Car Show: Gorky Classic, 2021 – A Celebration Of Russian Cars

Photo by Ilya Panov

Previous weekend I, together with two of my friends – Eugene and Ilya, took part in a classic car show. Well, kind of. For the most part, my car, a red European Ford Granada two-door of an unknown year of manufacture (really !), was involved as a towing vehicle for one of the participating cars, which had blown the head gasket and refused to go any further under its own power. The show was dedicated to classic GAZ cars and timed to the 800th anniversary of the city I live in, Nizhny Novgorod – previously Gorky. Therefore, my Granada was one of only two foreign cars present, both of which were Fords… more on that later.

Photo by V. Nosakov, one of the designers of Volga GAZ-24 and other GAZ cars.

The first stage of the show took place in front of the GAZ plant’s main entrance. A traditional part of each of the Gorky Classic events is when the participating vehicles, ranging from 1930s veteran cars to the last passenger models manufactured by the plant under its own brand, revisit the very place they’ve been built at – the GAZ main assembly line. After passing through the factory gates, the motorcade headed off towards the next destination, the Stadium built for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, to the cheer of the moderately dense, by the standards of our times, crowd of spectators – including us.

As soon as the last of the participating cars – a light grey GAZ-24-12 station wagon which doubled as a support vehicle for the motorcade – left the stage, the road police opened the road and we went in pursuit. Our initial plan was to follow the motorcade, find some parking space near the Stadium and visit the exhibition on foot. Little did we know at the time how much more interesting things were about to get in just a few moments…

Eugene offering help to the crew of the Volga. Photo by Ilya Panov

As the guy in yellow T-shirt told us, the head gasket had failed the day before, during their trip from Moscow to Nizhny when temperature was abnormally high even for a hot August day, and since then the car was limping and spraying water out of its exhaust pipe. Now it finally gave up the ghost, and no immediate support was coming, because they were supposed to be the support vehicle ! Naturally, we decided to help them by towing the wagon to the Stadium. Thus, it became our ticket directly to the show.

Eugene and the guy-in-yellow are fastening the towing cable to the wagon. Photo by Ilya Panov

To say that towing a roughly 1600 kg Volga wagon, with 3 or 4 people in it, with a 1240 kg, 2-liter V6-powered Ford Granada was a demanding task is to say nothing at all. But we’ve managed, and the car did just fine.

Photo by Ilya Panov

For self-evident reasons, the event was not as representative as it used to be in some of the previous years, and the number of visitors was also relatively limited. Most cars present at the show were regular GAZ-21 & 24 Volgas – although some of them in immaculate condition, rarely seen outside of events such as this one. However, there were also some cars of particular interest.

This is a genuine GAZ-A, built in Gorky under license from Ford. An extremely rare car today – very few were made in the first place, and the survival rate was abysmally low, considering the tumultuous history of USSR & Russia in the crazy XXth century. Some of the mechanical parts of this specimen quite clearly have been unearthed, in the very literal sense of the word. Despite all the efforts made since 1940s, old battlegrounds still contain a lot WW2-era iron…

Now this is a different beast – obviously a Ford Model A Fordor disguised as a GAZ car. Not sure what it was supposed to represent, probably a GAZ-built closed-body version (which is sometimes called the Pioneer), which was sufficiently similar looking, but technically had a different body from the US sedans built by Briggs or Murray.

The convertible version of the Pobeda was built in some rather significant quantity between 1949 and 1953. While lacking the roof, it actually weighted quite a bit more than the regular sedan, so no, they were not “conserving steel” – to do that, you should make regular sedans. However, the roof was one of the most technologically complex parts of the whole body, and it is possible that at some point they just couldn’t make enough for all of the cars. Regardless, the convertible was not introduced ad hoc, it had been planned as a regular part of the model lineup from the very start.

Due to technological limitations, very few GAZ-22 wagons were manufactured each year, roughly 1500…2000 regular wagons and 4000 ambulances – for a total number of 12744 wagons and 30896 ambulances in 8 years. Despite the fact that more of them have been made, today an ambulances are extremely difficult to find – much more so than a regular wagon (which is extremely rare in its own right).

The wagon with a blown gasket is getting towed away for repair at Eugene’s friend’s shop. GAZ-24-02 & 24-12 wagons are more abundant, but still rare, and start getting some kind of a cult following in the recent years.

This 1974 Volga is probably one of the best in the country, frequenting the covers of publications and calendars. Vladimir N. Nosakov, one of the designers of this model, arrived in it.

This GAZ-24 may look pretty standard from outside, but it is powered by a 2.8 liter Ford Cologne V6. Essentially the same engine, in fact, that powers my Granada, but a larger version of it. This particular GAZ-24 started its life as a standard Volga with a ZMZ-made inline-four, but there were factory made cars with Ford V6’s of this very model. As well as 3.0 liter Essex V6-powered cars assembled by Konela of Finland for the foreign markets.

Now talking about rare cars – only 55 GAZ-3105’s were ever made in 1992-1996, or, more specifically, hand crafted as prototypes. It may look unremarkable – unless you open the hood and see the 3.4 liter EFI OHC V8, coupled to a 4×4 manual transmission. Not quite Audi quattro or Mercedes-Benz 4-matic of the day, but roughly in the same venue. That, however, was exactly the problem with it: it was far, far more expensive than a Russian made car could afford to be in early-to-mid 1990s. And the plant just didn’t have the money to reequip for making more of them and use the economy of scale.

The blue Volga next to it is powered by a Japanese engine, most likely a Toyota UZ.

And yes, there seems to be another blown hose or gasket.

GAZ-3111 was, and still is, a polarizing design, to say the least. Loaded with lots of chrome and other “retro” features, it was the factory’s last attempt to reinvigorate its independently developed car line in late 1990s – early 2000s. After it ultimately failed, GAZ turned back to its roots – manufacture of cars under foreign license: Chryslers at first, then Chevrolets, and now Skodas.

I’ve also filmed a 15-minute-long video of the same trip: