by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Still braving Bulgaria's roads

A Lada 2107.jpg

To have a car in Communist Bulgaria was not just to have a transportation means. To own a car in Communist Bulgaria meant to dedicate much of your time to a machine.

To start off with, buying a new car was next to impossible because supply could never catch up with demand. Therefore, people had to put their name on a list against a downpayment and then start coughing up instalments in the course of 10-15 years, and then get the car rolled off the planned economy production line. Curiously, families had to start paying instalments for a car for heir kids when they were in the early grades, in the hope the car would be ready when they graduated.

Owing to the extortionate import duties (up to 200 percent) driving a Western car was only within the reach of the BKP elite or of the select few who worked abroad and got paid in hard currency. The rest had to limit their choice to the Soviet Zaporozhetses, Zhigulis, Moskviches, Ladas and Volgas, the East German Trabants and Wartburgs, the Czechoslovak Skodas, the Romanian Dacias and the Polish Fiats. In 1966-1970 Bulgaria did manufacture, or rather assemble, cars – the so-called Bulgar Renault 8 and 10 as well as the Renault Alpine – on a Renault license. From the 1960s, Moskvich 408s were assembled in Bulgaria as well. For a short period and in limited numbers, Fiat 124s and Fiat 850s were also assembled.

Though everyone in Communist Bulgaria was supposed to be equal to everyone else, cars became a social status sym§bol. The tuk-tukking Trabis were the butt of jokes while the BKP elite moved about in luxury Chaykas, "inspired" by the US Packard.

Maintaining a car was a serious commitment. Generations of Bulgarian men spent their days off ritually washing the car and lying under it trying to fix things for many hours. Spare parts were a rarity. The 1980s downturn brought about the flourishing of theft of windshield wipers. Thanks to a shortage of local garages, car owners produced makeshift garages for themselves or "dressed up" their cars in handmade tarpaulin covers.

Following the democratic changes the Bulgarians were quick to swap the tedious Moskviches, Ladas and Zaporozhetses with 15-20-year-old Western Renaults, Opels and Volkswagens. At present, spotting a Communist-era car on the roads is an increasing rarity. Such vehicles usually belong to dedicated owners who are still willing to spend time and money on their maintenance.

A tuned Trabant

A tuned Trabant


Russian ZIL

Russian ZIL lorries (ZIL is the acronym for "Plant Named I. A. Likhachev," after a Soviet state functionary who directed early car and truck manufacturing). Those were perhaps the most widespread lorries in Communist Bulgaria. They continue to be in use, mainly outside Sofia


The Volga logo

The Volga logo. The Volgas were manufactured in a factory called GAZ (an acronym for "Gorky Automobile Plant"). The plant also manufactured the luxurious Chaykas as well as lorries


A Moskvich 2140

A Moskvich 2140. The model, manufactured from the 1970s, was notorious for its poor workmanship. Bulgarians joked that the AZLK abbreviation meant "Oh, why did I buy you?"


A tuned Zaporozhets

A tuned Zaporozhets. Manufactured in Ukraine in 1960-1994, the Zaporozhetses were low-cost, small-engine cars


Trabant by Georgi Donov

A Trabant as an inspiration: a sculpture called Trabant by Georgi Donov, situated at the back of the National Art Gallery in Sofia


 Volga GAZ-21

A tuned Volga GAZ-21, in production in 1956-1970. It was considered luxury and was inspired by US model of the time though it had a higher suspension


 IZh Sport bike

An IZh Sport bike with a sidecar. The plant which manufactured it, the IzhMASh, also specialised in weapons, including the notorious Kalashnikov submachine gun


Lada 2103

The Lada 2103 was in production in 1972-1984. In the course of 12 years about 1,305,000 copies rolled out. Many of those are still in use, mainly in the provinces


Chayka M13

A Chayka M13. These cult limos were manufactured in two generations, the M13 from 1959 to 1981, and the M14 from 1977 to 1988


Skoda 120

A Skoda 120. The model was manufactured in 1976-1990. Known for being good value for money, its boot was at the front


Volga GAZ-24

Volga GAZ-24 was in production in 1970-1985


Trabant for sale

"This Trabant Is Not for Sale": the fate of many of the cars of Communism is to stay parked forever, with flat tyres and in backyards or side streets


Trabant cars

A Trabant over a Trabant. Trabis were the butt of jokes during Communism for their cheap construction and low power


The logo of a Wartburg

The logo of a Wartburg, manufactured by the East German  Automobilwerk Eisenach


Tuned Trabant

A tuned Trabant. The yellow number plates were in use in 1986-1992. Those were the last number plates of Communism


America for Bulgaria FoundationHigh Beam is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners.


    Commenting on

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

Her father's daughter who imposed her own mediocrity on Bulgaria's culture? Or a forbearing politician who revived interest in Bulgaria's past and placed the country on the world map? Or a quirky mystic? Or a benefactor to the arts?

In 1199, Pope Innocent III wrote a letter to Bulgarian King Kaloyan to offer an union.

The Rhodope mountains have an aura of an enchanted place no matter whether you visit in summer, autumn or winter. But in springtime there is something in the Bulgarian south that makes you feel more relaxed, almost above the ground.

There are many ways to categorise and promote Bulgaria's heritage: traditional towns and villages, Thracian rock sanctuaries, nature, sun and fun on the seaside, and so on and so forth.

Karlovo is one of those places where size does not equal importance.

Pavlikeni, a town in north-central Bulgaria, is hardly famous for its attractions, and yet this small, quiet place is the home of one of the most interesting ancient Roman sites in Bulgaria: a villa rustica, or a rural villa, with an incredibly well-preserv

How to celebrate like locals without getting lost in complex traditions

Small-town Bulgaria is a diverse place. Some of the towns are well known to tourists while others are largely neglected by outsiders.

Of the many villages in Bulgaria that can be labeled "a hidden treasure," few can compete with Matochina. Its old houses are scattered on the rolling hills of Bulgaria's southeast, overlooked by a mediaeval fortress.

Poet who lost an eye in the Great War, changed Bulgarian literature - and was assassinated for his beliefs

In previous times, when information signs of who had built what were yet to appear on buildings of interest, people liberally filled the gaps with their imagination.

If anything defines the modern Bulgarian landscape, it is the abundance of recent ruins left from the time when Communism collapsed and the free market filled the void left by planned economy.