Just imagine you lived in a world where you were still you — a gearhead, devastatingly sexy, lover of cars, charming — but there were no interesting cars for you to buy, at all. What would you do? C0mplain? Punch a wall? If you were like this group of Soviet gearheads in the 1960s, you’d build your own damn car.
This is the story of a very little-known car, a charming little sporty car that looks a bit like a Volvo P1800 mated, hotly and wetly, with a Corvair. That’s a positive thing, just to be clear. The car is called the KD Sport 900, and it was born in 1963 because six like-minded gearheads, all of whom worked at the Soviet Union’s Scientific Automobile and Motor Institute (known as NAMI), decided they wanted a real sports car.
The crew of enthusiasts included Eduard Molchanov, designer Felix Haydukov, Igor and Leo Durnov (engineers, maybe brothers? I’m not totally sure), Anatoly Syvorotkin (a chemical engineer), and Vladimir Eltyshev (called an ‘artist’ in some sources, but I think was an auto designer).
The car was officially named just ‘Sport 900,’ but the KD part comes from the initials of Kuzma Durnov, who ran the MZAK components factory. I haven’t been able to determine exactly why Durnov got such an honor, though I suspect that perhaps he made some components or tools available to the group from the factory he directed. I’m speculating, but that seems like something that may have happened. The most I’ve found is a statement that said “He strongly supported the construction of the car.”
The car was built using a tube-frame chassis, with a fiberglass body and a drivetrain from the Soviet people’s car, the little humpbacked Zaporozets-965. With that in mind, you could almost think of the Sports 900 as the Karmann-Ghia to the Zaporozets’ Beetle. The Zaporozets drivetrain wasn’t exactly a beast, being a 887cc V4 making all of 30 HP, but it was available, which is a big plus for a drivetrain.
The design the team came up with for the car is quite striking, and would have looked at home on the streets of almost any European city. It’s rear-engined, allowing for a low hood with a clean front fascia, a nice small, sloping greenhouse and some dramatic side detailing, two long scoops that kick up at the rear to form the air intakes for the engine.
In silhouette, it really does feel a lot like a Volvo P1800 coupé, and the detailing is similar to other rear-engined sports cars like the Fiat 850 Spider or the NSU Sport Prinz.
The rear treatment actually feels sort of American-influenced, with a large chrome bumper surrounding the whole rear, inset with big, round taillights and a mesh air intake. It feels a bit like something Ford might have done for an alternate-universe European Falcon sport coupé.
The KD Sport 900 wasn’t just some one-off, either. The team of enthusiasts wanted to actually produce these, and while mass production didn’t quite happen, around 1968-1969 they did at least manage to produce six, I suspect so every member of the team could have one.
The car appears to have gotten a good bit of attention, showing up in Soviet magazines of the era and being displayed at car shows and in parades. There seems to have been a lot of public interest in such an attractive little sporty car, but the joyless Soviet controllers in charge of automobile production apparently didn’t think mass production was necessary.
Incredibly, a few of the six cars still seem to survive, albeit in pretty rough shape. At least one is said to be undergoing a restoration, which I find very exciting.
This whole story I find incredibly inspiring. These were people who loved cars, worked with cars, and yet found themselves in a position where there simply weren’t cars they wanted to buy. So they got together, applied their considerable skills, and made the car they couldn’t buy. Multiple copies, even!
Astounding. Even an entire totalitarian regime at the height of its power can’t keep gearheads from driving cool cars.