Accommodating itself to private ownership of automobiles relatively late in the twentieth century, the Soviet government did not make it easy for motorists to obtain what they needed to keep their cars in working order. In fact, it was almost impossible for them to do so without violating the canons of Communist morality, to say nothing of Soviet law. The shortage of spare parts, fuel, repair services, legally sanctioned garage space, and other accoutrements of an automobile-based society—plus the resort to the second, gray, shadow (a.k.a. “on-the-side”) economy—defined the specificity of Soviet car culture. Based on a wide range of sources that includes interviews, contemporary Soviet newspapers, magazines, and social science literature, belles letters and film comedies, as well as Western research, this article explores Soviet car culture in terms of its spatial dimensions and the kinds of relationships that occurred within them. It concludes with observations about the culture’s internal contradictions and dynamics.


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