GAZ (part II)
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The "Volga": the Soviet flagships
The first car with the "Volga" name, was launched in the 1956: it was the "M-21" (four pics above). Although it was smaller than the unapproachable limousines, the "M-21" remained a dream for the 99% of the Russians! Differently from the "Pobjeda", the performances are "almost" decent (130 km/h), with an improved engine, boosted up to 75 hp, and with an improved lubrification. The coachwork is more pleasant, but, sure, not original (with a typically "american" style). The early versions were equipped with a strange greasing system: a pedal, pressed by the driver, provides to grease the suspensions and other parts. Only defect: the grease in excess is poured...on the road. Today, this is a funny technical feature, but it was quite intelligent and useful for that period!
Other versions were realized: the station-wagon (called "M-22", two pics above), the automatic-gearbox version, and also some exemplar with the V8 engine taken from the "Tchaika" limousines (for the KGB and the GAI). The production of the "M-21" was stopped in the 1970, after 14 years and 640.000 produced units, replaced by the "M-24" generation, still today in production.
In the 1968, the GAZ "Volga M-24" (four pics above) cames into production. The engine is the traditional 4-cylinders, boosted up to 2500 cc. and 98 hp, 145 km/h. The coachwork has a more "european" style, with a more simple front part, however it's inspired to some Ford realizations of the period. This car, called in Russia "barzha" (that means "great boat"...), is the most produced in the GAZ's history, and was exported in several countries (in Europe until the '92, exactly in Belgium, with Peugeot diesel engines).
The GAZ realized also the station wagon version ("M-24 Universal", first and second pics, above), and the cabriolet (third pic). During the '80s, a new 12-valves engine was mounted (GAZ "3102", fourth and fifth pic). There was some exemplar with the V8 engine taken from the "Chaika" limousines, and even some exemplar with Wankel two-rotor engine (produced by Lada), with 210 hp. Probably, also others Wankel models were produced, with three rotors and 280 hp (!!). These types of Wankel models were used by the KGB patrols; tyres and brakes were still old-type, with diagonal-structure and drums (not disks)! I think that the braking action begins in Moscow and finish in Vladivostok, at the extreme East, near the North America...
After several slight variants, in 1997 the "Volga 3110" (first, second and third pics above, sedan and SW), cames into existance. It derives from the "M-24", restylized in the front and in the interior; the engine is the same, old 2500 (eight valves) of the old model. With 1600 kg and only 100 hp, the performances are ridicolous: 0-100 in 20 seconds (slower than a Fiat Panda!), the max speed is 150 km/h. Now, a new 16 valevs engine 16 valves (150 hp) is available, but...it has still a threatening reliability (the previous engine is enough reliable, if well maintained). With a frequent maintenance, the "Volga" is an enough rugged car, but it's absolutely outdated and not competitive with with the medium and high class cars from Europe and Japan. The last version (launched at the Moscow Show 2002, fourth and fifth pics above) has been improved in several components, and equipped with new lights.
But the generation of the old "M-24" is destined to live still for some years: above, the new version of the "3110", launched at the Moscow Show 2003, and equipped with the same headlights of the model "3111". Therefore, although this car is 35 years old, it remains still the main product of the old factory of Nizhny Novgorod! And, considering that there is no certainty about eventual future models...
...paradoxically the new model-year 2005 has been already launched (four pics above)! In these pics, you can note that the front headlights are the sames of the Opel "Vectra", and the rear lights, on the sedan, are even taken from the old Opel "Tigra"! The station-wagon version was also totally restyled in the rear part (note the difference with the old version in the fourth pic). This further restyling of an old model from the Soviet era, is a sign that in Russia the situation is very uncertain! However, considering the age of the original model and the need to keep many parts of the old version (windscreen, side windows, doors...), the result is honorable...long life to the Soviet dinosaurs! :-)
The cars in the first and second pics above, instead, were made not directly by the GAZ factory, but by a Russian designer, Juri Algebraistov. These sport-coupè cars, both called "Juna", were realized in the second half of the '80s, and equipped with GAZ engines (but also with Lada "Zhighuli" engines). The structure was based on a tubular frame covered by a fiberglass coachwork. These sporty interpretations of the "Volga" were enough interesting (although the bad conditions of the blue exemplar...), especially considering that the Western cars -a better and newer mechanical base for these "self-made" prototypes- were still very rare during the '80s! Indeed, the heavy and slow GAZ "Volga M-24" were used even in the national racing competitions: in the third and fourth pics above, two exemplars during a race in Kiev, 1980, essential but aggressive!
With the engine of the "Volga" cars, also a truck/minibus was realized: the RAF "Latvia", produced in the city of Riga. The early models of "Latvia" were realized in the early years '50s, and they had the engine of the GAZ "M-21", 2100 cc; they were called ERAZ "762" (first pic above), subsequently RAF "Latvia 977" (second and third pic). In the fourth and fifth pics, two prototypes, called RAF "8" and RAF "10"; the RAF "10" had a very pleasant style for its time...unfortunately, it never entered in production.
Since the 1976, a new model was produced, named "Latvia 2203" (first, second and third pics above), with the 2500 cc. unit of the GAZ "M-24". As on the previous models, the engine was positioned between the front axle (that had indipendent suspensions), directly into the cabin and between the front seats; a quite untimely solution, because the exahust gas had the tendence to go into the cabin! Considering that this vehicle was (an is currently) used especially as ambulance, probably several unlucky Russian patients were "gased" by this vehicle...Moreover, the roadholding was quite poor, like the braking, with drums on the four wheels. In the 1989, a Russian institute of design, the "NAMI", realized the prototype of a new version (fourth and fifth pics), but it remained as prototype. The production of the RAF "Latvia" was definitively stopped in the 1997.
In the four pics above, the most important model by GAZ, after the difficulties post-1991 (year of the Soviet fall): the new GAZ "3111-Volga". The coachwork of this car is very elegant, and also original. The GAZ "3111" has a 2500 cc. 16V DOHC engine, 4 cylinders, 150 hp, produced by ZMZ, and rear wheel drive. The platform, indeed, is the same of the old "M-24" (although modified), with leaf spring suspensions and rear drum brakes! But it's not a shame, also some American model has still the same type of suspensions (even the Chevrolet Camaro!). Anyway, all the components are improved (for example, the headlights are German, produced by Hella), and the car is equipped with air-bags, power windows, air-conditioner, ABS, adjustable steering column and seats. Also a turbodiesel licensed by Steyr-Puch, 2200 cc, direct injection, 114 hp, was planned. Finally, a very beautiful Russian car!
Above, some very special version of the "3111". In the first, second and third pics, a limousine version, that renew the great tradition of GAZ in the field of the diplomatic cars: during the past time, the GAZ limousines were used by the Soviet presidents; today, this car could be very good for the new Czar of Russia...In the fourth and fifth pics, a totally different version, radically "tuned", even equipped with the engine of the Lexus "GS 300" (3000 cc, V6, 220 hp)! Unfortunately, the "3111" was produced in a very limited number of exemplars, and there are not many hopes that the production will continue, due to the uncertain situation of the factory. A pity!!!
The Gaz "3111 Volga" was precedeed by a prototype of luxury-car, in the 1994: the GAZ "3105" (first, second, third and fourth pics above), with 4WD transmission and a 3500 V8 engine (170 cv) derived from the GAZ lorries (and similar to the unit of the "Chaika" limousines). Only few exemplars of pre-series were produced, but this experience was used for the "3111". In the fifth and sixth pics, two variants of the "3105": the "3103" and the "3104" (1997). The first is front-wheel drive (with the transverse engine, 2500 cc, four cylinders, 16V) engine); the second is 4WD, like the prototype "3105". But the production of these two cars, with a totally new platform, never was started!
Another important model for the GAZ is the "Ataman" (four pics above), a rugged 4x4 engineered for the work and the free-time (category very requested in Russia, where the roads are a disaster). The coachwork is very old about the design, but it can be enough pleasant, with the "rude" style of the pick-up version (first pic above). In the second and third pics, the SW version ("Ataman Yermak"): very "square"...but this model is more similar to a truck, and not to a car (this is clear seeing the fourth pic, although the strange color of the seats!).
Above, four pics of a new 4x4: the "2169 Kombat", launched at the Moscow Show 2000. At first glance, it seems a new model, with a "retrò" style; but the front is too similar at the old GAZ "69"...is the old model? Indeed, this car has only the look in common with the old Soviet jeep: floorpan and engine are totally new, and the coachwork is realized in fiberglass (but, for the definitive production, it will be realized in metal). The engine is a turbodiesel 2.2, 110 hp, realized under Steyr-Puch's license. Recently, also an hard-top version called "3120" (fifth pic above) was launched.
In the first, second, third and fourth pics above, a very beautiful car: the GAZ "3106" (or "Ataman II"), a SUV in BMW "X5"-style. The transmission is all-time 4WD, the rest of the mechanical part is the same of the "3111": therefore, same engines, also diesel (but the diesel is a Steyr-Puch 2700 with 5 cylinders, 141 hp). Unfortunately, this version remained as prototype; at the Moscow Autosalon 2003, the GAZ launched a new version of the "3106", with a restyled coachwork, less original and pleasant, in my opinion (fifth and sixth pics). The engine is the 2300 16V with 150 hp. The definitive date of production is still unknown.
Moreover, the GAZ produces also military vehicles (special-purpose vehicles, tanks, etc.), and the vehicle in the three pics above needs to be mentioned. It's the GAZ "2975-Tiger", the rival of the legendary American "Hummer"! Enough similar to the "Hummer" about the general layout, the "Tiger" has many of American also under the cowl: the engines are Cummins turbodiesel, six-cylinders, 180 or 215 hp (the more powerful version is capable of 150 km/h on the road, very good performance considering that the weight is 5000 kg!!!). Only Russian engine in the Tiger's engine range, a GAZ-562 with 197 hp, always turbodiesel with six-cylinders. The "Tiger" will be used especially in the African countries and in Saudi Arabia, and also a civil version will be produced, although with an high price.
Above, four exclusive images of the new GAZ "3115" , destined to compete, on the Russian market, with cars as Opel "Vectra" and Audi A4 (!!!). The design is very modern (although not very original...), with quite "sharp" lines, like many current models from Japan and Western Europe. In comparison with the "3111", the novelty are also of mechanical order, and not only about the design: the platform is totally new, and there are new modern multilink suspensions, replacing the outdated leaf-spring suspensions. The engine is the ZMZ 2.3 with 130 hp; but also a 2.5 with anti-vibrations shaft and new range of engine (four cylinders between 1.7 and 2.0, also turbocharged, and a new V6) are planned. The launch of this car is planned in the 2006...but, like all the Russian cars, the date of production is quite optimistic. And, for that date, the car will be already old-fashioned....
Finally, these GAZ's cars have a pleasant design and a decent technology; nothing is known for the reliability...Perhaps, in a parallel dimension, the Volga will be a car similar to Mercedes and BMW...will be this possible? The answer in the next years...
Some pic taken from http://sovavto.cjb.net , www.autogallery.org.ru , www.autocitychannel.com , http://www.5koleso.spb.ru/index.php , http://amevo.narod.ru/ , www.szatan.de , www.gaz.cz , http://kodu.pri.ee/ta/