Today’s post will be about the history of maybe the best XX-century manufacturer. About a history of success, of rises and falls: GAZ.
First of all, I must say that this is not just facts and photos. This is history itself. And you just need to see this machinery to understand, what is it. Now, let’s start.
GAZ was the second car manufacturer to appear in the Soviet Union. Formed in the 1930′s, it really helped the new country to get up from all the horrific things it survived. As you may know, different countries provided different support to the USSR before WWII, so the government just dealt with the “Ford Motor Company”: “We need to make something like this, because we need vehicles badly”.
The first vehicles were GAZ-A and GAZ-AA (phaeton and light pick-up truck). But they weren’t similar to their colleagues from the USA – different engines, different gearboxes, different wheels… Everything became simpler and, sometimes, “rude”. For example, these cars didn’t have such things as front suspension. But the vehicle wasn’t a thing where you can relax – it was a “working horse” for a soviet man. And these cars were working hard almost everywhere.
1936 GAZ M1 Sedan
Another well-known car of that period – GAZ-M1, was driven by the personal drivers of famous people and politicians. Although everyone could get in and relax, because it also was the first massive taxi car in the Soviet Union, and you could feel yourself as a famous person.
But the hardest time came in 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. GAZ was producing the GAZ M-415 light pickup, GAZ-11-73 sedan, GAZ-61-40 4-wheel drive phaeton and some civillian and army off-roaders based on Willys MA before the war, but soon it was producing only army vehicles. For example, GAZ-64 off-road vehicle for commanders, or the SU-76 artillery vehicle. Soon it was producing the famous light T-60 and T-70 tanks. They had such maneuverability, so that they could beat the “Tiger” tank just by driving to it’s right side and shooting its armory – the big heavy tank couldn’t do anything against the little bastard.
Other famous war vehicles of GAZ came in 1942 GAZ-AA, and its modification GAZ-AAA. The first vehicle is famous by the “Road of life”, the winter road on Ladozjskoe lake, which leads to blockade Leningrad. Over 3000 tons of cargo was delivered on these trucks under bombardments and ice cracks… the GAZ-AAA, though, is known as “Katyusha” mine launcher or BM-13 (but I must say, most of these vehicles are Packard land-lease trucks), which is famous as being a good anti-infantry vehicle.
GAZ M-20 ‘Pobeda’ // GAZ-21 ‘Volga’
After the war, the country needed to rebuild everything. Old GAZ’s were modernized and got to serve the people again. And, after factory reconstruction, new cars arrived – GAZ-M-20 “Pobeda” sedan, GAZ-47 all-road vehicle, and GAZ-21 “Volga”, which replaced the M-20 later and became a true legend. Now this car is very rare, and lots of collectors and tuners dream of it. For example, MAMI students successfully made a 1000-BHP dragracer based on it.
Also, GAZ cars were shown at different car shows. And a beautiful models such as GAZ-13 “Chaika”, GAZ-21 “Volga” and GAZ-52 truck won a Grand-Prix prizes in 1958 at Brussels World Expo.
In the second half of 1950′s GAZ successfully developed a lot of light all-road trucks, including GAZ-56, GAZ-52, GAZ-53 and army landing truck called GAZ-62. This truck was special in all ways – a cabin above the engine, all-road construction, small enough to fit into a helicopter – this construction lives even today (special police squads use it). Unfortunately, for different reasons, GAZ-56 didn’t see a green light, GAZ-52 and GAZ-53 saw it only in 1980′s, and army forces, which used GAZ-62, found that if this truck will drive on a landmine, all the troops inside will be dead (because of the cabin construction).
GAZ-24-02 (Station Wagon)
In the beginning of 1960′s, GAZ tried to refresh the 21 model. That’s how the GAZ-24 was born. The first cars were produced just in 1968. This car was special in many ways, and only Party members, factories directors and famous people got it, also taxi services. If someone not from the “big ones” got GAZ-24, KGB and police were immidiately involved in this situation. Also, this car was famous not only about its comfort and thickness, but also for working in Soviet police. This version had the big powerful V8, and had so much speed it was called “the chaser”. Actual speed, though, was only 160 km/h – because of the aerodynamics, if the car was going any faster, the front wheels were off the ground. However, the racing variation of this car was way much faster, because of the new bodykit. It could reach 200 km/h, but it wasn’t popular – it was more like a ship than a car (for its weight it was called “a barge”, and the driver was “a captain of the barge”). But it still was a good car, and this GAZ became a legend too – just like a previous model.
In the 1970′s, the factory was re-organised: The “AvtoGAZ” group was created from more than 11 factories all around the Soviet Union. It brought its profit: In 1971, the factory got the Order of Lenin, for it’s good work.
In 1977, the GAZ-14 “Chaika” replaced the old model, GAZ-13 “Chaika”. It’s changed in many ways too – new design, new technical part, new users. Talking about design – as you can see, GAZ-13 sometimes copied Western cars, but still was an original, GAZ-14 now was fully independent. The design upgrade was so big, that this car even didn’t have anything related to the previous car. American 50′s style was replaced with typical Soviet monumentalism. These cars are still producing, and, like in an old times, each car is made individually for each customer. So individually, that some parts from one GAZ-14 couldn’t fit another GAZ-14, for example, armor. And of course, only true elite could use it, like General Secretary of the Party. Also, KGB used them too. Their cars were heavier because of armor, and they had more powerful V8 engines.
In March of 1981 10-million GAZ cars were made. The main direction of the factory now was total dieselesation. Most of the powers of the factory were sent to produce trucks, like GAZ-4301, but there was something like a collapse in light vehicles production. In 1981 GAZ-3102 was made, and that’s all. To be honest, this wasn’t a new car, but a deep re-styling of GAZ-24. Nowadays it’s a valuable car too, but not as valuable as GAZ-24. However, in 1980′s it was between the original GAZ-24 and GAZ-14, and only government structures could get it. Meanwhile, updated GAZ-24 was still producing, and successfully filling taxi car parks and some private garages, only for big money.
GAZ 3221 Gazelle
In 1989 started an initiative work on a light truck for a small business, just on a wave of “perestroika” started by “Mr. Gorby”. Thanks for a fast-production system, “Gazelle” truck successfully started to roll out of the factory’s gates just in a first half of 1990. But, after the successful disbandment of the USSR, this factory started to suffer – sometimes worse than under German bombardments in 1942.
But this factory survived – because of the new economical politics, they started a massive production of “Volga” sedans and light “Gazelle” trucks. A few more words about “Gazelle” – in that time it was the most popular LCV vehicle in Russia in that time. Maybe it didn’t have a good quality or reliability, but for sure, the price made everything.
Meanwhile, the factory was booming now – new cars, trucks and even alliances with Fiat and Steyr! Things were so good, that they even made a replacement for GAZ-66 – GAZ-3308 “Sadko”. And this truck successfully got into an army forces.
Now, this factory produces different things, another mods of “Volga”, “Gazelle” trucks and their modifications, “Bosch” components. But we must not forget about the culture of GAZ – these caars are legends, and they are everywhere – in movies (“Beware of the car”, “Film, film, film!”, “Caucasian prisoner” and others), folklore (“Volga” cars, for example, were “barges” for their ship-like handling and weight, and GAZ-66 was a “sardine’s can” for having no place to even move inside) and other things. GAZ truly became our history, and if sometime the factory will stop producing these cars, they always will live in the history of nation and on our specific roads. Long live the GAZ factory.