GAZ-21 — every Soviet man’s dream

From the first Volga to the rarest models of the Gorky Car Plant

GAZ-21 — every Soviet man’s dream
Photo: Maksim Platonov

The first Volga car left the conveyor belt of the Gorky Car Plant on 15 October 1956. The pride of the Soviet automotive industry of those times immediately became a dream of every citizen of the Soviet country. This dream was often impossible. Ordinary people accumulated money and lined up in a queue in expectation of the purchase for years. But Volga cars were made for special occasions and special people first. Everybody knew if a Volga was on the road, a director or a worker of the party’s committee was a hundred per cent the passenger. Top workers, artists, singers and best athletes of the USSR were awarded a Volga, it is a special prize in State Lottery. Read in Realnoe Vremya’s brief insight about how everything began and what the story of the elite car ended with.

Pobeda’s heir

One of the most famous and respected Soviet cars — GAZ-21 Volga — recently celebrated its birthday. Its production began at the Gorky Car Plant 64 years ago.

Volga became a successor of after-war Pobeda car. However, the engineers made its coachwork bigger. It was a comfortable car those front seat was a duplex and resembled a sofa, not split in half by the gear lever. It was decided to place it on the steering wheel.

Volga became a successor of after-war Pobeda car. Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov

The engineers equipped the first car with a 2,5-litre 75 horsepower engine. And besides three speeds it had an automatic transmission, which was a novelty for those years. There were presented over 30 modifications of the car — a taxi, a passenger car, diesel and even “tropical” cars.

However, this car was, first of all, designed for not the top echelon of Soviet nomenclature. Its value exceeded 5,000 rubles with salaries that held at 100-200 rubles a month.

Engineer Lev Yeremeyev chaired the project on the car. The designers based on American works as well as aviation and cosmic motives. A one-piece grille painted in chrome with vertical cuts became the gimmick of the appearance of the car.

A one-piece grille painted in chrome with vertical cuts became the gimmick of the appearance of the car. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Pobeda’s engine was placed into the car first. Only a year later, Volga had its own 2,4-litre engine. After several modernisations, GAZ-21 was withdrawn from production in 1970.

GAZ-24 looks simple and reliable, while rare 3105 — expensive and rich

The design of the next model of Volga began as early as 1958, but the bulk production of the evolutionary continuation of the GAZ-21 was launched only almost 10 years later. The series was made longer than the GAZ-21 — the Gorky plant produced GAZ-24 until 1985.

A popular sample of GAZ-24 from the 3rd series of prototypes. Photo: wikipedia.org

The history of the Nizhny Novgorod car plant had even a car for special agents — GAZ-23. This model of Volga was designed deliberately for KGB. At that time, it was a perfect machine, as its combined the latest developments with a comfortable and ergonomic interior: a V-shaped 5,5-litre engine, a three-speed automatic transmission, a stronger frame and a lot of other modernised characteristics. They provided an incredible speed for those times, quick acceleration as well as improved manoeuvring capability and manageability on the road. The car was made from 1962 to 1970 and was highly classified. Only several samples have survived until now, they somehow avoided mandatory destruction after retirement.

This model of Volga was designed deliberately for KGB. Photo: wroom.ru

Then GAZ-3102 began to be made — a car for statesmen. The car was made in small batches, but its production lasted for 27 years and stopped only in 2009.

The Arts Council of the Ministry of Automotive Industry discusses the full-size plasticine mock-up of GAZ-3102. Photo: V. Nosakov’s archive, 1967. / wikipedia.org

By the way, the rarest model of Volga — GAZ-3105 — was found just recently. Just 55 cars of this kind were made in 1988, only one has survived. The sedan got a new frame, an independent suspension, disc brakes on all wheels, four-wheel drive, power steering and a new 170 horsepower 3,4-litre V8 engine. Air conditioner, steering wheel adjustment in two dimensions, seat heating and an audio system became exotic for the Soviet automotive industry.

The rarest model of Volga — GAZ-3105 — was found just recently. Just 55 cars of this kind were made in 1988, only one has survived. Photo: wroom.ru

The next model — GAZ-31029 — became attainable for the masses, it was made for just five years, from 1992 to 1997.

GAZ put Volga 3110 on the conveyor belt after it in 1997. Powered steering and a modified steering gear assembly became its peculiarities. This series was made until 2005.

GAZ-31105 appeared in the market in 2004 and outperformed its previous version in design and equipment. The last Volga 31105 left the conveyor belt five years after the start of production.

Volga GAZ-31105 in late. Photo: Dmitriy707 / wikimedia.org

Does the Volga have a future?

The milestone procession of the Volga in the Russian automotive industry was on the finishing line in 2009 when GAZ decided to produce Volga cars. The development of an absolutely new concept of the Volga started in the early 2000s, and the first test sample was presented in 2007. The new model of Volga was designed both externally and internally like American cars, which put it in line with foreign cars and was to secure a great interest among the Russians.

The development of an absolutely new concept of the Volga started in the early 2000s, and the first test sample was presented in 2007. Photo: autonews.ru

We could finish the history of Volga car here, which was once the biggest dream of a lot of Soviet people. But rumour had it several years ago in Russia’s automobile environment that GAZ was developing a completely new concept of the car. And photos of a new Volga-2016 began to appear on the Internet in 2016, which allegedly was temporarily named GAZ-5000GL. But buyers will learn the final design of the new Volga only in 2021, Governor of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast Gleb Nikitin claimed in one of his interviews. Nothing is known about either technical parameters or exterior of the car so far.

By retro car on Tatarstan roads

While fans of Volga car brand gather in retro clubs, hold parades of rare cars, some are still at the wheel of the best car ever made both in the Soviet Union and after its dissolution.

Chairman of the Tatarstan State Council Farid Mukhametshin is a famous long-term collector and fan of Volga in Tatarstan: Maksim Platonov

For instance, Chairman of the Tatarstan State Council Farid Mukhametshin is a famous long-term collector and fan of Volga in Tatarstan — he owns a GAZ-21 he purchased from a retired general in the late 80s. The general served in Germany and travelled by the Volga abroad. Volga GAZ-21 fan club was created in 2006, and today it has about 130 members who love Volga.

By Angelina Panchenko
Tatarstan