What Has Eight Wheels, Two Engines, No Doors & Can Float?
The story behind the odd but innovative 8-wheeled automobile photographed parked and neglected on a quiet Russian backstreet can finally be told, and to no-one's surprise it's as weird and bizarre as the car itself.
“In the vastness of Russia found this unknown terrain type,” commented Russian website It Is Interesting, who posted these images in September of 2013. “Why is it needed, and who fashioned - a mystery.” Not so fast, my post-Soviet friends!
Both English Russia and French site Le Blog Auto ran the five-photo set several years earlier, in August of 2009, but victory goes to the Napoleonic netizens for digging deeper and finding what lies beneath the weird vehicle's flaking swamp-green paint.
It would seem this “unique” auto isn't as one-off as one might assume – in fact, TWO were made as part of a joint venture between the USSR and East Germany. Who would have guessed at the time – sometime in the early 1980s – that this odd octopoid auto would outlive its two communist parents?
Speaking of parents (mechanically speaking), the car was built over a Trabant chassis. In most cases, such ancestry would doom any motorized conveyance from the get-go. In this case, the motor wasn't the smelly 600cc two-stroke engine that provided later-model “Trabbies” with a meager 23 horsepower.
Instead, the brain trust behind the venture installed a pair of Ural motorcycle engines side-by-side. While we'll assume such a setup was noisy in the extreme, Le Blog Auto states the twin powerplants could put out a rousing 77hp! We'll also assume the total emitted smoke and smell was off the dial entirely.
Those 77 ponies were applied to the rear pair of wheels only – Eastern Bloc engineering had its limits and an 8WD vehicle was beyond said limits to say the least. Some commenters have speculated the central quartet of tires was raised above street level to provide support in sandy, muddy or snowy conditions, which does make some sense.
It's also possible the extra wheels provided buoyancy when inflated – indeed, the vehicle was intended to be amphibious! This feature is backed up by the structure of the roof, designed to slide back to provide ingress and egress. Aha, so there IS a door, cleverly disguised as a roof! Never underestimate the commies, comrades.
In the event, the best-laid plans of the Warsaw Pact came to naught: only two cars were made and one – photos of which you've been gazing upon – spent several decades in a Russian museum. We'll bet GM, Ford, VW etc all heaved enormous sighs of relief.
The final chapter of our story is somewhat sad and in the end, somewhat mysterious as well. With the collapse of the USSR, funding for museums and other “non-essential” state-supported enterprises dried up faster than you can say “ash heap of history”. Our forlorn ATV-wannabe was evicted from its digs in the museum and consigned to the street below. That was in 2007... and excepting for these images it hasn't been seen since.