In 1996, Suzuki surprised the car community by launching a very unusual X-90 off-roader into mass production. In fact, the Japanese car was a 2-seater all-wheel drive coupe, built on the ramp platform of the popular model Vitara.
Then, the concept of this machine was characterized as innovative and unparalleled. However, even 40 years before this event, Soviet engineers successfully implemented “in metal” the idea of such a compact “off-road” under the name GAZ-M73.
In the early fifties of the last century, the program for the development of virgin lands was gaining momentum in the USSR. For the development of new agricultural areas, the country needed specialized machinery. Moreover, not only tractors, harvesters and trucks, but also cars for chairmen of collective farms, machine operators working directly in the fields and other rural leaders. The compact SUV GAZ-M73 was developed in parallel with the larger GAZ-M72 (hybrid of the body of Victory and the chassis of the GAZ-69) by a group of specialists led by Georgy Moiseyevich Wasserman – the real guru of the all-wheel drive.
In 1955, two prototypes for trial trials were built: one with a coupe and a separate spacious trunk with a full-sized “reserve” on the lid and a classic pickup. The machine had a solid frame structure and a dependent spring suspension of all wheels. As a power unit was used a simple 1.2-liter 35-hp low-valve engine and a 3-speed transmission from the “Moskvich-402”. But the continuous bridges and 2-speed transfer case (with gear ratios of 1.15 and 2.68) were specially designed for this particular machine. Subsequently, these units were successfully used on serial all-wheel drive sedans and universals “Moskvich 410/411”.
The length of the SUV was only 3.43 meters, with a 2-meter wheelbase. Due to this compactness, the curb weight was kept within 1070 kg, which had a positive effect on the patency. A light and dashing car with a short base, high ground clearance, small overhangs and narrow “toothy” 16-inch tires on the “crossroad” could easily give odds to the heavier related GAZ models: 69 and M72. The design of the model at that time was quite modern, and most importantly functional: simple rounded body shapes made it easier to wash the car after taking mud baths.
Automobile functionaries of the USSR did not appreciate all the charms of the innovative concept of a compact SUV, so there was neither time nor money to deploy a serial production of the original GAZ-M73. Moreover, the production facilities of the Gorky Automobile Plant were then loaded with 100% more popular models.
However, the project did not die definitively. One of the test prototypes and all the technical documentation was later transferred to Moscow to the MZMA plant (later – AZLK). Separate ideas and units tested in the GAZ-M73, found their application in the serial “Muscovite-410”: a unique all-wheel drive sedan, which really had no analogues in the then world car industry.