaust manifold, both manifolds liberally coated with silver paint, cooling assisted by a four-blade fan, and two tappet inspection covers held by wing-nuts in the valve cover. The short rigid oil dip-stick is reasonably accessible, the 12-volt 42 amp./hr. battery (fitted in this country) is set forward and high up on the near side where it is easy to top-up and keeps cool, and there are double oil filters, one of which can be cleaned by hand-operated plunger after the bonnet has been opened. Coil ignition has the coil mounted on the bulkhead, and uses both centrifugal and vacuum automatic advance and retard, with octane selector. The bonnet lid has to be propped up but the rod is well placed and easy to release. Where Russian influence does intrude is in the provision of hand-controlled radiator shutters, while an unusual feature is self-parking screen-wipers driven from the engine, so that the faster you drive the faster go the blades. The extensible radio aerial has a base tube and support within the car, which isn’t really in the way but could ladder a passenger’s nylons. Security of possessions was obviously in the designer’s mind, because to open the spacious luggage boot a little lever lying flush with the off-side of the back-seat squab has to be pulled out, after opening the door, which releases the boot lid; moreover, the petrol filler is hidden beneath the hinged rear number-plate and this plate is held by the boot-lid, so that until the latter is opened it is not possible to tamper with the fuel filler—the filler cap is secured by a length of chain. The engine is said to develop 45 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m., on a 7-to-1 compression-ratio, and 65.1 lb.ift. torque at 2,500 r.p.m. Its cooling system holds 14 pints of water, the sump 7½ pints of oil, and the fuel tank 7¾ gallons.

Apart from these aspects, and a smell of plastics or glue, the Moskvitch 407 is a conventional small car, with coil spring and double wishbone i.f.s. and underslung leaf rear springs. The three upper ratios of the four-speed box have synchromesh, the propeller-shaft is dynamically balanced, and there are, of course, hydraulic brakes and shock-absorbers. Curiously, engine lubrication is said to be by a combined force-feed and splash system.

Apart from the Moskvitch 407, there is a 410H version with increased ground clearance and four-wheel-drive (stealing a march on our Ferguson car!) and a modern-styled 423 station wagon.

For this country, Thomson and Taylor fit the tyres and battery themselves and English instruments are provided, but right-hand drive is not available. Before I tested it the Moskvitch had already been reported on in Ironmongery and Hardware.

The 407 I tested was driven in London, along Hampshire lanes, and taken for a day to Devon and back. On the last-named occasion, although sheet ice made the roads treacherous for the early part of the journey, nearly 400 miles were completed by one driver without undue fatigue.

Externally there is a two-colour scheme and wrap-round bumpers—nothing to draw attention to the car except the odd names written on it! The make-name goes across the bonnet, the badge has the word ” M3MA ” on it, the hub caps are lettered mysteriously, the bonnet motif is a silver star on a red background, and “407” occurs on the front wings.

Within the driver sits well on the left, so that three small persons could share the bench front seat for short journeys, especially as the transmission tunnel is very shallow. The seat has separate squabs, which fall back to form a bed. The seat adjustment is crude, wing nuts having to be released and holes in the seat frame dropped over studs, but, once adjusted, the seat remains secure. The seating position is high. Forward visibility is good, both wings visible; the screen pillars are of average thickness. The two-spoke steering wheel has good finger grips on the underside of the rim. There is a half horn ring, sounding a splendid Continental-note horn, beneath the wheel, where it is less likely to be operated inadvertently. The self-cancelling flashers are controlled by a tiny “dried milk ” lever on top of the steering-wheel boss, which is awkward to reach through the spokes and cancels far too soon. Before the driver is a neat instrument panel comprising a small hooded speedometer reading to 100 m.p.h.(!) in spacings of 20 m.p.h. and incorporating a total mileage recorder with tenths but no trip. Four small oblong dials flank the speedometer, for amps, oil pressure., water temperature and fuel contents, simply calibrated with letters—D – C; E – F; L – H and H – C. This, with clear white needles, is simple and effective, and the speedometer needle is very steady. The fuel gauge needle oscillates badly, however, when the engine is running.

The steering-column gear-lever extends on the right of the column and is spring-loaded to top and third gears, reverse being beyond third. Perhaps because the locations are natural, like a gear gate on its side, I found no confusion over using this gearchange, but at times the lever vibrated excessively. The pullout-and-twist handbrake lever protrudes from the facia for operation with the right hand and is both well placed and effective in holding the 407 on hills.

Large unidentified knobs look after the auxiliary services but they are too few to cause confusion; from left to right they look after lamps, wipers, two-speed heater fan (which is quiet and has a light in the knob to show that it is in use) and choke. To render the heating system effective the scuttle ventilator has to be half opened, using a convenient pendant lever under the facia. A toggle lever on the extreme left controls the vertical radiator shutters, another on the right releasing the bonnet. The headlamps are dipped by a foot switch set wellclear of the clutch pedal. A white knob below the facia controls heat to screen or to the floor of the car. A single red warning light for the direction flashers is placed unusual on the facia sill on the left of the speedometer and there is a blue high-beam light in the speedometer dial, neither of which is particularly dazzling at night.

The doors all trail, but shut rather tinnily. The driver’s door locks by key, the others by their handles, which is convenient. There are non-lockable quarter-lights in the front doors, sans rain-drains, fixed quarter-lights in the back doors. The front windows call for just over 2½ turns to wind them fully open; the rear ones just under 2¾ turns; the handles possess rotating finger grips, and door and window handles are well placed. All windows are of toughened glass. All doors have small but useful arm-rests topped by sorbo rubber. The handles pull back to open the doors, an excellent safety feature. No crash padding is used in the car. The exterior door handles are of modern push-button type. Before the front-seat passenger is a non-lockable cubby-hole of very modest dimensions—literally a glove box; a knob controls its metal lid. There is a rather subdued central roof lamp with its own switch but no ” courtesy ” action. A swivel-out ash-tray lives in the facia, twin swivelling anti-dazzle vizors are fitted (no vanity mirror, though) and the wide rear-view mirror is quite adequate. No under-facia shelf, nor door pockets, are provided, but there is the usual shelf behind the back seat. Leg room in the rear is quite generous but the wheel arches intrude into the cushion space.

Beyond the four control knobs already referred to, between which is the ignition key-cum-starter (with radio-on, ignition-off setting) are two inbuilt knobs for the very good two-band superhet radio, its speaker in the facia. The two press-buttons for this set are lettered to indicate the wavebands they control, a good feature. The anti-thief arrangement for opening the boot lid has been described; the lid is self-propping but has to be released by hand. The boot is exceedingly spacious and contains the spare wheel, held vertically on the off side by a wing nut, and the tools in a tool-roll and large cloth bag, also the screw jack. Interior trim is a trifle crude but looks very durable. There are rubber floor coverings and cellophane side panels in the doors. The exterior door panels seem rather thin. No ash-trays are provided in the back compartment.

What of the Moskvitch 407 on the road ? The makers claim 71 m.p.h. with full load but you need a long straight to get this speed. Cruising speed is a steady 60 m.p.h. indicated, when the engine is rather noisy. There was also a good deal of engine roar when accelerating and a loud tappet click when it was idling. In the gears the absolute indicated maxima are 24, 40 and 57 m.p.h. Acceleration is reasonably good but if engine revs die away only recourse to second gear will restore pick-up, even on a level road, the engine being like a two-stroke in this respect and presumably having a very flat power curve. It is an engine which starts readily without choke even in very low temperatures and does not pink or run-on. It runs cool in winter, even with the radiator shutters fully closed, rather surprisingly for a Russian car. This means that the heater is never fully effective, but on very cold January days in this country the interior temperature could be maintained at a comfortable level without the car getting stuffy, while demisting worked well. In torrential rain only a drop or two of water entered the car.

The engine-driven screen-wipers become terribly frenzied at 60 m.p.h. and the blades, working in opposition, leave an unswept area in the screen centre. The sealed-beam lamps give quite a good light, with not too sharp cut-off when dipped.

The gear-change is rather crude, the lever apt to go in with a clonk, but it was an easy change to become familiar with, although bottom gear sometimes tended to jump out.

It is rather disconcerting to find nearly three-quarters of a turn of free play in the worm and double roller steering, which prevents it from being precise. Against this, the steering is extremely light, has powerful castor-return action and does not transmit kick-back. It is quite high geared, at three turns lock-to-lock (ratio 17 to 1) but the turning circle isn’t impressive.

The suspension copes very well with unmade roads but over merely poor surfaces the occupants experience a great deal of up-and-down motion, although this seems to stem largely from generously-sprung seat cushions, as the suspension is well damped. On corners the Moskvitch rolls a good deal but is not unpleasant to corner at the speeds at which it is normally driven. The upholstery, a combination of cloth and plastics, holds the driver securely on the bench seat. The clutch action is not too heavy but slightly fierce. There was some free play in the back axle. The gear ratios are well suited to quick negotiation of traffic.

The starter is noisy but spins the engine fast. Unfortunately its solenoid did not always function and the car chose the most embarrassing places, or times when I was in a fearful hurry, to play the trick of refusing to recommence. The starting handle is easy to engage but rather a bent-wire affair.

The brakes are heavy and spongy for full retardation but extremely effective for emergency stops, progressive for ordinary braking and vice-free except for the faintest, very occasional tendency to squeak. The seats, if not outstanding, produced no real criticism after a long day’s motoring, and the high seating position is reminiscent of vintage motoring. There is bright facia lighting rheostat-controlled from the lamps-knob; the control was on the light side, so that in selecting the lamps required the facia lighting was apt to come on—a very minor irritation, however.

Petrol consumption proved disappointingly heavy. It averaged 23.2 m.p.g. over a big mileage of difficult going and 24.1 m.p.g. under less strenuous conditions, an average of 23.6 m.p.g.—the makers claim 43 m.p.g. The absolute range on a tankful was 169 miles. The non-calibrated fuel gauge was appropriately pessimistic. In more than 700 miles the engine used less than a quart of oil.

In conclusion, the Moskvitch is a decidedly old-fashioned car but it appears to be built to wear extremely well and its high build (ground clearance 7¾ in.) should appeal to farmers and others who have to motor off hard roads in the course of business or pleasure. Moreover, for such a fully-equipped family car it is astonishing that it can be sold in Britain for less than £760—this is a matter our production engineers and economists may care to ponder. And for those who crave a car of real uncommonness, which will be unlikely to meet its fellow in a month of Sundays, or even then, why, the Moskvitch is IT! If you desire such a car go along to Thomson and Taylors, where you can examine it and also some very nice Alfa Romeos, which are a rather different proposition. Seriously, this inexpensive Russian car is less crude than I had expected and, remember, for higher executives there is the 2½-litre 80-b.h.p. Volga, which you can buy here with similar comprehensive equipment for only £1,113.—W. B.

The Moskvitch 407 Saloon

Engine : Four cylinders, 76 x 75 mm. (1,360 c.c.). Pushrod-operated overhead valves. 7.0-to-1 compression-ratio. 45 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m.

Gear ratios : First, 17.60 to 1; second, 11.18 to 1; third, 6.69 to 1; top, 4.62 to 1.

Tyres : 5.60 x 15 Dunlop “Gold Seal” on bolt-on steel disc wheels.

Weight : 19 cwt. 1 qr. 0 lb. (without occupants but ready for the road, with approximately 1½-gallons of petrol).

Steering ratio : Three turns, lock-to-lock. Fuel capacity : 7½ gallons. (Range, 169 miles.)

Wheelbase : 7 ft. 9 in.

Track : 4 ft. 0 in.

Dimensions : 13 ft. 3½ in. x 5 ft. 0½ in. x 5 ft. 1½in. (high). Price : £535 (£759 0s. 10. inclusive of purchase tax).

Makers : V/O Avtoexport, 32/34, Smolenskaya Pl., Moscow G200, U.S.S.R.

Concessionaires : Thomson and Taylor (Brooklands) Limited, Canada Road, Oyster Lane, Byfleet, Surrey.