The GAZ M21 Volga is an automobile which was produced in the Soviet Union by GAZ («Gorkovsky Avtomobilniy Zavod», in English : «Gorky automobile factory») from 1956 to 1970. The first car to carry the Volga name, it was developed in the early 1950s. Volgas were built with high ground clearance (which gives it a specific «high» look, contrary to «low-long-sleek» look of Western cars of similar design), rugged suspension, strong and forgiving engine, and rustproofing on a scale unheard of in the 1950s.
The three series of GAZ-21
First Series 1956-1958
The design process leading to the GAZ 21 began in November 1953. Alexander Nevzorov , head of the design team, was given a free hand to develop whatever he wanted to reach the objective of competing with American automobiles. The designer Lev Eremeyev decided to follow the fashion set by the Chevrolet Bel Air , Plymouth Savoy , and Ford Mainline ; the finished product bears a resemblance to the 1955 Mainline, although according to archive documents the latter was purchased for comparison and onroad testing by GAZ only in the mid-1954, after the prototypes of the GAZ-21 had already been built and tested. The prototype appeared in the first quarter of 1954, powered by an inline four with overhead camshaft (driven by chain) and cross-flow hemi head . Since the OHV engine was not ready in time, production M21s had a 65 hp (48 kW ; 66 PS ) 2,432 cc (148.4 cu in) sidevalve four, based on the GAZ-20 ‘s. The Volga was offered with a three-speed transmission , either manual (a «crash box» with no synchromesh ) or automatic . Front suspension was independent , while the rear was a live axle with semi-elliptical springs ; there were lever shock absorbers on all four corners. Lubrication was by a central oiling system, from a drum and foot-operated pump; the oil lines were prone to puncturing, and not all of the nineteen lubricated points were supplied equally. The Volga offered front seats able to fold flat (not unlike a contemporary Nash option) and came standard with cigarette lighter and a radio (still optional on most U.S. cars). There were three variants: the standard M21G, an M21B taxi (with a taximeter in place of the radio and bucket seats in front instead of a bench), and a tropical model, the M21GYU, all with the GAZ leaping deer hood ornament . Drag coefficient was a surprisingly good 0.42.
The Volga made its public debut in 1955, with a three cars on a demonstration drive from Moscow to the Crimea, two automatic models and a manual. It was, however, still far from production-ready; in the first year, 1956, only five cars were assembled, the first on 10 October 1956. Full-scale production began in 1957, with a list price of 5,400 rubles . The new 1957 production cars, known as Series Ones, had a brand-new 2,445 cc (149.2 cu in) OHV engine, the first model produced by Zavolzhskiy Motorniy Zavod ( Zavolzhye Engine Factory , ZMZ). Unusual for the era, it had aluminum block and head, with gear-driven camshaft and compression ratio of 6.6:1; it produced 70 hp (52 kW; 71 PS) at 4,000 rpm and 123 lb⋅ft (167 N⋅m ) at 2,200 rpm.
The automatic transmission model would soon be discontinued, with only 700 built; it was widely criticized, it was too difficult for Soviet drivers to maintain, there were few service stations to do the work and few private mechanics qualified, and there was a shortage of transmission oil . From 1958, a three-speed manual, with synchromesh on the top two gears, was the only transmission available; this would be the M21V, while the taxi became the M21A. (The automatic would be used in the low-production GAZ-13 Chaika , which would also be maintained by professionals.) Standard equipment on all models included spare parts and two tool kits, with spanners , wrenches , screwdrivers , a tire pump, and a cans of paint to fix minor dings.
There were also export models M21D with the manual transmission and M21E with the automatic, both with a higher 7.2:1 compression engine, producing 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS).
In the fall of 1958 cars were produced combining features of the First and Second Series
Second Series 1959-1962
Second Series Volgas were introduced in 1959, with a new grille painted the body color or in chrome. Halfway through the 1959 production run ( model year 1959½), a vinyl cover was added to the dash. Added were windscreen washers and tubeless tires. just Before the series concluded, telescopic shocks replaced the lever type. The 1961 Volgas were priced at 5,100 rubles.
Variants of the Series Two included the M21I and M21A taxi with the 70 hp (52 kW; 71 PS) inline four, and the M21K and right-hand drive M21H (for export) with the 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS) engine.
The Volga was shown at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and together with the GAZ-52 and the GAZ-13 Chaika won the award; the same year production for export began. The Second Series Volgas became known for having no frills but outstanding durability. helped by the 23 cm (9.1 in) ground clearance . In 1959, a Volga took a class win at the Thousand Lakes Rally in Finland, and third at the Acropolis Rally . That year, the central lubrication system was deleted, in favour of a more traditional local grease-application nipple.
In early 1962, a small number of cars were built that combined features of the Second and Third Series.
Third Series 1962-1970
The Third Series was produced from 1962 to 1970. The 1962 models dropped the leaping deer hood ornament, and had a new grille. It used a 6.7:1 compression engine of 75 hp (56 kW; 76 PS) with an optional 7.65:1 compression of 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS) (usually reserved for the export models). The headliner changed from cloth to vinyl, and the radio became optional. It was offered as the standard M21L, M21T taxi, and right-hand drive M21P and M21N export models.
Also in 1962, GAZ advertised a station wagon/estate model, the M22; most of these were exported or reserved for official use. The first station wagons/estates were delivered in 1963, and were designated M22 (75 hp (56 kW; 76 PS)), M22G (export, 75 hp (56 kW; 76 PS)), M22T (export, 85 hp (63 kW; 86 PS)); ambulances were M22B (75 hp (56 kW; 76 PS)) and M22BK (85 hp (63 kW; 86 PS)).