IN ROUGHLY 30 YEARS as leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin showed the world just what communism can do; most notably the deaths of around 20 million citizens through imprisonment, famine and state-sanctioned murder. Odd, then, that super-commie Stalin was a fan of American limousines.
The Soviet Union’s ZiL state automotive concern began in 1916, with the founding of the AMO factory near Moscow to produce licensed Fiat trucks. However, the Russian Revolution stalled production until 1925 – around the same time that Stalin began engineering his dictatorship.
In 1931, Stalin renamed the car and truck maker Zavod imeni Stalina (ZiS) after himself. From 1936-1941 the ZiS factory produced around 9000 ZiS-101 state limousines, taxis and ambulances, until the German invasion forced a switch to decentralised, military production.
Just as the pre-war ZiS-101 had echoed 1930s American cars (its body was even sourced from the US), the successor ZiS-110 of 1946 was ‘interpreted’ from a 1942 Packard 180 – one of five American cars reportedly sent as post-war goodwill gifts from US President Franklin Roosevelt. Like the 101 before it, the 110’s engine was a Packard-copy, in-line eight-cylinder.
The ZiS-110 (and armoured 115) was Stalin’s favourite ride until his death in 1953, which led to the succession (after a few months) of Nikita Khrushchev. The ZiS plant was soon renamed ZiL in honour of long-serving factory manager Ivan Likhachov, and in 1956, under ZiL passenger-vehicle design head Andrei Ostrovtsev, produced the prototype for a new limousine, the ZiL-111.
The ZiL works had acquired a trio of current-model Packard cars. The 111 relied heavily on the 1955 Packard Caribbean, copying not only much of the styling, but the chassis and, it’s believed, new V8 engine. It was far from a straightforward translation, the 111 being longer and wider than the American.
In production from 1958 to 1963, the ZiL-111 appeared in two sedan versions – 111 and 111A, the latter with air-conditioning and a smaller rear window. A dozen special state-parade ‘111V’ four-door convertible phaetons, pictured here, were also built, bringing the total for this series to 112 units.
In 1963 a thorough restyle produced the 111G, with a ’61 Cadillac-inspired four-headlamp frontal styling and less severe tailfins. ZiL passenger-car production continued only sporadically after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, ceasing in 2002. The final ZiL truck was built in 2016.
COPY THAT, CHIEF
The 111’s cast-iron, 5980cc ohv V8 has misty origins, but the single-carb V8 claimed 149kW/441Nm and drove through a twospeed, push-button automatic, evidently copied from Chrysler’s PowerFlite. The ladder-frame chassis carried independent coil-spring front suspension, a leaf-sprung de Dion axle at the rear, and boosted all-drum brakes.
POSITION OF POWER
ZiL’s 111V convertible phaeton was the full monty for communism’s more-equal-than-others. The dash housed an array of push-pull controls and the novel four-button panel for the auto. Power windows and the huge canvas softtop were hydraulically operated. Rear passengers had softer cloth upholstery, a parade handle, and controls for radio and heat/vent/air-con.