Wide bonnet car and trailer
Last time we talked about how an unusual off-road passenger car was developed at the NATI Scientific Automotive and Tractor Institute on the eve of the war, and how its designers made it possible for a car with all-wheel drive and an easy-to-manufacture body to be as comfortable as possible for the driver and passengers. Energy-intensive suspension from the ZIS-101 limousine, low passenger seating on the road and thoughtful soft seats made it possible to combine the qualities of a military jeep and a convenient “personal” for senior command personnel. AR-NATI was tested in April 1941. The leaders of the party and government and the highest military leadership liked him, but this was the end of the matter. What played a fateful role in his fate?
To begin with, we recall that the main design and layout works for AR-NATI were undertaken by Alexander Andronov, the future chief designer of MZMA-AZLK, and Vasily Rodionov, the future chief designer of representative cars ZIL. Their drawings were immediately transferred to the Plant of Experimental Structures (ZOK), which operated directly on the territory of the NATI Institute. Workers often made mistakes, and once such a curious incident occurred. The director of the institute, Tolkunov, called Andronov to the workshop and showed the newly-welded bodies. One was normal, and the second was narrow, like a boat. The director asked anxiously: “What is this?” Having measured with a tape measure, Andronov discovered a discrepancy of 200 mm and immediately determined what was the matter. When plotting markings on the grid, planners of pilot production missed one cage; this was a very common mistake. The body had to be cut along the longitudinal axis and welded again with a 200 mm insert. By the evening of the same day the work was completed.
Wide bonnet car and trailer
In the manufacture of running models of cars, AR-NATI had to make a forced compromise. According to the designers, both cars and their trailers were supposed to be equipped with Ground Grip models of Firestone off-road tires, such were installed in Gorky on the first GAZ-61 samples. Domestic “off-road” 16-inch tires will appear later. But only five American tires were available in NATI, so the second car and both trailers had to be “shod” in serial road tires from GAZ-M1. But this did not stop the tests to reveal the best opportunities of AR-NATI.
Sample AR-NATI with a wide hood. Visible shovel on sidewall and American off-road tires
The design and construction of the two machines took place in a very short time, which today seems unrealistic – it only took three and a half months to do everything. On April 2, 1941, two prototypes, fully equipped, with trailers left the gates of the Experimental Design Plant. A lot of people, engineers and workers of the institute, gathered to see and carry them on the road.
Immediately beyond the territory of NATI hills, ravines and slopes stretched, the river Likhoborka flowed. This rough terrain in those days allowed, without going far from the institute, to test cars on impassable roads, descents, ascents, in fords and to carry out tests for diagonal hanging.
Likhoborsky ravine made it possible to check whether the car can overcome a wide moat diagonally
The driver of the institute was Evgeny Nikolaevich Shuvalov. He drove in one car, and Andronov himself competed with him while driving a second one. It immediately became clear that the new product can withstand heavy loads. AR-NATI confidently coped with difficult tasks, the engine did not overheat, the units did not fail. Is it possible that at some next difficult section Shuvalov mutilated the decorative wheel caps taken from the GAZ-M1. In front of the institute was a 40-cm flower concrete bed. To convince everyone of the advantages of the new car, Shuvalov and Andronov boldly drove right on this obstacle.
Storming a flower bed
In the spring of 1941, in parallel with NATI, a car of a similar purpose was prepared at GAZ under the direction of Vitaly Grachev. The work was carried out as part of a competition announced by the People’s Commissariat of Defense. In Gorky, too, built two samples of the R-1 (“Scout One”), which were still noticeably different from the future serial GAZ-64. And on April 22, both cars, Moscow and Gorky, were sent to the Kremlin show, mandatory for those years. NATI was represented by driver Yevgeny Shuvalov, and GAZ was represented by test Leonid Sokolov. Novelties were examined by Stalin, Voroshilov, Budyonny and Shaposhnikov. Voroshilov and Budyonny Shuvalov drove through the territory of the Kremlin. Later, already during tests at the artillery range in Sofrino, the vehicles of AR-NATI were examined by the people’s commissar of defense Tymoshenko. The car really liked him. Nothing to be surprised at – the supreme commanders appreciated the soft course, as if in a passenger car, and the comfortable seats.
Cars drove under full load, with trailers and guns, in a very heavy lane of deep, mixed tracked dirt equipment. Not a single case of engine overheating, frame failure, suspension, transmission, driveline was noted. The quick and competent work of designers deserved an excellent assessment. Only once on a heavy off-road did the trailer spring bracket come off, it took one hour to repair. At the height of the trials, the war began, but even after June 22, work continued as if nothing had happened, strictly fulfilling the entire planned program.
Cross Country Tests
With the outbreak of war, the testers became agitated: they still had families in Moscow, it was necessary to solve the issue of their evacuation. Andronov suggested giving drivers a ride home in turn. Having received permission from Sych, one evening he went on foot to the station to find out the train schedule. It turned out that there is no longer any schedule. The tracks were crammed with freight cars and tanks, and military trains stretched toward Minsk. After much searching and questioning, only hand-written leaflets with the estimated time of arrival of the Moscow passenger train were found.
Dry loose soil also passed in front of AR-NATI
On the way back, Andronov was arrested right at the checkpoint. He was wearing a brand new dark gray cloak and powerful high boots with lacing, which were worn by lumberjacks of Canada and Finland, as well as motorcyclists, and against the background of poorly dressed locals he looked like a foreigner. Local boys mistook a man “all overseas”, actively trying to find out the train schedule, and immediately ran to the security officers guarding the station. The captain Zaborovsky, who was urgently called to the checkpoint on duty at the training ground, interviewed everyone, assured that an error had occurred, thanked the boys for vigilance, and, having returned Andronov’s documents, released him from custody.
Caps on such a machine are overkill. Tests off-road did not pass
Two weeks later, the tests were successfully completed. Both cars and both trailers were returned to college. The results were recognized as excellent, and the intelligence officer AR-NATI was recommended for serial production. Interestingly, the creators of the machine did not “tie” the development of its production to a specific enterprise. This is what the report read: “As for the frame, bodywork and general assembly, all this, due to the exceptional technical simplicity of the machine, can be successfully carried out in any, even a small plant (or in several plants in parallel).”
A small overhang and a protective tray made it possible to not be afraid of any ditches
But in the People’s Commissariat of Mechanical Engineering, the question of mastering a reconnaissance vehicle was approached too bluntly and one-sidedly. Once a car is built on units of GAZ cars, then it must certainly be produced by none other than the Gorky Automobile Plant. But GAZ had its own prototype R-1, “ground”, first of all, under the existing workshop premises and the machinery park in Gorky, and, most importantly, created by the forces of its own designers. The management of the plant simply considered the development of NATI “alien”. AR-NATI was not saved either by its unique qualities, such as comfort and smoothness, nor by the design, brilliant from an engineering point of view, thought out to the smallest detail, or by the excellent test results.
Without wasting time, already from August 1941, GAZ first started experimental, then small-scale production of a modified version of its own car, which received the GAZ-64 index. It should be noted that the GAZ-64 itself and the later upgraded GAZ-67 until the end of the war remained not very mass production, rather, donors of units for the BA-64 armored cars. The niche of the military reconnaissance vehicle and artillery tractor for the “forty-five” cannons was firmly occupied by the Willys MB Lend-Lease program and its analogues, produced under other brands. Recognizing all the advantages of the American car, we cannot help but notice that its narrow track turned into insufficient rollover resistance. Willys engine remained demanding on the quality of gasoline and oil, “more modern” hydraulic brakes on front-line roads easily failed, and the simplest mechanical brakes on Soviet cars could withstand driving through any dirt.
I drove the car off-road, but failed to cope with administrative barriers
The fate of AR-NATI is an example of a systemic mistake made by the leaders of the Soviet automobile industry. It is difficult to understand by whom and why it was decided that the country needs only one model of a certain dimension and a specific purpose. What prevented the release of not one, but at least two cars. For example, during the war and in the post-war years, two models – the GAZ-67 and the AR-NATI (more precisely, its factory version with a different name by the name of the enterprise that produced it) would be “active”. Who would lose from this? No one! And due to the fact that an interesting and very necessary in a country of continuous off-road car remained unclaimed, everyone lost.