After the end of World War II, the leadership and population of the Soviet Union faced a most difficult but vital task - the restoration of the national economy. It was not possible to carry it out in full without the widespread motorization of the country in the middle of the 20th century. Therefore, despite the most difficult conditions, new plants began to grow like mushrooms throughout the Soviet Union after the rain. One of these enterprises is the Riga Bus Factory.
It is important to emphasize that in the Soviet Union there were only two large enterprises that were engaged in the production of minibuses. The first such was the Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant. The second was the Riga Bus Factory, founded in 1949. The future RAF was created on the basis of the already existing Riga car repair plant No. 2, which in turn was once created on the basis of the workshops of Deitsmanis and Potreka. The new enterprise was called the Riga Bus Body Plant. In 1951 it was merged with the Riga Experimental Automobile Factory. In just 4 years, a new production line was established, after which a new RAF enterprise was finally formed. The final reorganization took place in 1954.
The company produced its first buses RAF-651 in 1953. In fact, these were copies of the GZA-651 buses from the Gorky plant. With 16 seats, the model accommodated 25 passengers. The next iconic model was a bus on the GAZ-51 chassis - RAF-251. It was born in 1955. The first minibus of the enterprise - RAF-10 was assembled in 1957. The European experience had a great influence on the design. The engineers of the Riga plant also studied Volkswagen cars.
The most significant models in the history of the enterprise were the minibuses RAF-977 "Latvia" and RAF-2203 "Latvia". The first one was released in 1959 and has gone through several upgrades. In addition, the production of the model was expanded at the capacity of the Lugansk Automobile Repair Plant, where the minibus was produced under the designation LARZ-977 "Lugansk". The second model is well known even to the generation born in the 1990s. The production of the famous 2203 began in 1976. The car once visited Kilimanjaro, covered 12 thousand kilometers across Africa, and was used as a taxi during the 1980 Olympics. RAF-2203 was produced in a huge assortment of models, the minibus was assembled, including abroad, under a license, for example, in Finland.
The company's glorious days ended in the fateful 1980s. The events around the Riga Bus Factory at this time raise much more questions than answers. However, this applies to the overwhelming majority of Soviet enterprises of that era. In 1986, a scandal occurred at the RAF due to a decrease in product quality. In 1987, a new leader was elected at the plant by voting of the labor collective. However, the new director did not sit in his chair for long, already in 1990 he was replaced by a new person. As soon as Latvia became a de jure independent state, the RAF was immediately turned into a joint-stock company. Both happened on September 6, 1991.
In the first half of the 1990s, the plant was engaged in the production of small cars, which could not find a large sales market for themselves. By 1993, the plant presented several interesting models, including the RAF-M1 "Roxana" and the RAF-M2 "Stils", but it’s amazing that no investor was found for any of the projects in the new happy capitalist world. Until 1996, the RAF was guided by the Russian market, but very soon it became clear that the new GAZelles were completely replacing the RAFiki. Exports have come to naught. In the same year, the factory tried to enter into an alliance with GAZ, but the decision was blocked by the Latvian government. In 1997, the plant filed for bankruptcy. In the new world of "free competition" there was no place for the legendary Soviet minibus. And now, where thousands of engineers and technicians used to work, only the wind walks and dust settles.
In 2012, the Latvian racer Andris Dambis opened a small museum dedicated to the history of the plant in one of the old buildings of the Riga Bus Factory. In 2018, the RAF trademark was registered again, after which it was promised to present a new model "RAFika" in 2020. Unfortunately, it was not possible to find any information on the success of the "revived" enterprise focused on the production of trolleybuses and electric cars in the network as of 2021.
If you want to know even more interesting things about the Soviet industry, then you should definitely read about Luch players: how in the USSR they came up with their own CD-drive, and why it did not go into series.