Siren, cartridge, and tear gas: the coolest and most unusual car alarm in the USSR

 

“Wheels” is not the first time we tell about different models of Soviet car alarms. Their devices, nuances and observation of evolution allow us to better understand what the average motorist lived in our country in the era of fathers and grandfathers, in the era of carburetors and crooked starters, in the era when the phrases “climate control” or “automatic transmission” were grammatically understandable for most citizens, but completely devoid of meaning in general…

These trips into the past are especially interesting due to the fact that car alarms of the period of the USSR and some early years of the post-Soviet Troubles were not clones of the Western commercial products, but followed their own, often strange and oddly enough way of development, as they were produced in the masses as side-products of military enterprises.

Most often in studies of Soviet alarm systems, which get into the editor’s “Wheels” in the form of undisturbed “time capsules”, we pay attention to the curious design and specific logic of their work, but sometimes there are real gems, when you have to admire and weep at the same time. And here is “for the first time on the arena”: we present you a real diamond in our collection – the most sophisticated and advanced security system of the USSR production.

This is not an alarm system, namely the ARMITRATION COMPLEX – in the very meaning that today installers of modern alarm systems put in it. Most likely, a more advanced alarm system for the car in the USSR was not born – a device called “Argus” was the pinnacle of creativity of the Soviet developers, after which domestic production was quickly and forever superseded from the market by imported “alarms”…

Argus was produced by Moscow-based TEMP Research and Production Enterprise, a strategic defense contractor created shortly before the Second World War, which designed the power and automation systems for the engines of the most popular military and civilian aircraft, including all latest MIGs and SUs. After 1991, the company began to fall apart rapidly due to the loss of funding and went into various collaborations with civilian enterprises. For example, it was “TEMP” that made injector injection on the Ufa engines for AZLK… Car alarm system “Argus” also appeared as such collateral product – “with multi-stage protection”, as the instruction stated. TEMP’s partner in this project was the Research Institute of Applied Chemistry from Sergiev Posad, also a defense enterprise, now known, among other things, for its quite civilian fireworks and the Wasp traumatic pistols.

The Argus car alarm system was in production from 1991 to 1995 and was impressively advanced for its age! It included in addition to the main electronic unit, piezosirena, standalone battery in case of disconnection of the main one, a shake sensor, two pyrotechnic cartridges active protection (this is the most important, and about them will be detailed below), a set of button-signals to open the doors (if the car was not regular), as well as a kilometer of wires and a generous lot of screws and self-winders for mounting. Without any irony we shall say: a complete set, comparable with not bad modern alarm system!

But first things first!

The central electronic unit is, in fact, the heart of any car alarm system. It contains all algorithms of its actions in various situations. Nowadays, this unit is miniaturized year by year and often does not exceed the dimensions of a matchbox. In “Argus” it does not reach the size of a brick, but all its capabilities can be contained in a chip the size of a grain of buckwheat… Nevertheless, the device is made extremely carefully, according to all canons of military industry. High-quality assembly, thick layer of varnish, palladium-containing parts…

The next element in the set of “Argus” – piezosiren! Such a thing was considered to be unthinkable cool for those years! Why? It is simple! The majority of the soviet car alarm systems were calculated on connection to standard audio signal – klaxon. Some (quite a few) models had a klaxon, similar to the regular one, in the complete set. Respectively, in those years the car alarm sounded as a continuous buzzing, and the owner could not distinguish the voice of his own car by ear. But the Argus-protected car sang a characteristic croaking siren and it was hard to mistake it with anything else!

Siren, cartridge, and tear gas: the coolest and most unusual car alarm in the USSR

Siren, cartridge, and tear gas: the coolest and most unusual car alarm in the USSR

Another unseen for those years accessory in the set was an autonomous battery which prevented disarming the alarm simply by removing the starter battery terminal (if, of course, the squeaker itself was well camouflaged under the bumper or the underbody and was not afraid of the wires being cut by an intruder – otherwise the availability of the backup power was meaningless! ) The twelve-volt, 1.6 amp-hour lead battery was sealed and kept continuously charged by the Argus electronics. In our case, however, the battery is completely dead – 26 years lying in a box on the shelf, it has not survived, and it is impossible to reanimate it…

Siren, cartridge, and tear gas: the coolest and most unusual car alarm in the USSR
Siren, cartridge, and tear gas: the coolest and most unusual car alarm in the USSR

Also included was a body oscillation sensor designed to track window intrusion and wheel theft. The sensor was a simple pendulum-type contact pair, with a weight-contact oscillating on a flexible, springy metal plate. In a clearly oversized housing. Frankly speaking, what prevented from placing this sensor inside the central block, where there is more than enough free space – is unclear…

Well, here we are getting to the most delicious thing – the elements of active protection! There are two of them in Argus – different and triggered by a certain algorithm.

The first active element had its own name “PAP-1” – Antitheft Aerosol Cartridge. The two wires of the igniter went to the alarm unit, which fed 12 volt to them to initiate the cartridge. According to the description, “after triggering, it burns without sparks or flame, forming an aerosol cloud of blinding and “smoking” action in the cabin. Frankly speaking, the description is not very clear – it seems that “PAP-1” releases tear gas when it burns…

The second cartridge in the Argus kit is a smoke cartridge, which fills the passenger compartment with a thick “fog”. The cartridge is mounted in a protective metal housing and initiated the same – by giving 12 volts to the igniter from the alarm unit. Both cartridges, according to the instructions, should have been installed in the cabin under the seat.

What was the algorithm of work of “Argus”? I must say, very logical and not stupid! In guard mode, the alarm blocked the ignition when you try to twist the lock with a picklock or “svertyshm”, beeped after the unauthorized opening of doors, hood or trunk, and also reacted with a squeal on the vibrations of the body. Removing the terminal from the battery did not help – in this case the standalone battery came into action. If an intruder turned out to be persistent and patient and tried to start the engine by letting the ignition coil get “plus” by means of timing wires, a noise squib worked at once, and 5-10 seconds later – a smoke squib! Don’t you agree, not too bad for 1991, eh? In some ways it is still not bad at all!

However, like all car alarm systems of those years, the weakest point of Argus was a hidden button for its activation/deactivation, which could replace a usual today’s keyfob or smartphone and nullify all efforts of its developers. The simple saloons of Zhiguli, Moskvichi and Volga cars, not to mention Zaporozhets, had practically no place for the hidden button, so it was easy for a hijacker to find it within the reach of the driver. After the button was found, the car became completely defenseless, and all its menacing pyrotechnics lost their sense…

And at the end – a little bit of practice. It was impossible not to find out whether the squibs retained their taste for life after more than a quarter of century of storage on the shelf. Surprisingly, but it saved! At least partially.

We tried to trigger them in the order prescribed by the instruction, but the wires were still mixed up and the smoke cartridge went off first. The efficiency is at a very high level: the smoke was generated thick and dense, in quantities that can fill the interior of any car, depriving the carjacker of the ability to see and, in fact, to breathe normally.

At the same time, the “aerosol” cartridge was not very impressive – either it was designed for this purpose or it simply lost its properties from old age, but it demonstrated only a soft “fart”, a half-meter jump on the table and some indistinct smoke in a volume several times smaller than that of the specialized smoke cartridge. Checking the action and subsequent examination of the burnt-out device showed the complete absence of any tear-stopping effects…

Siren, cartridge, and tear gas: the coolest and most unusual car alarm in the USSR
Siren, cartridge, and tear gas: the coolest and most unusual car alarm in the USSR

To summarize, it should be noted that the use of pyrotechnics for car security has always stirred the minds of professional installers and manufacturers of security components, as well as amateur car owners, prone to all sorts of “crafting” on their knees. In the 90s and even in the beginning of the 2000s many books and magazines for radio amateurs-homemakers copied from each other practically without changes the drawing of a pyrotechnical gas generator, combining the noise effect for its use in the alarm system. This design was a cartridge for a gas gun, on which it was necessary to wind a heating spiral of nichrome wire. When you apply 12 volts to this coil, the cartridge for a few minutes heated and triggered, throwing with a loud bang a cloud of tear gas into the cabin. According to the description – effective, but despite the prevalence of the idea, we did not come across any information about the real use of such self-made items in the literature or on the internet…

The modern factory version of such active protection also exists – however, the concept has changed over the years. Today, some private craftsmen engaged in exclusive “author’s” signaling, offer customers as an additional line of protection to install a pyrotechnic smoke generator – but not in the cabin, and outside the car: in the engine compartment or under the bottom. However, the effectiveness of this method is not too great – the smoke in the cabin disorients directly to the hijacker, but the smoke outside is aimed only at attracting to the car attention of others …

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