The workers of the Automobile and Tractor Institute, who drove them to Sovetskaya Square on November 7, 1932, did not yet know (or maybe they just didn’t want to believe?) That the history of the first Soviet people's car had already ended, never seriously begun.
Six years ago, 27-year-old student Konstantin Sharapov chose a small, inexpensive, small car (such as motors up to 2 liters) as the topic of his diploma. He was supposed to carry 2-4 people or 250-500 kg of cargo. Cars in the USSR in those years did not. Attempts to organize the production of pre-revolutionary “Russo-Baltes” at two “Armored car repair plants” (BTAZs) by 1926 had already been abandoned by building a couple of dozen vehicles.
As a basis for the design, Sharapov took the Czechoslovak Tatra 11 of 1923 by the famous Hans Ledvinka. Such a car in 1925 participated in the All-Union test rally. The machine with a tubular (so-called spinal) frame, a two-cylinder air-cooled engine, an independent front suspension was easy to manufacture, had a small weight (given the low power of small-displacement engines, special attention was paid to this), it was quite reliable. By the way, the concept of Ledvinka was adopted by well-established European companies, in particular the German RER and Adler.
They became interested in the work of the young designer in the even younger NAMI Automotive Institute (it was founded in 1918 as a laboratory, and since 1931 - autotractor NATI). The institute, of course, was not a couple of the current. There are very few employees, as well as simple equipment, but there is more than enough desire to create the first Soviet car. A group led by A. A. Lipgart and E. V. Charnko undertook to finalize the Sharapov project. By the end of 1926, the drawings of NAMI-1 were ready.
The four-seater with a base of 2800 mm was equipped with an air-cooled V2 engine with a volume of 1.16 liters and a capacity of 18.5 liters. with. The spinal frame was a pipe with a diameter of 135 mm, in which the driveshaft passed. The rear suspension is independent, on the transverse spring. The car was simplified as much as possible: there were only two doors, one for each row of seats, the brakes were mechanical and only on the rear wheels. There was not even a differential. Of course, this affected tire wear and handling, but put up with such shortcomings. In addition, the absence of a differential in combination with a clearance of 225 mm ensured a good cross.
The pace of production preparation seems fantastic. By May 1, 1927, the first chassis was built. They were made at the 4th automobile repair plant on Pimenovskaya (now Krasnoproletarskaya) street in the workshops of the crew of the P. P. Ilyin, known before the revolution. Since the beginning of the 20th century, she has been making bodies for imported cars, at one time she even assembled French “La Buira”, and after 1917 she was mainly engaged in repair work. By the way, the former owner of the company, Ilyin, worked in the 1920s as a director … of a plant formerly owned by him, which received the name "Spartak".
At the end of spring 1927, the first two “graduates” of US - with two- and four-seater bodies - went into a test run to the Crimea. “Ford-A” and… two motorcycles with a sidecar rode with them as analogues. The Institute simply had no other suitable machines. Of course, NAMI-1 was far from ideal. But we reached the Crimea and returned! The feelings of the employees of the institute can be compared with those that long before they were experienced by the inventors of quiescent strollers.
In the second half of the 1920s, the issue of setting up for production was apparently still being decided without the highest leadership of the USSR. At least, there are no documents about US run-offs to Stalin and his entourage. Most likely, the decision to launch NAMI-1 at Spartak was made by BATO (All-Union Automotive Tractor Association). In 1928, they released only 50 cars that replenished Soviet and party garages (of course, we did not discuss private traders). There were enough problems with the machines: the engine was overheating, the gearbox was breaking, they did not hold the brakes. “At the wheel” has published a whole selection of letters of indignant drivers. The editor-in-chief of the magazine Osinsky wrote: “… the machine turned out to be a highly compromised setting for production at a weak, small, poorly equipped and inexperienced factory.” By the way, even the "Fords-A", which the KIM plant, built with the participation of the Americans, began to assemble, at first did not differ in high quality.
Nevertheless, in 1929 they produced 156 cars, in 1930 - 160. But then semi-handicraft production was turned off. GAZ was built in Nizhny Novgorod, AMO reconstruction began in Moscow, and hands did not reach the modernization of production of small cars, and there were not enough funds. There was an idea to build a car at the Izhora plant, but soon died out. NAMI-1 found many opponents. One of the representatives of the Ford company, having got acquainted with the car, said: “Crude idea”. Following him, the car was criticized by the chairman of Avtodor Sorokin. Most likely, the idea was not so crude. In Czechoslovakia, similar machines, modernizing, were built for a rather long time. Another thing - the capabilities of the Spartak plant were weak.
They believed in a car at an automobile institute and worked hard on NATI-2. The engine, now a 4-cylinder, 1.2-liter developed 22 liters. with. The cooling of the engine was improved by installing a powerful fan, the clutch was constructed on the basis of the Ford engine, while Ford took the wheels for unification. The brakes now acted on all wheels, shock absorbers appeared in front. The construction of prototypes at Izhevsk Izhstalzavod, where motorcycle production has already begun, was funded by Avtodor (a public organization that is glad for the development of motorization). In Udmurtia, a four-door convertible, a roadster and a pickup were assembled, the same ones that were rolled out onto Sovetskaya Square on November 7, 1932. NATI has already made sketches of modifications with a closed body. And one of the NATI-2 bodies (several prototypes were built) was used for an experimental half-tracked vehicle with GAZ-A units.
But even in Izhevsk, mass production was not deployed. The plant’s capabilities were also small, in addition, the talented designer Mozharov, the creator of the first Izhevsk motorcycles, opposed it. He believed that a poor country with poor roads needed motorcycles.
At the end of 1931, there were still statements in the automotive press that “leaving the finished drawings under the cloth” would be “the greatest mistake, almost a crime” (the terminology of that time was becoming increasingly formidable), but in 1932, the fate of the car was essentially decided. It was rumored that this time the verdict was passed by the final court: Stalin was not even convinced by the People's Commissar Ordzhonikidze. Most likely, this legend was consoled by supporters of a small car. Until the next attempt to create an inexpensive, popular Soviet car, eight more years will pass, and to the really mass car - the Moskvich-400 - fifteen …