The Truth About Cars » GAZ The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 13:26:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » GAZ No Credit? No Problem! Uncle Ho’s Used Cars Has a Low-Mile ZIS For You! Thu, 13 Sep 2012 14:30:59 +0000 Ho Chi Minh was a mysterious guy; even after reading the definitive biography of the revolutionary schemer who changed pseudonyms as often most of us change our socks, I still couldn’t tell you much about the man who is now his country’s equivalent of all of America’s Founding Fathers rolled into one. However, I can tell you what Ho Chi Minh drove!
I spent a couple of weeks in Vietnam earlier this year (some of you may recall my rant about Honda Super Cubs in Vietnam), and I visited the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi. I wasn’t too keen to visit the creepy embalmed corpse of Ho (whose body got the Lenin/Mao-style waxworks treatment in spite of his dying request to be cremated), but I had heard that his old Peugeot 404 could be found somewhere nearby and I definitely wanted to check that out. Sure enough, there were signs indicating “GARAGE OF HOCHIMINH’S USED CARS” on the museum grounds.
The place is full of soldiers in snazzy uniforms marching in aimless patterns among groups of bored Hanoi schoolkids on what was no doubt their 50th trip to look at dusty 1920s French Communist newspaper articles written by Uncle Ho. Thanks to the “GARAGE OF HOCHIMINH’S USED CARS” signs, however, all I could think about was an alternate-history scenario in which Ho Chi Minh (known as Nguyễn Sinh Cung at the time) stayed in the United States after working in New York for a few years in the 1910s (instead of moving on to Europe, which is what he really did) and then went on to found a chain of used-car dealerships in California: Crazy Uncle Ho’s Quality Pre-Owned Vehicles! He’s givin’ away those Model Ts! Imagine the TV commercials in alternate-history Los Angeles of the 1950s, in which elder statesman of used-car sales Ho Chi Minh offers unbelievable deals in a Kaiser Manhattan. Even Cal Worthington would have grown a long goatee, in order to follow in Crazy Uncle Ho’s footsteps. Oh yes, things would have been different.
Right. So, the Ho Chi Minh Museum has three of Ho’s cars behind glass in what was once his garage, and tourists— most of whom probably have Super Cubs as daily drivers— shoot thousands of photos of them.
Here’s his 1964 Peugeot 404, which (according to the sign next to the car) “was given by Vietnamese residents in New Caledonia (France).” By this time, Ho was in very poor health (he was more or less a figurehead by the middle 1950s) and probably didn’t do much cruising of the avenues of Hanoi in his new Peugeot.
Then there’s this ’55 GAZ-M20 Pobeda, given to Ho Chi Minh by his friends in Moscow. In those days, if you were a Communist revolutionary in a Third World country, you had to choose between China and the USSR as your patron. The Chinese were closer (and Vietnam’s traditional enemy), but the Soviets had better cars.
Ho probably saw this stately 1954 ZIS-110 (allegedly based on the Packard Super Eight) as his payback for all those years as a starving radical in Parisian hot-sheet flophouses.
It doesn’t quite pass the Proletariat Test, but who cares? Look at this ZIS!

01 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 13
The Победа That Got Away Thu, 30 Jun 2011 22:30:29 +0000
I am now on an active quest to import a genuine Soviet people’s car from the former Soviet Union; if all goes according to plan, a ZAZ-968 will go into a shipping container in Odessa and make its way to Chez Murilee later this year. I have a special affection for the Zaporozhets, because it was the product of the downward-economic-spiral, economy-temporarily-propped-up-by-oil-exports Brezhnevian Malaise Era, yet was the only car that ordinary Soviet citizens had any chance of actually owning prior to the Glasnost period. However, when an elitist, Party-members-only 1956 GAZ-M20 Pobeda in not-ridiculously-far-from-Denver Iowa came up for sale on eBay last week, with a starting bid of just six grand, I decided I’d take a shot at buying it instead of a Запоро́жець.

Just to make the idea of a Pobeda more tempting, English Russia came out with this “Victory In America” piece, with photos from a Life magazine spread on M20s in the United States. The M20 was the first of the postwar GAZ cars, and it can trace its ancestry back to the 1938 Opel Kadett. Talk about history! However, I wasn’t willing to go over $7000 on an allegedly solid car 700 miles away, and the bidding went beyond that on the final day, so I’m back to my original plans of getting a rust-free, garage-queen Ukrainian ZAZ-968. Probably just as well, as the GAZ-M20′s flathead four-banger was hard-pressed to get the Pobeda up to 60 MPH (and it would be blasphemous, even by my loose standards, to change out the original engine in such a car), while the much lighter and more modern Zaporozhets can be driven like a normal vehicle.

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Volkswagen Enlarges Footprint In Russia. With A Yeti Tue, 14 Jun 2011 13:11:43 +0000

As you know, the Russian government offered foreign automakers a deal: Invest heavily into the Russian auto industry, and Mother Russia will let you import parts and components at negligible or zero duty rates. Present your plans no later than July 1. Here is Volkswagen’s answer: Volkswagen and the GAZ Group today signed an agreement to assemble Volkswagen and Škoda models under contract at the GAZ plant in Nizhny Novgorod, some 260 miles east of Moscow. The planned production volume is 110,000 vehicles per year.

GAZ will build the Volkswagen Jetta, Škoda Octavia and Škoda Yeti models for the Russian market. The Škoda Yeti, is scheduled to start rolling off the production line by the end of 2012.

In its press release, Volkswagen is going to great pains to point out that “the collaboration with GAZ is based on an additional agreement to Decree 166 relating to customs duties benefits which was concluded with the Russian government at the end of May.”


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Project Car Hell, Soviet Edition: GAZ Volga 21 or ZAZ-966 Zaporozhets? Fri, 25 Feb 2011 15:00:29 +0000
I’ve already got a custom-van project and a basket-case Toyota 20R-powered Sprite project, but what I really want is a genuine, red-flag-waving Warsaw Pact machine to cruise around Denver. I don’t mean any Lada, either— it’s got to be a genuine, designed-and-built-in-the-USSR car, not a Fiat clone! Fortunately, I have a car-freak friend in the Czech Republic who can get such a machine into a shipping container in Bremerhaven for a reasonable price, so all that would remain for me would be to negotiate the Kafkaesque maze of registering the thing in Colorado. How hard could it be?

The GAZ 21 Volga is sort of the ’55 Chevy of the former Soviet Union, a real icon, the only Soviet car that might be identified even by those who don’t care about Soviet cars. They’ve become quite collectible in the countries of the former Soviet bloc, but you can still pick up a running, not-too-rusty 21 in the Czech Republic for a reasonable price. For example, this 1962 Volga 21 for 60,000 Kč, or about 3,400 US bucks. I think I might prefer a later, Brezhnev-era “box Volga,” what with all the Soviet Malaise Era connotations and all, but there’s something to be said for driving the classic Volga. Oh, sure, parts might be utterly impossible challenging to find, but the 21 was made to be operated on dirt roads in minus-60 temperatures, with little maintenance. What’s gonna break? Naturally, I’d need to get some Red Star wheels, just like the Stalinmobile, and there must be some way to obtain a genuine ZIL-41047 V8 to swap into it.

One thing the GAZ Volga 21 doesn’t have in common with the 1955 Chevrolet is its exclusivity when new; you had to have some pull with the Communist Party machine to get one back in the day. When Khrushchev and cronies decided that they’d better start getting some consumer goods to the public in the post-Stalin era, the order went down that a cheap workers’ car would be built, something like a Volkswagen but made for Soviet road conditions. That car was the beloved Zaporozhets, a rattly air-cooled heap that looks ominously similar to the Chevy Corvair. ZAZ engineers were told to rip off emulate the air-cooled VW’s engine design, but they ended up changing the configuration from a boxer four to a V4. Why? So that the valve adjustors would be more accessible when working on the car in a mud-floored garage! Needless to say, I would love to own an example of this historically significant vehicle, and the good news is that this 1970 ZAZ-966 can be had for a mere 39,000 Czech Koruna, or about two grand in US dollars. Were I to get this car, I’d make sure to obtain a Tatra V8 while I was over there, because a rear-engined, air-cooled hemi V8 in a Zaporozhets would be even better than a Tatra-engined Trabant. How hard could it be?

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Volkswagen Gets A Russian Bride Mon, 21 Feb 2011 12:06:45 +0000

It must be Russian week. Yesterday, it was Ford and Sollers (and Sollers minus Fiat/Chrysler). Today, it’s Volkswagen and GAZ going to the altar. The two plan a joint venture to produce 300,000 cars per year in Russia, The Moscow Times reports.

The Russian press departments of the happy couple have a “no comment” on the matter. There is no press release from the Wolfsburg HQ of VW. However, Volkswagen had said in October that it was in advanced talks with GAZ.

According to the report, the joint venture will make a range of cars out of the Volkswagen stable, including the Jetta, Skoda Octavia and Skoda Yeti models. That would make sense. All of them are derivatives of the Golf.

The attentive reader will remember GAZ as a presumptive partner in the Opel/Magna mess and as a new joint venture partner of GM in Russia.

GAZ, controlled by industrial tycoon Oleg Deripaska, will use its plant in Nizhny Novgorod for the joint-venture project. It has an annual capacity of 120,000 units per year. VW will use its Kaluga facility in Russia, where its 150,000 unit capacity can be expanded to produce 180,000 vehicles per year.

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Oleg Gets His Wish: Russia’s GAZ To Build Chevy Aveo Wed, 02 Feb 2011 11:19:34 +0000

Remember Oleg Deripaska? The Russian oligarch that had been under suspicion of money laundering and organized crime activities?  The very same Deripaska GM did not want to have close to Opel for fear of losing their precious intellectual property ? Yes, him. GM just handed him the blueprints and the tooling for the Chevy Aveo.

According to a GM press release, “General Motors Co. and Russian automotive manufacturer GAZ Group, part of Oleg Deripaska’s ‘Basic Element Group’, have signed an agreement for the contract assembly of the new Chevrolet Aveo small car at GAZ’s facility in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia.”

Production of some 30,000 Aveos is scheduled to begin in mid-2012. The cars are for the Russian market. The new Aveo (Chevrolet Sonic in the USA) hatchback is latest technology. It debuted at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, and is a volume car destined for markets around the world. The Aveo shares a lot of technology with, some say is based on the Opel Corsa. So finally, Oleg gets his wish: An Opel.

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Soviet Limousine: Our Favorite Oxymoron Wed, 22 Dec 2010 14:00:42 +0000
The best thing about the Soviet Corvair, aka Zaporozhets? The original idea was to rip off the design of the Volkswagen air-cooled engine for its powerplant, but Soviet engineers made their air-cooled four a V4 so that the cylinder heads would be more accessible when working on the engine in a mud-floored lean-to in Kemerovo (no doubt using tools made on the spot from melted-down kitchen utensils). So why not make a limousine version?
Once again, English Russia comes through for the lover of arcane Soviet road machinery. Sure, the site is backed by all manner of scurrilous/lowest-common-denominator advertisers, but seeing limo-ized ZAZs, Volgas, and Ladas makes the irritation of sleazy pop-up ads a small price to pay.

English Russia

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Winterkorn Salutes Putin Fri, 03 Sep 2010 13:09:03 +0000

Days after  Vladimir Putin, well, encouraged foreign carmakers to come to Russia, open car factories and better bring the latest technology, or else, Martin Winterkorn announced that Volkswagen is planning a new assembly line at Russia’s GAZ and that they will expand their factory in the Kaluga region in the future. Winterkorn said that after meeting Putin himself and most likely after having received a similar speech as what was previously broadcasted.

“The development of the Russian market has led to the result that our existing capacity is already not enough,” Winterkorn told Putin, according to Reuters. The Kaluga factory has a capacity to produce 150,000 cars per year, but Volkswagen expects to sell 360,000 cars in Russia by 2018. (Why the hell is everything at Volkswagen tied to 2018? Because it coincides with the 100 year anniversary of an event that was not one of the most glorious in Germany’s history?)

Russia had been feted as Europe’s leading car market, until sales imploded in 2009.

This year, the Russian car market has turned around, and sales are increasing. The government expects a 15 percent rise for the year as a whole to around 1.7m.

GAZ is part of tycoon Oleg Deripaska’s business empire, the same Deripaska that wanted to enter an alliance with Opel and Magna. And we all know how that ended.

Currently, GAZ has no foreign partner. GAZ had bought a previous generation Chrysler Sebring line from Chrysler. It has a capacity of 150,000 cars a year, but “is currently idle,” says Reuters.

A lot of companies are supposedly in talks with GAZ. GM never stopped talking with them. Insideline reports that Mercedes is thinking building their E-Class at GAZ.

GAZ confirmed to Reuters that they are in talks with Volkswagen over the assembly line, details were disclosed. But if Winterkorn and Putin say so … The two probably got along just fine. Putin speaks fluent German. From 1985 to 1990, Putin was the KGB’s rezident  in Dresden, in charge of industrial, well, research.

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