My latest obsession is something that succeeds because it finds a way for me to be different within an inherently limited structure. It also succeeds in that it appeals to my weird alternate history sense (i.e, yes, politics are totally different, but what of the cars?)
So, in my latest project in Automation, I struck gold. Monster inline-four engines, by a producer that, in the timeline, has become the biggest foreign brand in the US by market share.
The inspiration started when I looked at World War II Soviet jeeps and saw one powered by a three liter inline-four engine. This engine style was, thanks to its huge size and common block configuration, both build-able and different. (A more exotic engine configuration could be imagined, but would fall victim to Automation’s understandably limited engine types, while I wanted something different from a smaller I4).
There’s a good reason why I4 engines normally aren’t that big. The Super Three, as I nicknamed it, has the bulkiness of a large engine with the inherent limitations of an I4, and has an incredibly low RPM that is spared from being even lower by its rugged parts.
Once the Super Three got built in the engine maker, in 1946, I had to make over a decade worth of later cars that used it. Engine limitations like this are both more realistic and challenging than simply giving each new car a custom-built engine. So far, the cars built only stood out in the “muscle” category-understandably.
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Now for the “background”. This is based on the The Big One timeline, and I make no real claims to total, or even much plausibility. Said timeline would be a total mess regarding cars-Germany is nuked to ruin, which takes out both its car industry and machine-tools that set the rest of the world back, Japan remains economically backwards, and the US hogs all the remaining advanced tooling for its military-industrial complex. Thus its cars are even clunkier, to the point where the author said that to keep gas prices “down”, they have to not tax gasoline.
Also, Russia and Eastern Europe go capitalist far earlier, which could mean something other than old Fiats coming out of their lines.
(Incidentally, the main timeline is such a boring wish-fulfillment pushover that I find thinking about cars much more interesting than the main divergences. TBO was the ‘existing alternate history setting’ I mentioned in this old post.)
Enter the company TAZ. It stands for a Russian translation of “Tashkent Auto Factory” (Tashkent Avto Zavod).
TAZ’s fictional history is such-it starts out as a wartime plant producing military vehicles and/or engines for such in the safety of Central Asia. To survive after the war and privatization, it takes its one product-the Super Three engine, and turns itself into a maker of civilian autos.
The engine is far more suited for utility vehicles than passenger cars. But for whatever reason, TAZ ends up deciding to make such vehicles in addition to light trucks. Stuffing the Super Three into an auto gets you-a proto-muscle car. It’s too big to fit into smaller city cars, and doesn’t match the power of the true monsters, but it has the raw force in a smaller package.
As a niche car, it sells well enough to keep both its parent and said parent’s auto business functional. They begin crossing the oceans (where they become low-end muscle cars), and they give TAZ a foot in the door and a “theme” of power that helps them stay distinct. Although not the sole engine once they expand, the fondness for the Super Three keeps large I4s under the hoods of subsesquent TAZes.
Although technological progression and trends would be far different beyond the initial 1950s period given the previously mentioned differences, I reimagined a more modern TAZ, making a “3-21” three liter, 21st Century inline-four-and am in the process of building the “3-21” series in Automation now.
Question marks for TAZ remain. Their big engines are vulnerable to oil price increases, the inherent limitations of large I4s could work against them, the geography of their initial location isn’t the most efficient, and there’s politics that could harm them.
(Canon TBO reverts the USSR back to a large Russia while glossing over the inevitable awkward politics surrounding the non-Russian republics. Solidarity around an even bloodier Eastern Front and a postwar boom would repress it for a while, but it might very well come back after another bust).
Still, as an exercise, it’s very fun.