An American Car on the Road in the USSR, 1972

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

The tight restrictions on travelers in the USSR closed more than 97% of that country to most foreigners.  The travel restrictions particularly affected diplomats from the Western Powers.  Nevertheless, from time to time, staff of the U.S. embassy in Moscow made road trips to the various areas in the Soviet Union that were open to foreign visitors.  Those excursions could be for many reasons: formal observation and reporting trips, publications collection, or vacations and sightseeing.  In some cases the underlying reasons could be a combination of one or more factors.

In late October/early November 1972, two embassy staffers visited Tbilisi in Georgia and three towns of the North Caucasus region, Ordzhonikidze (capital of Northern Ossetia), Pyatigorsk, and Armavir, and then drove on the Rostov.  On October 29, embassy Economic Officer Robert Strand and Political Officer Ralph Porter hit the road in one of the embassy’s cars, a 1972 Chevrolet sedan (model unknown), returning to Moscow on November 2.  Their adventures with their American car led the two FSOs (foreign service officers) to prepare the following entertaining report upon their return to the embassy.[1]

U.S. Embassy Moscow to Department of State, Airgram A-702, November 16, 1972 (NAID 176204526)
report continued, answering questions from local Georgians about America
report continues on visiting a Soviet repair shop
Airgram from American Embassy Moscow, report on performance of the 1972 Chevrolet

The author visited the Soviet Union in 1973 and can testify to the drabness and clunkiness of the typical Soviet-produced automobile of the period. 


[1] U.S. Embassy Moscow to Department of State, Airgram A-702, November 16, 1972, file ORG 7 Moscow (NAID 176204524), 1970-73 Subject-Numeric File (NAID 580618), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.  The formal trip report prepared by Strand and Porter is in U.S. Embassy Moscow to Department of State, Airgram A-72, February 7, 1973, file ORG 7 Moscow, 1970-73 Subject-Numeric File.

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