Riga Motor Museum (Latvia)
Riga Motor Museum (Latvia)
The Vairogs company assembled Ford cars in Riga, Latvia, from September 1937. The Ford-Vairogs Junior was a variation of Europe's Ford Junior Ten. This was followed a year later by the Ford-Vairogs V-8 60 and 85 hp models. Some Ford-Vairogs Taunus cars were also assembled until WW2 broke out and production shifted to military vehicles.
There is some confusion as to whether this car should be called REAF, RAF or REF. Well, there had been plans to start up car manufacturing in Riga straight after the war, but local politics were the cause of a long delay. However, in the summer of 1949 Stalin ordered that two automobile prototypes be built at the Riga Experimental Factory (REF) - originally established to manufacture radio loudspeakers, metal furniture and other useful articles, and be ready before the anniversary of the October Revolution. The team of designers under leadership of Engineering Captain Vsevolod Bahchivandzhi assembled the prototype using locally built parts, many of them still very experimental, including a hydro-mechanical transmission with automatic clutch. The car featured a modified GAZ-MM engine with two cylinders instead of four. The project was plagued by numerous setbacks, particularly in the transmission department. The only thing to reach Moscow by Stalin's deadline however, was a photograph of the car! The REF officials were not sent off to Siberia as they had feared, but were granted another year to get the prototype car finished. And so in the Autumn of 1950 two REAFs (that presumably stood for Riga Experimental Automobile Factory), a sedan and a convertible, made it all the way to Moscow. The cars underwent thorough testing in Moscow where a commission concluded that although the concept of a cheap, comfortable car was a good one, and praised the modern body design, the prototypes themselves left something to be desired. The expensive automatic transmission worked jerkily and the engine vibrated excessively and it seems the car was lacking shock absorbers altogether. Fuel consumption was about three times that of comparable Moskvich-401. To cap it all, the designers had failed to take car maintenance into account: if the engine needed repairing, the body first had to be removed. Not surprisingly the commission concluded that unless the design was fundamentally improved, the REAF-50 was not fit for manufacturing. And so ended a dream that cost over one million rubles.
The sedan made it back to Riga and is now on display at the motor museum there. The cabriolet broke down en-route and was abandoned.
Finally, RAF stands for the Riga Autobus Factory, where parts of the REAF-50 were manufactured, but apart from that and the similarity of the abbreviation, there is no connection between the two.
By Phil Seed [Based on the book Rigas Auto by Edvins Liepins]