Syd Mead is something of a legend when it comes to designing how the future will look. From the grim, cluttered dystopia of Blade Runner to the well-cushioned and clean office-spaceships of Star Trek to the cybernetic metropolises of Tron, Mead is perhaps the best-known designer of the future. What he’s much less known for is an attempt to design a Soviet car that ended up as a knockoff of a French car. I’ll explain.
Moskvitch was one of the Soviet Union’s big automakers, known for rugged but clunky cars with staid styling and conservative, solid axle, rear-wheel drive technology.
By the 1970s, Moskvitch realized they needed a new car, and began to design new RWD cars internally. They were pretty far along when the Minister of Automobile Industries decided that they should scrap all their work and start over, this time by essentially just copying the Simca 1307, which the Minister liked.
That’s sort of how the car (the Moskvitch-2141/Aleko) ended up, inspired by the front-wheel drive Simca, but that’s sort of another story. At some point in this process, the Soviets called in the famous designer Raymond Loewy to take a crack at the project.
Loewy, in turn, had the famous designer Syd Mead take on the Moskvitch project, and what he produced is fascinating, both as rarely seen works of Mead’s as well as an interesting take on a modern, mid-to-late ‘70s hatchback design.
Based on the proportions of the car, I suspect Loewy and Meade were called in after the decision to use the Simca 1307 as a guide. Mead’s designs have roughly the same general shape and proportions as the Simca, but with a nice dose of that confident, clean-lined futurism that Mead was famous for.
There’s also a bit of Loewy’s trademark asymmetrical detailing in this design, with its drivers’-side-only badging (or lights?):
The most striking part of the design I think is that ‘waistband’ line with the downward jog. According to the handwritten note on the marker rendering here:
“The waistband (brown in this case) should be the same color as the inside trim’s color.”
That’s a pretty cool design element; it keeps the sides from looking to vast and featureless, and the link to the interior color so close to the window line would have been quite handsome.
The grille-less front end designs are a bit ahead of their time, I think, recalling 1980s and 1990s-era designs like the Saturn, early ‘90s Volkswagen Passats, and a number of other GM cars of the era.
There’s some sketches from Raymond Loewy himself as well, though it’s not clear if these came before or after Mead’s renderings.
It’s possible Loewy had the basic idea first and made the rough sketches, which Mead developed further into the renderings. There’s some intermediate sketches as well that attempt to figure out things like the lighting design:
I think these were done by Mead, as well. Other sketches show more ideas playing with the off-center, asymmetrical aspects of the design:
The hood design is especially interesting here, as it’s not just an off-center lump, it’s a whole elevation change in the hood, along with whatever that blue panel is. Plus, the red area in the D-pillar might be a novel rear marker light/taillight idea?
Things even progressed to sketches for the car’s packaging, but, of course, the remarkable combo of a Loewy/Mead/Soviet car did not end up happening.
It’s sort of a shame, because I think what they were developing here would have been a really remarkable-looking car, and could possibly have given Soviet cars their first really desirable—at least from a styling standpoint—car that would have made the west take notice.
Oh well. Maybe it’s for the best—since Mead was free from designing Soviet cars, he was free to design those Blade Runner Spinners and Tron lightcycles.
(Thanks to Car Design Archives for the use of the images and the info!)