By on May 30, 2019

With an unusual combination of Fifties American car styling and Sixties Russian build quality, today’s GAZ-21 has everything the discerning Communist motorist needs.

Let’s talk Volga.

The Volga was intended as a successor to the well-known Pobeda series of vehicles from GAZ. By the end of the Fifties, the 1946 Pobeda design was due for replacement.

When it debuted in 1956, the GAZ-21 Volga resided in the middle of the GAZ product lineup. Aping the design of American sedans of the time, the 21 offered features not found on other vehicles from the Soviet Union: Seats reclined at the front, a heater warmed the passengers, and everyone could have a smoke courtesy of the cigarette lighter.

All cars in the Volga line sported a higher ground clearance than standard sedans, and were built with tougher suspensions and engines. Rustproofing was considered as well, as GAZ intended Volga vehicles to have long lives.

The 21 was the original sedan body style, remaining in production throughout the Volga’s first generation (between 1956 and 1970). Joining it in 1962 was the 22 wagon variant. All 21 and 22 cars were powered by a 2.5-liter inline-four engine producing around 70 to 80 horsepower, depending on the model series. In 1959, GAZ discontinued its six-cylinder cars, making the 21 the largest vehicle sold to regular citizenry. For select customers only (like the KGB), there was a much more powerful 23 version, powered by a stout 5.5-liter V8.

GAZ made two major revisions to the 21 lineup within its first generation; it sold its Second Series between 1959 and 1962, with a final Third Series running from 1962 to 1970.

At that point, GAZ replaced the 21 with the GAZ-24 Volga, a car which was produced in various forms between 1970 and 1992. The Volga line would continue through 2010, ending with the GAZ-31105 Volga (a ghastly-looking sedan), and the Volga Siber (a reworked 2001 Chrysler Sebring). GAZ production is now limited to vans and trucks, as the Siber was its last passenger car.

Today’s Rare Ride is located in Florida and looks to be in excellent condition. In its largely original state and with 41,000 miles on the odometer, this 21 asks $19,900.

[Images: seller]

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80 Comments on “Rare Rides: A GAZ-21 Volga – Russian Decadence From 1967...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    That’s a low price of *only* 1,295,000 rubles!

    We offer top trade-in on any Lada, Trabant, Tatra! What will it take to put you in this car today, komrade?

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Looks like a Studebaker with a hangover.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      Or maybe a Studebaker mated with a Crosley.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      Our family had a 1953 Ford Mainline. This car has styling reminiscent of our Ford, especially the side profile.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I like the silver grandpa mustache

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      It was made out of Ford

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, I agree – it was copied from 50s Ford. Thats what I heard and it looks like Ford the same way as Chaika GAZ-13 looks like Packard.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          Russian cars were not copies!! They are improved versions. For example, identical looking first Lada and Fiat had these differences

          – The Fiat 124 had an OHV engine with pushrods while the Lada 2101 featured a more advanced OHC design.
          – The Fiat has a horizontally mounted Solex carburetor while the Lada came with a vertical Weber-style unit.
          – The Fiat uses a dynamo, the Lada has an alternator.
          – The Fiat 124 has a cable-operated clutch while the Lada has a hydraulic one.
          – The Fiat had disc brakes in all corners while the Lada came with drums at the rear. However, the Fiat had a single circuit brake system while the Lada was upgraded to a twin circuit.
          – The Lada’s suspension was raised, beefed up and simplified to take the abuse equally well on and off the road, so the Fiat handles and rides better.
          – The Lada is made of thicker steel. Too bad they left the unpainted bodies outside just a bit too long, so rust was pretty much a given in a year after delivery.
          – Four lifting points on a Lada, only two on a Fiat 124.
          – The Fiat 124 has no skid plate. The Russians opted for one.
          – Coolant temperature is displayed on the Lada’s dash, but the Fiat only let’s you know when it’s already boiling.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    $19,900? So much for Communism.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Is this a case where the old adage rings true? Just because it’s rare doesn’t make it valuable.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    “Put it in ‘H’!”

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Tsk, don’t let the Trump clan know – they’ll be all over it since Putin also has one.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Brain dead…

      • 0 avatar
        IHateCars

        Awww, it’s OK Snowflake….you’re almost as thin skinned as Trump is!

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          It’s probably a coincidence that gtem is one of the most valued commenters here and the two TDS-sufferers are signal noise.

          • 0 avatar
            IHateCars

            Lol…You need a hug too, sweetheart? For all the bravado and bluster that Trump and his supporters display, you guys sure do bitchwhine quick when it’s dished back out to you.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Would that have passed for a comeback in your circles? I feel bad for liberals. They are unarmed in any battle of wits. That’s why they can’t stomach dissenting views being expressed. You don’t have to censor opposing views when yours are defensible. It is hard for me to relate to anyone too stupid to figure that out.

          • 0 avatar

            Todd, I would call them TDS zombies. Still brain dead but with TDS, which is probably is the same. You do not really need brain to to suffer from TDS.

            IHateCars you hate cars? What the hell you are doing here?

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            “when it’s dished back out to you.”

            Please note who turned a harmless article about an old Soviet car to politics. And on average, which side is inserting these juvenile little unprovoked snipes into what are otherwise perfectly a-political pieces.

            How old are you IHateCars?

          • 0 avatar

            Looks like someone hit a nerve, eh? Well done, gtem & Todd. I would second the question – if you hate cars, why are you here?

  • avatar
    EGSE

    A BBC reporter rented a Volga and drove along the Volga River. His travelog was posted in six installments. He started out feeling the car was crude. He ended up saying the roads are crude and the car handled everything it encountered. It’s worth a read though there’s a lot of commentary on what he saw during the trip.

    The links for all of them can be found here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/search?q=Volga+road+trip

    If the link blows up, go to the BBC News website and enter the search term “volga road trip”.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Thanks for that link, that is really neat! I didn’t realize that they’d be driving a “modern” Volga 3110 and not one of these old 21s. The 3110 finally got a balljoint front suspension and front disk brakes and fuel injection(!). They are very sloppily put together cars and not reliable at all, less desirable than Ladas to most Russians, but they have their fans. One of the smoothest “boulevard” rides you will ever experience, modern cars simply don’t have that kind of a ride anymore.

      Right from the first part of the article though I will take this under-studied Brit to task:

      “Russians never had much love for their Ladas.”

      No, they went CRAZY over Ladas. It was the Zaporozhets that was shunned, and later the Moskvitch somewhat, as everyone was lining up for the fun-to-drive and very European Lada 2101, and later sportier 2103 and 2106, the modernized boxy 2105 and “luxurious” 2107. The FWD Samara series caused yet another uproar, a modern zippy hatchback with sharp handling and modern design!

      • 0 avatar

        I am old enough to remember how people were exited over FIAT-124 a.k.a Zhiguli a.k.a Lada Classic when they first came up in 1970s. As a car they were light years ahead of whatever Soviet Government produced in its ancient plans. And also Ladas were “peoples cars” meaning were for retail sale only to general public and not for Nomenclatura. They were very refined and roomy inside despite of being smaller outside. Then 1985 FWD Ladas came up. Those were modern European cars at that time and were even exported to Western Germany. And were very popular in USSR. The problem was that Avtovaz stuck in 1985. No new models. And then in 1990s modern used American, German, Swedish and Japanese cars became available. That brought the end of Lada – no one wanted one anymore (including me – I replaced Lada with Toyota).

      • 0 avatar
        EGSE

        Yeah, his critical take on Ladas and Volgas was a sour note. Appreciating the cars in the context of their environment, i.e. the need for rugged simplicity and ease of repair by non-experts would have brought greater value to his travelogue. I’ve worked on ’50s and ’60s Brit cars and they had serious WTF flaws that can’t be rationally excused given that the UK had it within their grasp to do better. That was forgotten when he threw his darts.

        This has been a good thread. I learned a lot from it.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I bet this thing is an absolute cockroach.

    (Waiting for gtem on this one…)

    • 0 avatar
      vvk

      No… it is pretty fragile and requires a lot of work to keep on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        See, this is what I get for going against the common thinking.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          No they are indeed incredibly durable, just not reliable. Rustproofing is superior to a lot of American cars of the same era, believe it or not.

          2.45L ohv 4cyl, runs on dirty dishwater and if it comes down to it roadside headgasket jobs are a cinch.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Undercoating was a factory option on US cars at the time. On top of that, the customer would be wise to pay for aftermarket rust-proofing from an outfit like Rusty Jones. Then there would be a warranty against rust-through for some period. Beyond that, you just hoped you got a coat of paint on all the sheet-metal, as opposed to what buyers of 1957 Mopars and several model years of Vegas received.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      This car can be in service for 50 years. That engine has 30 parts and can be fixed by a beginner.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Slavuta I’m always amazed at what sort of cars old pensioners from outside the city show up in to sell homegrown produce, foraged berried and mushrooms etc. at the street-side stalls. It’s becoming rarer, but you can still see daily driver Volga 21s, 24s, Moskvitch 406(!) show up with a load of produce in the trunk and on the roof rack. The deeper into the country you go, the more prevalent the phenomenon.

        Here’s a street scene from Biysk:
        https://goo.gl/maps/vDG3sz4Xo4eG1g8XA

  • avatar
    toplessFC3Sman

    In the last picture… did these cars come with a set of movable louvers in front of the radiator to cut down airflow when cold? There’s a cable running off to the right of the picture (left of the car), heading to… the dash? an automatic temperature regulator? Was this their solution in lieu of a coolant thermostat?

  • avatar
    vvk

    Interior of one of these, the super rare GAZ-22 station wagon version, is one of my earliest and brightest childhood memories. The one in these pictures seems to be pretty faded, actually. It was significantly better looking when new.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    If anyone wants to learn about this car, I’d suggest checking out the Jay Leno’s Garage episode about a 1966 Volga GAZ-21 on YouTube.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Ha! That’s really great. Thanks for the reference!

      (I know the link will get filtered on the TTAC site comments but it’ll go through on the email comments:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ozzlbrh6Tfc )

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Jay does an okay but kind of jaded and not the most informed review. There are some really neat Russian language documentaries about the Volga, it was the star car in some classic Soviet cinema including one about a car thief. Of course it’s a far cry from what America had then. But it is an impressive piece of engineering considering the conditions of use and the resources at hand.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        My Russian professor told me to drop the class after I received an A- on my second quiz. All the other students were native Russian speakers, CIA, or military intelligence. The total of my retained Russian consists of dobre dien and do svidaniya.

        Jay is old enough that he has an interesting perspective on the CCCP. He was conditioned to fear the CCCP like modern sheep are to fear climate change. For him to learn that the red menace built cars like this is akin to a millennial looking at a real chart of climate temperatures.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    These weren’t for the proletariat, these were for the government party leaders. So much for communism

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      The automakers have collectively decided that in the near-term future only a few people will want cars and they will be people who have access to EV chargers. Tell me communists gave up after killing their first hundred million people with their affliction and I’ll tell you to stay tuned.

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      I don’t think so, party leaders would have gotten cars that could outrun the KGB cars. Along with drivers for them. These were probably for mid-level types, who needed them or needed to be kept happy but not important enough to be able to outrun the KGB. ;)

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Yes they were. These were the Taxis, Mobile doctors who visited patients at home. So, yes, they were for proletariat. and yes, they also were used as company car for managers/directors/etc

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        “The lion’s share of cars were used for the Soviet nomenklatura and the rest in taxi, police and ambulances. Private ownership would often be offered only to representatives of Soviet elite and celebrities.” -Wikipedia

        The nomenklatura: were a category of people within the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries who held various key administrative positions in the bureaucracy, running all spheres of those countries’ activity: government, industry, agriculture, education, etc., whose positions were granted only with approval by the communist party of each country or region.

        THESE were the people who drove Volgas, NOT the assembly line guys who actually made them

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          Lie2me,

          come down. ’21 started production in 1956. This is early Khrushchev. Don’t count on corruption back then. Most cars went to services of people. KGB version started only in 1962 and less then 700 were made. About same time corrupted Brezhnev and Ko started to climb power ladder. In 1964 Khrushchev was sent to house arrest. This is time when nomenklatura understood that there will be no punishment for excesses.
          Moreover, very first modification of this car was produced specifically for taxis when second modification was already leaving assembly line. You should read Russian version, they have better explanation https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/ГАЗ-21. Remember, nomenklatura couldn’t just go and buy the car. They had to go through chain of quotas. Lets say, some director of a factory would order Valga; someone in local communist party office had to approve this. Then in the next level office it had to be approved too. Then the region had quota and if more orders came than quota could fulfill, they would have to deny some people. This is why you would see a lot of this nomenklatura being driven in UAZ, Moskvitch, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      Limited amount were sold for private ownership to certain important persons and well connected people – to elite in other words. It was not ordinary people.

  • avatar
    gtem

    “not found on other vehicles from the Soviet Union: Seats reclined at the front, a heater warmed the passengers”

    Huh? Not sure if it’s an attempt at humor or just a mistake.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I think it was a (lame) attempt at humor. I read the bit about the reclining seat, then I noticed the crank knob in the sixth photo. I guess these have a knob on each side, requiring a collective effort to recline? Sorry, another lame attempt at humor.

      I’ve always kind of liked these cars. The styling isn’t too bad. I used to see pictures of one owned by some guy in New York, that looked really sharp. Then there was the sad sight of one that showed up on an insurance auction site – the car had been under salt water during Superstorm Sandy. :-(

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Yeah a bunch of wealthy emigres from ex Soviet Union have started to bring over Ladas and Volga’s and such, not uncommon to see something cruising around Brighton Beach.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Crap, the posting has expired.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “For select customers only (like the KGB), there was a much more powerful 23 version, powered by a stout 5.5-liter V8.”

    Good recruitment tool.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Of course, speaking of bad assembly, Detroit was king of the fifties and sixties in that regard. Maybe Volga copied that feature.

    For you youngsters who weren’t around at the time, doors didn’t fit, hoods came one side higher than the other, misaligned side to side and often twisted, no chrome spear lined up across hood to door, etc. Face it, they were crap quality. People appeared not to notice in general when they got a 3/4 inch misalignment that no refrigerator or washing machine manufacturer would let out the door. One of the reasons there were foreign car buyers was the superior fit that some folks appreciated. Then the Japanese came and everything lined up properly even on the super cheapos. Which is when people seemed to start noticing Detroit’s third world quality assembly.

    The few show cars left today have been thoroughly tweaked and aligned, so you could be forgiven for thinking they arrived that way back in ’64. No chance.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      The domestics used to have big dudes, with crowbars and shims, waiting at the end of the assembly line, to adjust panels and doors for a better fit. That’s just the way factory production worked.

      I wouldn’t say the variable panel gaps were a sign of true quality or lack thereof, that’s just the way it was. They definitely affect the perception of quality in the customer’s eyes though!

      Roll the clock back several decades when U.S. carmakers built Rolls Royce aero engines under license. The legend goes that the Americans were surprised by the wide tolerances on the blueprints provided by the Brits. The American mass production model was that any Tab A would fit in any Slot B. The Brits hand-assembled their engines- if an artisan thought that Tab A was too loose or too tight for Slot B, then you set it aside for another Tab A and try it again later on a different Slot B. Meanwhile, the German model was that not only would any Tab A would fit in any Slot B but it would fit with fine precision. Japanese production evolved into that too, along with applying Deming’s theories about worker empowerment. The Soviet model was every Tab A fits in every Slot B and it’ll still function even if you get a lot of dirt in there.

      Well… something like that.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      The Japanese cars gained traction in the two fuel shortages in the 1970’s. Before that they were for real cheapskates and odd people. The gold standard for imported cars was the VW Beetle, as it managed to vanquish all other European makes. If VW hadn’t screwed up the Rabbit with various quality and other issues, they probably would have taken a lot more market and mind share than the Japanese makes.

      In addition, there’s this perception that any Japanese car was perfect, when in reality there were about two to three models that came close and the rest were middling at best. This explains why Suzuki and Isuzu are out of our market and Nissan and Mitsubishi in particular is hanging on for dear life. They really didn’t get their sh!t together until the 80’s… You can have well assembled junk, but it’s still junk.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      It wasn’t just Detroit. Enzo Ferrari’s early imports had incredibly poor assembly by workers who were making the equivalent of 40 cents an hour. That’s why they’re all frame-off restorations. But the bodies were mounted on race car chassis and suspensions with his best V12 racing engines.

      He got some flack for charging $12k-$15k for the poor fit and finish, but he knew his customers were rich old men, and once said, “I don’t care if the panel gaps are straight. “When the driver steps on the gas, I want him to sh*t his pants.”

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Oh, come on now, guys. We all know Japanese cars were perfect from day one, and American cars wouldnt last 10,000 miles. Sheesh, dont you guys view history with rose color glasses that excuse early Honda’s head gasket woes and the fact that a new Toyota couldn’t make it from LA to Phoenix? Of course the imports were perfect and 100% reliable in the 60s and 70s! I mean, what’s more important? Making it to your destination or having trim perfectly aligned (before the rust eats away the metal underneath)?

    • 0 avatar

      When I came to US in 2000 I was kind of shocked seeing huge panel and interior gaps, panel alignment issues, leaks, low quality interiors and so on in American cars, esp. GM cars had a horrible cheapo interiors and huge panel gaps. In Russia we were used to German and Japanese cars and took it for granted thinking all Western cars have similar quality. Things started to improve when Bob Lutz was hired by GM. Today I do not see much difference between American, German and Japanese cars.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    Lots of jokes and crazy comments but I really rather like this vehicle and also the Lada’s. I’ve watched the YouTube’s about Russian roadways – these cars are survivors in some pretty crazy collisions/rollovers/whatever. More modern European/Japanese/North American vehicles don’t have a chance against these. There’s something to be said about simple to repair and being built for less than wonderful roads. They’d do very well in the countries outside North America where I’ve visited. They did and still do the job they were designed for. They rather remind me of my 79-year old Ford 9N – big screwdriver: check, slip joint pliers: check, big f***’n hammer: check – back in service.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      My brother got my dad’s old ’71 ZAZ-966 re-animated and driving around a few summers ago using just the factory tool kit, which is basically pliers, flat head screwdriver and a few metric wrenches, a hammer, and some dusty spare parts my dad had horded away back in the late 80s during the chaos of Perestroika. The Zaporozhets has custom stainless steel mufflers welded up from scrap steel from the particle accelerator facility where my dad worked, and a home-brew booster that allows the car to be hand-crank started with a totally flat battery using a wall outlet. He has stories for days about getting things like tires and a battery for that car, how people used to grind out valve tappets from T-72 tank fingers (good steel).

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Gents, the political discourse is quite entertaining- keep it up! No, really, I’m learning so much about Volgas by reading your partisan bickering.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I’d drive the hell out of that. And I’d buy a Niva to park next to it.

    Not a fan of Communism, just oddball cars from a completely different era.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Tell me one place where you’ve seen Communism? The closest I can think of is Israeli Kibbutz

      • 0 avatar

        By communism he means one party system (like in California) where Communist party is that ONE ruling party without opposition. No one wants to live under this kind of regime (except of Californians apparently). Regarding real communism – I would happily live there if it was possible. But that’s a pipe dream unfortunately – every time end up with Gulag and millions executed.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          Ah! But for some reason its always the communists. How about Spain under Franco. Or other places that exist even today, like Syria, United Emirates, etc.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I think it looks great and would happily give it a try out .

    -Nate

  • avatar

    That Volga pictured in the article is the second and last face-lift of original Volga GAZ-21. Original looked like that:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GAZ-21#/media/File:GAZ-21_(1st_generation)_%22Volga%22_in_Moscow_(front_view).jpg

    It looked more Ford-like than face-lifted ones. My father had one (provided by Government as a company car). When I was a kid I sat in the front seat which did not have seat belts of course and was shaped like sofa. Max it was able to do without car getting airborne was 80 kmph (50 mph). It felt pretty fast though. Any faster felt downright scary. I have very fond memories about that car. I still remember how it felt and smelled and that quirky radio which was normally shouting communist propaganda and not a single AM or FM station with rock or pop music (for that it needed to have short wave range).


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