26 June 2007


So you thought that the only machines Soviets built were Ladas and Tanks, but indeed they also had a superior brand called "Volga", named after the biggest river in Europe (and also the farthest frontier the Germans ever could reach on their Barbarossa campaign).

Symbol of the GAZ factory: The Communist Gazelle

It all began when Ford Company of USA and Soviet Union built a joint production factory in 1929 (yes, they were friends then) combining the tools and know-how of american automobile industry and the supreme communist labor in Nijniy Novgorod, the city which was renamed later to Gorky. The GAZ factory (Gorsky Avtomobilniy Zavod / Gorky Automobile Factory) had its first products on military vehicles and some experimental models based on Ford vehicles already in sale in USA. (One of them was maybe the first passenger car with a all-terrain chassis.)

Another communist victory: The world's first passenger 4x4, GAZ-61

After WWII, they started building an upscale passenger model and named it Pobeda (Victory) after their devastating victory against Germans. The Pobeda line was highly appraised by the party officials (nomenklatura) as it allowed a showcase of their distinctive lifestyle from the common comrade citizen. As the common comrade would wait for years for a Lada, they would get their cool "Volgas".

Proud GAZ Pobeda posing near the Moscow River

GAZ Volga Coupe, Krushchev's favourite ride (The photo was taken in Red Square, with GUM store in the back)

Volga is still produced and (strangely) imported abroad. It isn't now a symbol of the elite but a symbol of a cheap taxi ride around Moscow. It is also a street joke that only the people of Caucasian origin (which isn't always a good thing in semi-racist atmosphere of Slavic Russia) buy Volga.

Supplying the Warshaw Pact with monstrous trucks...

As with fading demand and ancient technology, it is announced that the GAZ factory will once again cooperate with Americans and start building Dodge Stratus models.

The latest GAZ Volga sedan (GAZ-31105), a Lada in a Mercedes outift

I have first experienced Volga's in my trip to Ukraine and was fairly shocked by the dimensions of a soviet automobile; it resembled my father's first Mercedes 1980s. It had a backseat larger than my current sofa and the car could carry 6 people (excl. the driver). The newer models have more aerodynamic notes and an eventual cheaper feel.

From an era when ergonomics wasn't a science but a joke

I have driven a 2001 Volga once in the outskirts of Moscow and it definitely felt like driving a T-34 tank(I also did that); the gearbox requires a spartan force and no need to say that the wheel isn't hydraulic (a feature that has been presented in even Chinese cars now). The owner, a good friend of mine, also had a Lexus and kept the Volga for carrying tools to his Dacha remont. He added that Volga was the only car in the World that needed a major visit to service on its first ride out of the factory. (Rumors say that some Volga's even cannot move out of the assemply line to the factory test field and there has been big thefts from the assembly line, where the local villagers witnessed semi-finished cars being carried on trucks to oblivion)

Another common scene from the Moscow neighborhoods...people trying to fix their Volgas

That is why there are no original Volgas on the streets; every owner puts his own touch to the design while the car gets a repair in the garages.

The previous version of the Volga...strangely resembles Volvos of the 70s

I also come across a neighbor of mine, whom I only meet on the parking lot on sunday mornings, is trying endlessly to repair the Volga by himself but I don't think that he has managed to move the beast yet, since he also bought another car (Damn, everybody has a car in Moscow...but I am still in a love & hate relationship with the Metro)

Another best seller from GAZ, the GAZelle

Boring Information:

As the USSR didn't need to brand each car they produced (calling Lada to every machine would suit the communist needs...), they had a numbering system to distinguish the different models produced. That is why you always come across soviet/russian cars like GAZ-31105 or VAZ-21063.

(from wikipedia)

According to this system the full model designation by the manufacturer's name (e.g. VAZ) and a model number (e.g. 2108). The first digit of the model number indicates the vehicle class. For passenger cars the engine capacity is used to determine the class:

First digit Engine Capacity
1 up to 1200 cc
2 1200 cc - 1800 cc
3 1800 cc - 3200 cc
4 more than 3500 cc

For trucks weight is used:

First digit Weight
1 up to 1200 kg
2 1200 kg - 2000 kg
3 2000 kg - 8000 kg
4 8000 kg - 14000 kg
5 14000 kg - 20000 kg
6 20000 kg - 40000 kg
7 more than 40000 kg

For buses length is used:

First digit Length
2 Up to 5 m
3 6 - 7.5 m
4 8 - 9.5 m
5 10.5 - 12 m
6 more than 16 m

Second digit indicates the type of vehicle:

Second digit Type of vehicle
1 passenger car
2 bus
3 truck
4 semi-trailer truck
5 dump truck
6 tank truck
7 van
8 reserved
9 special vehicle

The third and forth digits are used to assign a factory model number. The fifth digit is optional, and is used to specify different versions or modifications of the same model. The sixth digit is used to specify export variants.


VAZ-21063: A vehicle produced by VAZ, with an engine capacity between 1200 cc and 1800 cc (2), which is a passenger vehicle (1), with factory model code 06 (06) and modification 3 (3).


Russophile said...

I like the Volga, so thanks for posting the information.

Anonymous said...

as far as I know ,gazelles` distrubiteur in turkey, also imports chevy cars from china and both two cars are heavily renovated before selling in local market here.some of their electro-mechanic parts like turbo units,injecteurs,ignition coils are also made in turkey