Start, A Fibreglass-Bodied Soviet Minibus

The odd-looking Start was the first serial produced fibreglass-bodied vehicle in the Soviet Union.

Fibreglass as a material for automobile bodies were studied at the Kharkiv National Automobile and Highway University, where an experimental sportscars was built in 1959-1961, called the Hadi-2. This car was shown all over the Soviet Union.

In the meantime, an aspiring young engineer, named A.S. Antonov was appointed as the head of the Main Motor Transport Directorate of the Lugansk Economic Council. Inspired by the Hadi-2 he came up with the idea of a fibreglass trailer, which was built by the Severodonetsk Auto Repair Workshop (SARB). He then collected a development team at SARB which developed a minivan with fibreglass body. The team included two graduates from the aforementioned Kharkiv University, who previously worked on the HADI project.

It was a time when the government campaign for the introduction of alternative materials, like plastic was gaining momentum. Also the region was replete with chemical enterprises that produced fiberglass, epoxy and other polymers.
The first “Start” was assembled at SARB towards the end of 1963. The designers were in a hurry to catch a meeting of the board of the State Committee for Automotive and Agricultural Engineering of the USSR, where they were nominated by the leaders of local party bodies. The panel was devoted to issues of industrial use of plastics: it was supposed to listen to the reports of directors of many plants on the use of plastic in production. In mid-December, the “Start” prototype crossed the country all the way to Moscow, where it caused quite a stir: it appeared in the Pravda and on national TV as well.

   The designers returned to Severodonetsk as real heroes and, having received the “go-ahead” from the chairman of the Committee, N. I. Strokin, for the supply of 50 GAZ 21 powetrains serial production was launched in January, 1964.

But soon the project fell apart: the engines were not reliable, plastic production was labour-intensive so it was very costly.

However production continued in small batches using GAZ 21 Volga cars, decomissioned by the local taxi company until 1966.

A later example from Lugansk. Photo: Sándor Bojár/Fortepan

Later a couple of units were built by repairshops in Korosten, Donbass and Lugansk. These differed in small details as the original moulds have not been preserved.

Further information in Russian:

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