Soviet Transport for the Disabled


Original Russian Language Article By:

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

The Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) saw millions of Soviet men and women made permanently disabled due to their war-wounds. This dramatically increased the over-all population of disabled people living in the Soviet Union after 1945, and initiated a rapid technological development for modern wheelchairs and various types of motorised wheelchairs to assist mobility requirements. Within the USSR, people with disabilities were looked after by the State, and afforded every possible facility to aid their quality of life, and ensure as far as possible, their integration within mainstream Soviet society. This attitude (formulated by VI Lenin after the 1917 October Revolution) was further developed under JV Stalin in 1945, and extended to returning disabled military personnel, and those Soviet civilians permanently maimed by Nazi German atrocities. The victory of Scientific Socialism over fascism was seen as the basis for a substantial technological advance in disabled transport. Prior to this, the USSR possessed various types of rudimentary wheelchairs (an example of which can be seen in photographs of VI Lenin toward the end of his life, when he became disabled due to illness), but these were simple structures that were little more than wooden boxes on wheels, that required another person to push.


This meant that even reasonably independent disabled people could not travel on the roads, or propel themselves about in a self-determining manner. After 1945, the emphasis within the Soviet Union was to grant disabled people a greater dignity through the application of Soviet scientific development.


As there was an abundance of Red Army motorcycles of various design after the Great Patriotic War, these were modified to allow disabled people to travel outside, usually upon the road. This was an important step-forward, not without its limitations and problems. For instance, the motorcycles were ‘open’ structures that did not protect the occupant from bad weather, and could not, at that time, carry the occupant in and out of buildings. Disabled people who were paralysed throughout their bodies, of course, required companions responsible for their care, and all this put further demands upon Soviet ingenuity. In part, these problems were solved with the development of the ‘Invalidkoy’, a three-wheeled enclosed structure termed the ‘C-1L’, first manufactured at the Serpukhov Motorcycle Factory, in 1952. This was the world’s first ‘disabled person’s car’, that was comprised of a lightweight metal body that possessed doors and a canvas roof that could be removed in summer. However, it did not possess a heater and was very cold in winter, and as it used a two-stroke (125 cubic cm) ‘Moskva’ motorcycle engine, the enclosed cabin was very noisy when the car was being driven. The wheels were of the motorcycle type, and its rear-wheels possessed a spring suspension system. The body was comprised of tubes wielded together and covered with the metal outer-shell. The over-all weight was 275 kg, and it possessed a maximum speed of 30 km per hour. As this was considered slow, in 1956, the existing engine was replaced with the more powerful Izh-56, which had a 7.5 horse-power. This increased the maximum speed to 55 km per hour.


As technology and design progressed, the experimental car GAZ-18 was designed in KB Gorky Automobile Plant, in 1958. This was the world’s first ‘compact’ or ‘mini’ car with manual control.


The GAZ-18 used the Moskvich-402, 0.5 litre engine, utilising an automatic transmission with torque converter. The GAZ-18 eliminated the need of a clutch-pedal – an important developed for many disabled drivers – with the engine and gear-box being situated toward the rear of the machine. The fuel tank and storage space were situated at the front of the vehicle. The engine was accessed simply by pushing the seat forward and down, with the seat itself being fully adjustable to suit the passenger. The problem with this design was the cost. As so many Soviet citizens had lost their legs during the Great Patriotic War, and were entitled to a ‘free’ car provided by the State, the Soviet Government requested that the design be ‘simplified’ and improved in such a manner that cut production costs. This was achieved through the design of the microcar CA3 – which was mass produced and distributed (freely) to all qualifying disabled people through the Soviet Social Security System. It is known that the French firm Citroen purchased the right to use the CA3 design in the West – eventually producing their Citroen 2CV model.


In 1970, the CA3 was replaced with the microcar S3D – which proved very popular, and which saw most disabled people switch to this model (to do this, all interested disabled people were required to return their CA3 vehicle in exchange for this new design).


The popularity of the S3D was in part due to its smart angular design, and the fact it looked more like an ordinary car than previous models. Due to its upper body design, there were glass windows covering a greater area, giving the driver and passengers an enhanced visibility whilst stationary or on journeys. As it possessed an 18 horse-power Izhevsk engine, its maximum speed increased to 70 km per hour, whilst its over-all weight was 454 kg. The cabin was far more comfortable than previous models, and was heated by a petrol heater. The hydraulic breaks operated on all four wheels, with the canvas roof being replaced with a permanent metal structure. The last 300 S3D cars rolled off the Serpukhov factory conveyor belts in 1997.

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2017.

Russian language Article:

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