Car: ZIL 111, 1958

Who would have guessed that the brutal communist dictator Joseph Stalin had a secret, and decadent, car passion—he loved large American Packard limousines. In fact, he loved the traditional majesty of the Packard Super Eight so much that he ordered the country’s premier truckmaker, ZIS, to manufacture a close copy that would then be used as official transport for government ministers, other dignitaries, and official parade car duties. Thus, until 1958, the country’s top car, the ZIS 110, was a regal, but increasingly dated, behemoth.

1958 ZIL 111
The hulk of the Zil 111 limousine was not something to be savored in the rear-view mirror of the 1950s Russian roadscape.

Stalin died in 1953, and three years later so did Ivan Likhachev. Little known internationally, Likhachev had been the director of the ZIS plant in Moscow, and was held in such esteem that the factory was renamed ZIL in his honor. The program to replace the ZIS 110 was well underway, and the new car was finally revealed in 1958. The Russians might have been proud of their chrome-laden Z1L 111 but, to western eyes, it was already behind the times, resembling a Packard Patrician frontage grafted on to a Chrysler Crown Imperial body. At 65in (164cm), it was taller than the American cars it imitated, and was extremely heavy, needing a 365ci (5,980cc) V8 engine and automatic transmission to haul it along. This sinister car was luxuriously appointed within, with leather seats, air conditioning, and electric windows.

1958 ZIL 111
1958 ZIL 111
1958 model of the car ZIL 111
1958 model of the car ZIL 111

The sight of ZIL 111s thundering along their dedicated lane on Russian highways must have inspired amazement among the average citizen.

“The ZIL design team were under pressure from the Kremlin to out-do American designs.”

Andy Thompson, in his Book Cars of the Soviet Union, 2008

Video: model of the car ZIL 111

Specification: model of the car ZIL 111

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Moscow, Russia
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: V8-cylinder, 365ci (5,980cc)
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: four-door, sevenseater limousine
TOP SPEED: 96mph (154kph)