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What It Was Like To Buy And Own A Car In The USSR

A big part of living in the erstwhile USSR was dealing with shortages, waiting lists, and a massive bureaucracy. While there was never the equality that Karl Marx dreamed of, there were millions of people who shared the same privations with a shrug. Yeah, you could get a car in the Soviet Union, but it wouldn’t be a good car, and getting it wouldn’t be easy. First you had to apply, undergo a background check, and convince the powers-that-be that you had earned the right to purchase one.  

At your chainsaw factory job, you were one of 300 workers. Most of them didn’t have a car and were eager to get one. Let’s say that the Trade Union designated five cars per year for your company. (That’s not to say that all companies would get five cars per year, this is just an estimate was based solely on information conducted during the interviews. The number of cars allocated would differ throughout the years, depending on the industry, company size and the region of the USSR. If anything, five cars per year is an overly optimistic estimation, according to some of those who reviewed my article.)

The first in line for their VAZ or ZAZ or GAZ were those who passed their background checks with flying colours. Those would the most productive, skilled or otherwise distinguished employees. You know, employee of the month types. Of course, having Communist Party membership didn’t hurt either. Anyway, if you were an average worker, the chances that your car was going to arrive the year you ordered it was close to non-existent. The same went for the next year. And for the next one.

In the Soviet era, the average waiting line for a car was seven to 10 years or more. Fingers crossed that your plumber isn’t coming on the lucky delivery day.

If you ever got the chance to actually purchase a car, you had other problems to deal with, like a place to park it and replacement parts. Gabrielius Blažys talked to people who lived through the experience of buying and owning a car in the Soviet Union, which you can read about at Jalopnik. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Gabrielius Blažys)


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