The ZIU-683 Articulated Trolleybus in 1/43 Scale

By John-William Greenbaum

Although uncommon in the United States, perhaps you’ve gone to Canada (or the former East Bloc, France, UK, Greece, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, or Mexico City) and noticed that, in certain cities, the buses will run not off diesel fuel, gasoline, or compressed natural gas, but rather via electricity from overhead lines collected via two pantographs on top of the bus. These type of vehicles are called trolleybuses, and perhaps their largest use has been in the East Bloc.

Start Scale Models has made this 1/43 Russian trolleybus in Russia!  On this model, the pantographs are shown in the down position, not touching electrical wires from which they would ordinarily draw electric current.

This one, which took eight solid years to design, began life as the ZIU-10 and ultimately entered production in 1986 as the ZIU-683 Articulated Trolleybus. At the time it was released, it was the longest trolleybus in the world. Indeed, it could carry 164 people! Designed at the Zavod Imeini Uritskogo (“Factory Named for [Moisei] Uritskiy” as the ZIU-10 in 1978, the factory was located in Saratov and is currently known as “Trolza”.

Despite its enormous length, three axles, and flexible rear portion, like most Soviet trolleybuses, the ZIU-683 was specifically designed not only to function more or less like a typical city bus, but also to look like one. For example, it has the headlights, turn signals, rear lights, and even front fascia typical of a Soviet city bus.  Many features were also copied from West German MAN buses, such as the axles. It also featured a pneumatic suspension system that lacked springs, making for a much more comfortable ride.

An arguable issue was the trolleybus’s triple braking system: electric, pneumatic, and mechanical. Although this made it possible to stop runaway trolleybuses under almost any circumstances, it was also extremely complex and somewhat difficult to service. Still, it’s generally seen as worth the hassle. Indeed, it’s still featured on the currently-manufactured ZIU-6205/TrolZa-6205-series trolleybus, which is still common in Russia.

You might be wondering something: how do you store a ZIU-683 away from overhead lines? The answer is actually quite simple. See those two hooks on the front of the trolleybus? Just take a truck, hook two chains up to it, and pull. Although production only lasted from 1986-2002, surprisingly large amounts of ZIU-683’s were manufactured. So great was the number manufactured, in fact, that not only do many survive as museum pieces, but there are even examples in regular passenger service to this day!

To solve the issue of the electric doors (in an electric bus!) not working after a crash, virtually all have been refitted with pneumatic doors, and examples in production after about 1989 actually did receive them from the factory. Further, exportation of the design has flourished. Although the variants are in some cases radically different, the ZIU-682 series was exported to Yugoslavia, Poland, Greece, Ukraine, Argentina, and Bulgaria. All in all, despite its defects and extreme complexity, the ZIU-683 Trolleybus was and is generally a well-liked vehicle that was surprisingly reliable given the nature of Soviet vehicles in general.

ZIU-683 Articulated Trolleybus
Model by Start Scale Models, w/ operating pantographs 
Figure by Replicars
Years Built: 1986-2002
Engine: 170 Kilowatt (228 HP) Electric Traction Motor
Fuel Type: Electricity (Direct Current) collected,  via Twin Overhead Pantographs
Top Speed: 43.5 mph

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