How a rag-tag bunch of Soviet engineers and designers went rogue and created their own sports car. The Politburo didn’t approve.
The ZAZ Zaporozhets was unequivocally the people’s car of the Soviet Union, much like the Volkswagen Beetle was to Germany and the humble Trabant to East Germany. Over 3.4 million were produced from 1960 to 1994, helping to keep Soviets mobile during the era of communist rule.
While the Zaporozhets was undeniably cute, it was its rear-mounted, air-cooled engine that provided the inspiration for one group of Soviets.
Working for the Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engines Institute (aka NAMI), a small group led by Eduard Molchanov, designer Felix Haydukov, engineers Igor Durnov and Leo Durnov, chemical engineer Anatoly Syvorotkin, and artist Vladimir Eltyshev, the group set out to design a Russian sports car for the masses
It should be noted, the sports car project was off the reservation, neither sanctioned nor approved by the Soviet government. The small group had gone rogue.
But, they did have the support of one influential person. Kuzma Durnov was the director of the Moscow Automobile Body Plant and he, it is said, believed strongly in the idea of a Russian-made sports car. He threw his support behind the rag-tag bunch of engineers and designers.
They acknowledged his support, bestowing the honorific ‘KD’ (Kuzma Durnov’s initials) in front of the fledgling sports car’s official ‘Sport 900’ nameplate.
Underneath the sleek fibreglass body, a tubular chassis housed a small (887cc), rear-mounted, air-cooled V4 engine pilfered straight out of the popular ZAZ-965 Zaporozhets. It made a rather asthmatic 22kW and 52Nm which helped propel the KD Sport 900 to a top speed of 120km/h. Allegedly.
Having the engine mounted at the back gave the KD’s designers the freedom to play around with the car’s shape., the most striking feature the large air intakes channels and scoop running almost the full length of the body.
The striking design wouldn’t have looked out of place in many Western car dealerships of the era (the team started designing the Sport 900 in 1963), its shape reminiscent (or perhaps derivative) of Volkswagen’s Karmann Ghia and the Volvo P1800.
Measuring in at 3.72 metres long, 1.45 metres wide and 1.17 metres tall, the KD Sport 900, thanks partly to its fibreglass body, tipped the scales at a svelte 500kg.
The group needed approval from the politburo to go into large scale production, but unsurprisingly, the Communist overlords of the Soviet Union poo-pooed the idea, dashing the hopes and dreams of a visionary group of rogue Russians in 1969.
But, hopes and dreams are one thing, building six prototypes are another. Those six protypes became quite visible in Moscow at the time, each person of the design and engineering team using their KD Sport 900 as a daily driver.
Remarkably, several of the six cars are still around today, although in questionable state of repair. Still, it’s not a stretch to imagine a restoration project bringing one of the remaining KD Sport 900’s back to its original condition, a fitting historical tribute to car colloquially dubbed, the ‘Russian Porsche’.
Better yet, automotive designer, Artem Popkov, who goes by the Instagram handle of nimco_works, has reimagined a modern interpretation of the KD Sport 900.
His stunning CGI renderings remain true to the original, but with a modern and muscular profile that is, in a word, gorgeous, a hint of how the original KD Sport 900 could have evolved over the decades in a parallel universe where the stern and humourless politburo didn’t give an emphatic nyet to the project.
Rob Margeit has been an automotive journalist for over 20 years, covering both motorsport and the car industry. Rob joined CarAdvice in 2016 after a long career at Australian Consolidated Press. Rob covers automotive news and car reviews while also writing in-depth feature articles on historically significant cars and auto manufacturers. He also loves discovering obscure models and researching their genesis and history.