GAZ is today best known for the Volga series of cars, and the GAZ M21 was the first to carry the name. The M21 Volga was born from an obvious desire of the Soviet regime to have their own home-grown luxury car, rather than face the ignominy of using a foreign import.
Making the M21 Volga individualistic was the
high waisted style, even though many design elements from contemporary US cars seemed to be present. More important than any perceived similarities however was that the new Volga be more adept at handling the unforgiving roads and climate in which it would operate.
The early versions were equipped with a rather unusual greasing system; by depressing a specially designed pedal from within the cabin, the driver could grease the suspensions and other parts. But there was one major drawback - particularly for other motorists - as any excess grease would be poured directly onto the road.
Built from 1mm thick steel, the M21 was a heavy beast that felt solid and, when finished in black duco, looked rather sinister. But perhaps such preconceptions are the result of watching too many cold-war thrillers, as the M21 Volga was popular as a KGB saloon, the latter variety being specially fitted with V8 engines from the factory (these engines being sourced from the "Tchaika" limousines).
Ordinarily however the M21 was fitted with a 4 cylinder OHV engine making 70 bhp, and with all that weight to carry around it did not make the car a particularly spriteful performer. A lazy top speed of 130 km/h could be achieved for those with patience, and the ability to find a suitable stretch of road.
As for the rest of the Soviet population, the M21 was the most luxurious car any citizen was permitted to own - even if its price meant it was out of reach to all but the communist elite. And even though the car enjoyed a relatively long production run, from 1956
through to 1970
, they are today considered rare and collectable, particularly given their cold war origins.