Between 1956 and 1970 Gorky Automobile Factory or GAZ, located in the Soviet Union, produced a 3 part series of vehicles all variants of the name Volga GAZ-21. Each vehicle in the series has similar features such as the deer mascot on the hood and the raised suspension that shouted to the people that this car was “above it all”. Each model in the series became one of the most expensive vehicles on the market, drawing those with money. It didn’t take long before they became an icon for the upper class. If one held any sort of position in key authoritative positions that the communist party held to a high standard, they most likely drove one of the Volga GAZ-21 models. Sometimes the exports didn’t do too well because of the symbol of authority it was for those in military and political positions, so Volga got smart and made several sub models. Nevertheless, these are the cars for the elites.
1968-1958 “The Star”
The very first in the Volga GAZ-21 series was nicknamed “the Star” because of the chrome star in the center of the grille. The Star was the very first vehicle with an automatic transmission to be mass produced. However, the novelty of the new transmission and all the fancy bells and whistles of the first series didn’t last long. For all it offered the driver, it wasn’t practical. It seemed as if the designers didn’t account for how long it would take to make the vehicle. In order to make the chrome features (and there was a lot) on the Star, it required an excessive amount of manual labor to put them there. The designers also seemed to forget that most people had to work on their own vehicles because there was a lack of qualified service shops in the country. Another problem with the new automatic transmission at the time, was the special fluid it required. Most owners either didn’t know how to work on the new design or weren’t able to obtain the fluid easily.
Towards the end of it’s short life Volga GAZ designers decided it would be easier to sell their luxurious vehicle if it were back in manual transmission, so they produced another round of The Star, this time with the more familiar manual transmission. Even with how expensive these vehicles were priced, it wasn’t profitable for the Volga brand and the GAZ factory. Reverting back to the manual transmission seemed to keep Volga GAZ afloat for a while, but it was a band-aid on a gaping wound. In a last ditch effort, they began making taxi editions of the Star and exporting the vehicle with multiple sub models. In the end of it’s life a total of 32,000 of the Star was produced.
1958-1962 “The Shark”
A new year, a new series, a new look for the Volga GAZ. Officially, the base model for the second model in the series was called GAZ M-21I, but it was nicknamed “the Shark”. Following in its predecessors footsteps, the second series was distinguished by its front grille that changed to a 16 vertical slits of chrome. Producers thought it might be time to upgrade their original design.
– New front fenders with raised wheel arches – Flock trim on dashboard (think of the velvety plastic in jewelry boxes)
– Reflector glasses in tail lights – New radio with mesh speakers
– New grille design – Lubrication system was removed
The designers of the Shark wanted to keep their second series for the upper class, but realized the way to do this was not to over complicate the system that people were already familiar with. The change of the look and design became more popular in the market as time continued on. They still made taxi versions, this time with the second series, which did better than its predecessor. The export of the Shark also made an improvement in its export models giving the engine 80 hp. During the Shark’s years in production several more sub models were produced with slight variations, but none as famous as the original second series Volga GAZ M-21I Shark. The last year of manufacturing the designers even got rid of the iconic deer mascot on the hood of the car.
1962-1970 “The Baleen”
Welcome to the last of Volga GAZ M-21 series. Nicknamed “the Baleen” for the final grille change that looked like the food filter in a whale with its 36 slit design. Surprisingly, it was this grille design that would survive the longest. The designers also made the Baleen look more modernized by making the body sleek. They did this by first, getting rid of some of the bulkiness of the bumper by taking away the over riders (the vertical pieces of chrome around the front bumper in previous photos). They changed the interior to wool seats and a leather headliner. The engine also went from 80 hp to 75 hp. While some didn’t like the reduction, it made cruising around just fine. Once again, several sub models of the Baleen were made and used as taxi cabs. The most popular of the sub models was the diesel fueled model. The hp went down to 68, but no one seemed to mind with the reliability the diesel edition made.
This three part series played a large role in the upper class arena for the Soviet Union. It was a mark of authority and power in the Soviet Union, sometimes even driving fear into the export market and at first hurt the profit for the brand. It certainly shows that even a vehicle can have influence on people. Here at AlphaCars we are proud to have a piece of history. Take a look at our very special 1968 Volga GAZ M-21 Baleen. Follow the link below see for yourself.
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