CC For Sale: ZIM GAZ-12 / Chayka GAZ-13 Hybrid – A Rare Bird, Indeed

This summer, my uncle (who also happens to be my boss) gave me an unusual working task: to find a nice, restorable ZIM GAZ-12 for him and manage the restoration project. The quest has proved futile so far, but at least the process was both entertaining and informative. One of the more unusual finds I’d like to share with the CC readers. And, first of all, sorry for the low quality of the photos – that’s what the seller provided me with, and going all the way to the city of Samara to see this car in person is not exactly on the top of my priority list.

So, what we see here is essentially a ZIM GAZ-12 / Chayka GAZ-13 hybrid, and it is very clearly based on the older model’s body shell. The center section is almost unchanged except for the windshield, which originally consisted of two flat pieces; the one in this car came from the Volga GAZ-24 or a subsequent model. Perhaps not the best choice style-wise, but still a practical and popular modification back in the day. A lot of Pobyedas have undergone the same kind of plastic surgery in 1960s & 70s, a one-piece curved windshield from the Moskvitch-407 replacing the original split one. It also never looked just right, but the owners didn’t care.

The way this windshield fits the greenhouse actually reminds us of the fact that the ZIM was not a very large car; or, at least, not very wide – just barely wider than the Volga. Its interior was long, with three rows of seats, but, as far as I understand, quite narrow compared to the contemporary American full-size cars. My guess is that this was done mostly to save the weight, which was still somewhat overwhelming for a 3.5-liter flathead six – and also probably because due to the time constraints it was necessary to utilize a slightly modified version of the Pobyeda front suspension, and its track could be stretched only so far.

No wonder that the designers of the ZIM had problems with making a backseat that allowed three people to sit abreast – as the story goes, that was the reason for making the rear fenders of the ZIM to bulge out of the sides of the car, which allowed for a slightly wider rear axle track – and, correspondingly, a somewhat wider backseat, making three-across seating possible; today it is more commonly said that this styling cue was just cribbed from a contemporary Buick of Cadillac.

Notice that all the welding seams are completely hidden with lead – someone tried really hard to make this car look decent and clean, as if it was like this from the factory. One cannot judge the quality of the bodywork based on the photos alone, but the fact that the whole thing did not fall apart or rust into nonexistence in something like 40+ years (this kind of conversions was popular in 1960s and early 70s, and the GAZ-24 windshield was not available before 1970) tells us something.

The seller suggests that the conversion was made by either some Car Repair Plant or a well-equipped workshop that belonged to some large official organization, and I tend to agree with this. Unfortunately, there seem to be no maker’s markings on this car that could tell us the exact truth. But, anyway, the supposed quality of the bodywork and the unavailability of the Chayka parts to the general public makes this version quite credible.

At the tail end of the car, the Chayka tailfins are somewhat crudely grafted onto the ZIM trunk. The rear bumper is really a pathetic excuse for one, combining a shortened center section of the Chayka rear bumper with sawed off pieces of the GAZ-24 bumper, as well as some hand-made sheet metal pieces. It is possible that originally a complete shortened Chayka bumper was used, because I just can’t imagine someone going to great pains to hand fit all the body parts and hide the seams, and then making something that crude for the rear bumper; but alas – even if it was, it is no longer here.

It should be mentioned that there is a much better known type of GAZ-13 / GAZ-12 hybrid – a Chayka body shell with ZIM front and rear clips added to it, nicknamed “the Muckox” or “the Dunkox” (also, “The Last Bastard” by classic car photographer Alexander “Zoobahstik” Novikov).

These cars, according to some sources, were produced in small quantities by a Car Repair Plant that belonged to the Ministry of Defense for the officials who wanted all of the roominess, comfort and luxury of the Chayka, but in a more humble-looking package. However, the most recent work on this subject, the second volume of Vadim Chelak’s “Flight of the Chayka” (Feb. 2018), is very skeptical about such possibility. He also describes another Chayka / ZIM hybrid, found in the Moscow region, that may look superficially quite similar to the one featured in this post – with the exception of the windshield, which originates from a Renault Fregate – but in fact is quite different, because it uses Chayka chassis and lower body, with a ZIM greenhouse simply grafted onto it.

My thoughts on this subject are that the hybrids which combined Chayka body with ZIM front and rear clips could probably be built in some quantity as fleet vehicles for the humble officials, but the ones which used the ZIM body shell were almost certainly custom-built for some private owners who wanted to “modernize” their ZIMs and make them look more prestigious (brand-new Chaykas were never sold to individual owners, but ZIMs had been, and in relatively large quantities). It just doesn’t make any sense otherwise.

Here’s a picture from the above-mentioned book that features three of the known Chayka hybrids – two Chayka / ZIMs and one Chayka / Mercedes-Benz (recently destroyed by a car collector to salvage the pre-war Mercedes chassis). It seems that the above described hybrid from Samara is quite different from these two and has not yet found its way into history books.

The GAZ itself also came up with a somewhat similar car in mid-1950s, the GAZ-12V, but this project never went anywhere.

By the way, the asking price is quite reasonable for a ZIM in this kind of condition (roughly $10,000) – but I just can’t imagine what would be the right thing to do with it. To restore it “as is” ? To remove the Chayka parts and turn it back into a regular ZIM ? To customize it even further ?..

All I can say without a doubt is that this is one weird car and the seller will have a hard time selling it.