Winter most certainly isn’t over yet! As I write these words here in the UK, light snow crystals are falling outside our living room window as the lawn and roof tops are getting covered in white fluff. In the meantime, much of Midwest America are getting absolutely hammered by the staggering temperatures from this Polar Vortex, with wind chill factors of -50 degrees Celsius and beyond being reported. According to some experts, Europe could be next to experience at least parts of this weather phenomena in the coming weeks.
Why is it, that when faced with extreme winter weather, I always end up wanting some Soviet car of yesteryear? I suppose it’s down to this kind of weather being much the norm in more remote parts of Russia. As a result, their automobile industry developed their many locally manufactured cars to be simple, robust and tough-as-nails. If any classic car is ever going to spring to life at first twist of the key and then transport you hasslefree from A to B amidst such mind-numbing temperatures, it’ll be one of those old Soviet Union products from the likes of VAZ (better known as Lada), Moskvitch and GAZ. In terms of refinement, comfort and design, they may often have been lacking a decade or so behind their European and American counterparts, but then that wasn’t what their domestic market required. Instead they needed a strong and sturdy vehicle which could take on the brutal climate of northeast Soviet – and win!
Granted, we don’t often write about the old Soviet classics here on ViaRETRO. However, that’s not to say that they aren’t appreciated by us. In fact, only a couple of months ago, I wrote about my visit to the Muzey Moskovskiy Transport museum in Moscow and about how fascinating I found all the local offerings on display.
The variety is surprisingly large, ranging from small rudimentary city cars to vast luxurious limousines fit for a dictator. On the whole though, it’s probably the GAZ-M20 and its successor, the GAZ-M21 which speak to me the most. They were large saloons aimed at the executive market, and thus priced well out of range of the average Soviet citizen. These days though, the charming hump-back GAZ-M20 Pobeda produced between 1946 and 1958 is a truly rare thing. As such, its successor is much more accessible, and to be honest, probably also a significant improvement in terms of drivability and comfort. The GAZ M-21 Volga was introduced in 1956 with in-house styling which was really surprisingly contemporary and reminiscent of similar products out of the US such as especially the ’55 Ford Mainline, but also the Chevrolet Bel Air and the Plymouth Savoy. As a European, I also see elements of the albeit smaller European saloons of that period such as the Austin A105 and the Simca Aronde.
Also technically did the new M-21 Volga have a few surprises. Most of all the 2.4-litre inline 4-cylinder engine being an all-aluminium construction, which was certainly fairly unusual for a saloon car of that era. Drive was through a 3-speed manual transmission to the rear wheels, and suspension was independent on the front while a live axle with semi-elliptical springs took care of the rear. Especially the suspension components were hugely over-engineered and built to tackle and withstand the rough roads of the fifties and sixties Soviet Union. For the same reason, the Volga was given a ground clearance of 23cm which perhaps is what made it look different than its American and European counterparts, as they were of course significantly lower and thereby appeared somewhat sleeker.
The interior was quite well appointed with luxuries such as reclining front seats, a radio, a clock, and a cigarette lighter all as standard equipment. However, my very favourite feature of the interior – perhaps even of the whole car – is the semi-circular speedometer sat atop the dashboard with natural backlighting through a green glass back cover. I could just sit all day long admiring the stylish speedo, which seems somewhat at odds with the robust character of the rest of the Volga. I can only imagine though, that by the time production of the M-21 Volga ceased in 1970, both the dashboard and the all the rest of the car would have seemed rather dated to say the least – even within the Soviet Union.
But right now, in the midst of the winter of 2018/19, it just seems thoroughly charming. Just look at this 1963 GAZ M-21 Volga for example. Being a ’63, it’s the first full year of Series 3 production. Visually, the biggest give away is the grill, as this was the most obvious change between the Series 1, 2 and 3. In my personal opinion, the Series 3 is the prettiest of the three with those 34 narrow vertical rods making up quite an imposing frontal treatment. But hidden behind its new face, the Series 3 also got you telescopic dampers in place of the lever dampers on previous models, so the ride should be improved. Furthermore, the engine was also vaguely more powerful. Even so, despite the Volga taking a class victory in the 1959 Thousand Lakes Rally of Finland, you probably shouldn’t expect earth-shattering performance… Here are a few pictures borrowed from the advert:
The description in the advert is decidedly lacking, stating merely that the Volga has been restored, and I presume it has covered 2,000km since. Much as such poorly written adverts annoy me, this one at least goes a long way to make up for it with plenty of clear and detailed pictures. They show not just the outside of the Volga, but also the interior, the engine bay, the boot and even the underside. There are even pictures from the restoration which appears to have been a fairly thorough job, and last but not least, there’s a picture of the Volga attending a classic car show where the owner appears to have received some sort of prize or certificate for his GAZ M-21. It’s up for sale at Euro 9,000 which currently equates to approximately £7,900. As an added bonus, you get the immense adventure of picking up your Volga in the Ukraine. Just imagine the roadtrip back to wherever home is! If you’re tempted, all of the pictures and the contact details are in the advert here: 1963 GAZ M-21 Volga
If any classic will ever get you through this Polar Vortex, chances are this is the one. And should even your Volga fail, then I’m led to believe that all Soviet cars can be fixed with a welding torch and a BIG hammer…
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org