Insights into St Petersburg

The Lvov Bus Factory (LAZ)

For older people the name of this company evokes an image of comfortable coaches and less comfortable curved city buses. However, it took some time to organize bus production at the factory...

The foundation day of the factory is considered to be 21 May 1945, when the construction of an auto assembly plant started in the designated area. Even before the construction was finished in 1949, a decree of the USSR Council of Ministers was issued which prescribed the production of electric cars and buses at the factory and since then it has been called the Lvov Bus Factory (LAZ).

In 1948, the Moscow Central Scientific Research Institute for Automobile and Automotive Engines (NAMI) developed and produced the electric car NAMI-750. After a trial operation of this vehicle in Moscow, it was decided to recommend its production to LAZ. Thus, in 1951, a batch of 20 electric cars NAMI-LAZ-750 was produced, which were put to use in Moscow and Leningrad for mail delivery from 1952 to 1958.

Having produced the first batch, production was halted as the factory had quickly to get readjust for the production of automobile cranes known as AK-32. What happened was that the Dnepropetrovsk (Southern) Engineering Plant which had produced the cranes hitherto was required to assemble the first Soviet long-range ballistic missiles known as R-1, a copy of the German V-2.

After modernization in 1955, the crane model was called LAZ-690. It was produced in Lvov until the mid-1960s. In total, about 25,000 truck cranes were put out and later were put to work in all the corners of the USSR.

In 1953, LAZ was tasked to develop production of van bodies and two-axle trailers for ZIS-150 trucks. In 1954, serial production of flatbed trailers was started, and the trailers were called LAZ-729. At the same time, an experimental section of LAZ made prototypes of an articulated lorry with LAZ-150F vans and LAZ-730 two-axle trailers, equally suitable for transporting both food and industrial products.

They marked the first independent development of a new LAZ design bureau headed by Viktor Osepchugov, who worked previously as chief designer at the Yaroslavl Automobile Factory (YAZ). With his help, the first domestic diesel engines and heavy-load vehicles were put into production in Yaroslavl, and later their mass production was launched in Minsk (MAZ) and Kremenchug (KrAZ).

In 1954, LAZ included a new model in its production target: a chassis for a single-axle trailer van for transporting grain. The 712 model was matched the GAZ-51 truck in sections and parts. In August of the same year, production of 1-APM-3 single-axle trailers for long loads started.

The target of 1955 was immensely complicated by increasing the range of products. The factory was to produce 3000 mobile cranes, 1500 chassis for PAZ-712 trailers, 2030 trailers, as well as spare parts for the products. In addition, LAZ needed to develop the production of the whole trailer PAZ-712, as its partner factory failed to arrange production of the truck body, which had been developed at the Pavlovsk Bus Factory (PAZ). In June 1956, following technical documentation of PAZ, Lvov started producing two-axle mobile shop trailers LAZ-742B with a frameless body structure.

Soon, however, trailer production had to be suspended in favor of bus production which was increasingly growing. The factory lacked the capacity to combine the two branches.

Originally LAZ were planned to produce buses ZIS-155 designed at the Joseph Stalin Moscow Automobile Factory, but the highest ranks supported a project of the new design bureau to build their own model of the bus, and LAZ were given samples of the most recent European buses: Magirius, Neoplan, Mercedes. They were studied, tested, and given consideration from the point of view of LAZ’s production technology. By the end of 1955, the first child of the Lvov designers came into the world.

The starting point for their modelling was the design of the bus Mercedes-Benz O 321, while the exterior stylistics were borrowed from the bus Magirus-Deutz Saturn with a self-supporting truss body base which bore the majority of the load. It allowed considerable freedom for modelling the upper part of the bus - window frames, door width, the shape of the roof. The engine, manual transmission, brakes, axles and steering gear mostly matched those of the ZIS-155 and the new bus, ZIL-158 (in 1956, after Stalin’s death, the plant named after Stalin (ZIS) was renamed after Likhachev (ZIL), an outstanding Russian scholar).

On 2 February 1956, two days before the opening of the 20th Communist Party Congress, the first experimental model of the bus, Lvov, was assembled at the Lvov Bus Factory (the label LAZ-695 was assigned to it later). For the first time in the USSR a longitudinal layout with rear powertrain was applied, as well as an integrated system with a body base support (the word integrated in relation to the body structure first came into use among Soviet automakers at this time) and spring suspension brackets with non-linear characteristics, developed together with specialists of the Moscow Institute. The suspension almost did not change its rigidity with increases in load, and the bus moved smoothly both empty and fully loaded. The bus looked much more elegant than its European prototypes and especially compared with the ZIS-155. The aerodynamic body looked like openwork because of the panoramic glass of the roof pitches.

“From the outside ... our LAZs are a sight for sore eyes! But whoever drives them knows how imperfect they are…”
For a Great Trip newspaper, 14 April 1966

The first serial buses were made in the summer of 1957 and were popularly known as "festival buses", as, indeed, they were sent to Moscow to serve the VI World Festival of Youth and Students. Interestingly, in contrast to experimental models, the name of the bus was written in Ukrainian – Lviv, which reflected the special status of the Ukrainian SSR among other Soviet republics. One of these buses was preserved and restored in full accordance with the look of the bus in 1957. This bus is now in the collection of the Public Transport Museum in Moscow.

Very soon tourist and intercity modified models were made on the basis of the Lviv and were put into serial production: coaches LAZ-697 Tourist and LAZ-699 Karpaty (Carpathians), the latter being a name that from that time has been assigned to LAZ buses of the A-class. Premium-class buses acquired the name Ukraina (Ukraine).

The LAZ-695 stood up well to the test both as service and charter buses. However, it turned out to be not too comfortable on city routes with a large passenger flow. Space in front of the rear entrance door was limited and the floor was stepped because of the underneath power compartment. The walkway to the front door was poor and passengers had to squeeze between the front seats and the wall of the driver’s cabin. Panoramic windows allowed sightseeing, but when the weather was hot the sun was almost unbearable. Therefore, in the 1970-1980s, the LiAZ 677 buses with their front engine but large overall floor space were more popular on city routes.

However, the LAZ-697 were highly suitable for tourists. For many years, the number of people in a tourist group (30 people) was based on the capacity of the LAZ-697.

“We called it Mashka because of its cumbersome sluggishness and inertia. But inside there was plenty of space; the bus was soft, warm in winter, and had a powerful engine.”
Memories of a passenger of the LAZ-695M

During the years of operation, LAZ developed quite a few unique and experimental bus models. Even trolleys were designed on the basis of Lvov models. Specially designed buses were used at the Baikonur space-centre, and exhibited at international bus weeks in Nice and awarded prizes there. They also transported guests of the 1980 Olympic Games and helped overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl accident.

In the late 1970s, production of second-generation commuter buses with diesel engines was established in Lvov, and in 1990 new travel models were developed.

After the events of 1991, when Ukraine became an independent state, output at the factory was greatly reduced. During this period numerous and almost fruitless attempts were made to develop a new version of the coach base and offer it to consumers.

Over the years, the situation at the factory worsened until in 2002 all of the old models were removed from production (technological equipment for their production was transferred to another plant) and modern technologies were introduced. Today the Lvov Bus Factory is one of the largest enterprises producing passenger transport in the former Soviet Union.