Back in 1969 there was little to touch the Moskvich 412 on price in Britain. The selling price of £717; which meant a family sized car for the price of the Mini; made it an attractive bargain, which was only possible because of a heavy subsidy from the Russian government.
Was it powerful?
It had a four cylinder 1500 cc overhead camshaft engine which looked remarkably like BMW's motor; in fact some owners have claimed that their parts are interchangeable! They will not have copied their rival's product though, Russians do not do things like that. Ignoring the origins of the powerplant, it was sufficient to propel the car up to a maximum speed of 90 mph, for those who were brave enough to do this.
Was it good to drive?
In the interest of economy leaf springs were fitted throughout and it had drum brakes all round. Handling was pretty ropey generally with a considerable tendency to understeer. Stopping this car (it weighed about a ton) took a lot of effort and quite a lot of distance.
Was it reliable?
This is where it scored quite well. It was designed to put up with a Russian winter, compared to which an American or European winter is sweltering hot; so it could usually be relied on to start even on the coldest morning. Just in case it didn't a starting handle was supplied as well as a comprehensive 21 piece toolkit!
Was it comfortable?
Leaving aside the rocky suspension, poor roadholding and dodgy brakes the interior was functional rather than snug. The upholstery was in a clammy PVC material with a rather short lifespan so after a year or two the passenger/driver area could be best described as shabby.
Was it successful?
Although it was amazingly cheap there was a good reason for this. It was not only cheaply put together but badly designed too. In 1973 The Consumers Association reviewed this car and pointed out that whilst a combination of poor braking and steering made accidents far more likely, the interior design made even minor bumps potentially lethal for the occupants. The aluminium handbrake may very well have been designed to smash the knees of the driver, and the dashboard had sharp metal edges which could cause serious injuries to any of the occupants. The BBC picked up this report and gave it wide publicity and that was the end of sales in the UK.
The Moskvich 412 was already doomed anyway. Even a brand-new one could not pass an MOT test and it would have fallen foul of future emissions legislation. It was a cheap, badly designed car which sold on price only; and those who were unfortunate enough to have bought one found that they became virtually unsaleable overnight.