Cohort Classic: GAZ M-21 Volga – The Russian ’57 Chevy

CC Cohort glen.h posted this M-21 Volga that he shot at the National Motor Museum, in Birdwood, South Australia. With styling clearly influenced by contemporary American designs, the M-21 was the most expensive and exclusive Soviet car a private citizen could buy; even so, its price made it affordable only to the nomenklatura and party officials, and for taxi and livery use. Produced from 1956-1970 with very few changes, it has achieved an iconic status comparable to the ’57 Chevy in the U.S. and the Citroen DS in France.

I’m assuming this is an M-21, which had a rugged, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. There also was a V8-powered Volga, the M-23, that was built specifically for “efficient pursuit,  escort and other special missions” at the request of the KGB.  Let’s just say you hoped never to ride in an M-23, as the ride might well be your last.

In classic American engine-swapping form, GAZ crammed the large and heavy 195-hp, 5.5-liter (337.5 cu in) V8 and automatic from the Chaika limosine into the Volga’s engine bay. The result was somewhat predictable: a fast car with suspension and brakes not really up to the job. GAZ had to design new brakes and make additional tweaks as needed. Only some 603 “Volga” M-23s were made; only nine are known to exist today.

The Volga has become such a very popular collector-mobile that several neo-Volgas, including this V12-powered coupe, have been made from scratch.

And of course, the Volga still has fans at the Kremlin. This early version is one of Vladmir Putin’s favorites. The tag reads “21”, but since Putin is an ex-KGB man, could it really be a stealth ex-KGB V8 M-23? Maybe George Bush recognized a kindred car-loving soul when he looked into Putin’s eyes.