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GAZ-M-21 "Volga" (3rd series).jpg
Production 1956–1970
Body and chassis
Class Executive car
Body style
  • 4 door saloon (GAZ-21, GAZ-23)
  • 5 door wagon (GAZ-22)
  • 2.4L M-21 I4 (GAZ-21, GAZ-22)
  • 5.5L M-13 V8 (GAZ-23)
  • 3-speed automatic (initially)
  • 3-speed manual
Wheelbase 2,700 mm (110 in)[1]
Length 4,810 mm (189 in)
Width 1,800 mm (71 in)
Height 1,610 mm (63 in)
Predecessor GAZ-M20 Pobeda
Successor Volga GAZ-24

The GAZ M21 Volga, the first car to carry the Volga name, was developed in the early 1950s. Volgas were built with high ground clearance (what gives it a specific "high" look, contrary to "low-long-sleek" look of Western cars of resembling design), rugged suspension, strong and forgiving engine, and rustproofing on a scale unheard of in the 1950s.

The Volga was stylistically in line with the major United States manufacturers of the period, and incorporated such then-luxury features as the reclining front seat, cigarette lighter, heater, windshield washer and 3-wave radio.

When in 1959 the 6-cylinder line of GAZ cars was discontinued, Volga M-21 became the biggest and most luxurious car officially sold to individual owners in the USSR in large quantities, though its price was very high and made it unavailable for most car buyers.

The Three Series of GAZ-21[edit]

1956/7-58 - I Series
Late 1958-1962 - II Series, one of the 1955-56 prototypes
1962-70 - III Series

Three series of the GAZ-21 were released, most easily distinguished by the grille. The First Series (1956-1958) featured a lattice of three large horizontal bars in the centre of which was a medallion with a star. On vehicles of the Second Series (1958-1962) was applied a grille with 16 vertical slits. Finally, the "Volga" Third Series (1962-1970) received a grille with 34 thin vertical rods. In Russia, each generation of the "Volga" received its own nicknames: for example, cars of the First Series were called "Stars", the Second Series were "Shark mouths", and the Third Series "Whalebones".

In addition, in the fall of 1958 cars were produced combined features of the First and Second series, and in 1962 a small number of cars that combined features of the Second and Third series were built.

The car's large size and tough construction made it popular in the police and taxi trades, and V8-engined versions (designated GAZ M23) were produced for the KGB secret service. An automatic transmission was briefly offered in the late 1950s, but later discontinued due to lack of service stations, and then through the 1960s on the KGB's V8 version only, with the driver's controls being very similar to the discontinued "civil" automatic. The Volga M21 was produced in saloon form from 1956–70 and estate form (GAZ M22 Universal) from 1962–70. Today, it is considered a motoring icon with fans all over the world, including at least a handful in the USA (one having appeared in 1999–2001 in Boston and at The car is famous for its unusual features: front bench seat, column transmission shifter, smooth 1950s design.

"Volga dvadtsat' odin" ("Volga Twenty One" in Russian) was produced nearly as long as the Citroen DS in France, and played the same role in Russian automotive culture: a legend-on-wheels. But it became quite outdated by the 1960s, leading the GAZ to develop a boxier, more modern replacement. In 1970, the "21" platform was discontinued by the GAZ. But, however, till late 1970s spare parts were produced by different plants all over the USSR, and some plants were re-building "21" cars using spare parts, wrecked and junked cars. In 1988, about 80,000 "21" Volgas were registered in the USSR.

UAZ-469 all-terrain vehicle uses a type of GAZ-21A engine, so spare parts were never a big problem.

Also the RAF-977 minibus from Rīgas Autobusu Fabrika was based on GAZ-21's engine and drivetrain.

A special variant GAZ-23 Volga was produced for Soviet special services only, with 195 kp V8 engine from GAZ-13 Chaika, developing 170 km/h.[2]

Popular culture[edit]

The protagonist of the 2009 Russian superhero movie Black Lightning fights crime by with his flying car, a black 1966 GAZ 21.


  1. ^ Gloor, Roger (1. Auflage 2007). Alle Autos der 50er Jahre 1945 - 1960. Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 978-3-613-02808-1. 
  2. ^ GAZ-21S Militsya, Avtomobil Na Sluzhbie, No.2, DeAgostini 2010, ISBN 978-5-9774-0418-1 (Russian)

External links[edit]