GAZ 12 ZiM Cabrio

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Keywords: GAZ 12 ZiM Cabrio
Description: Just a couple days ago, the world media and some bewildered journalists got a glimpse of now-departed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's villa on the Dnieper river, called Mezhyhirya. The

Just a couple days ago, the world media and some bewildered journalists got a glimpse of now-departed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's villa on the Dnieper river, called Mezhyhirya. The sprawling and not-particularly-tasteful residence rests on a 345-acre lot of real estate (a little over half the size of Monaco) and features a golf course, a zoo, and an artificial lake with a ship resembling something out of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" theme park ride. And it also boasts an impressive collection of about 70 cars and motorcycles.

Despite the news media's reports that this was Yanukovych's private car collection, in reality this is a state-owned collection that has been accumulated since Soviet times, hence the little information placards in front of the cars, written in Russian. Some cars and motorcycles are obviously gifts from overseas or ill-considered late-night eBay purchases, but the collection appears to be well curated despite a few vulgar details on some of the cars. Due to the fact that this is a state collection, it's unlikely to be sold; even if was, it would yield only about $4 million on the open market: rarity does not equal collectibility.

One of a handful of GAZ M20 Pobedas at Mezhihirya. Photo by Andriy Yatsulyak, Ukrainian magazine Autocentre

The collection contains several GAZ M20 Pobeda (or Victory) cars. The Pobeda, made at the Gorky plant (now called Nizhny Novgorod) was the USSR's first post-war car, and was powered by a 2.1-liter straight-four engine making about 50 hp. The car itself represented quite a big technological leap for the GAZ (Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) factory, which had essentially shifted to tank and truck production with the onset of World War II. This was the first Soviet car without running boards, the first car to have electric wipers, an electric heater, and a built-in radio. Like its predecessors and successors, the M20 was made in many different versions, including taxis, cabriolets, and even 4WD variants called the M72.

The Pobeda stayed in production from 1946 until 1958, or just a couple years after its successor, the GAZ 21, had joined the assembly line. The Pobeda was also made under license in Poland as an FSO Warszawa, which featured a slightly different body -- a sedan instead of a fastback -- and was also made in station wagon form. Concours-grade examples of the Pobeda can still be found, though none are thought to be original, as these were the workhorse sedans of the day. The best examples can fetch $50,000, but the quality and accuracy of the restorations differs quite a bit.

A rare prototype parade cabrio made by ZiL in late 2009. Photo by Andriy Yatsulyak, Ukrainian magazine Autocentre

This ZiL 410441 cabriolet has an interesting history. The car it's based on is the short-wheelbase ZiL 41041 sedan that itself was based on the top-of-the-line ZiL 41047 of the late 1980s. Made by Zavod Imeni Likhachova in Moscow, the long 41047 was the primary car of the Soviet leadership, powered by a 7.7-liter V8 engine. Just a couple dozen were handmade each year. While the 41047 served the top ranks of the Politburo starting in 1978, a short-wheelbase version was developed for lower-ranking party functionaries and for bodyguards in 1986. Just a handful short-wheelbase 41041 sedans were built during that time, though the short-wheelbase sedan got a second life in the late 1990s when Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov had the struggling ZiL plant make another dozen cars for the Moscow city government garage. A number of unassembled ZiL 41041 shells sat around the crumbling ZiL plant until 2008, when the Russian Ministry of Defense announced a competition to produce new parade cabriolets. The Ministry had three specially built Zil 41044 cabrios that it has been using for annual Victory Day parades since 1984, and they finally decided to order up some new ones. And by new ones, they meant identical ones, aside from a change in color from gray to black.

ZiL itself was barely functioning at the time, and amazingly enough they didn't even win the tender to produce the ZiLs. Somebody else, it turned out, had built a better ZiL. Atlant-Delta, a coachbuilding firm allied with the GAZ plant in Nizhny Novgorod, one of Russia's largest automakers, had won the bid with their slightly different version of the same 41041-based cabriolet that used a Chevrolet Tahoe engine and running gear. This was a serious blow to ZiL, and some said that it was their inept redesign of the headlights and taillights on the cabrio that scuttled their bid. Either way, the military leadership was unimpressed, and ZiL's cabrio prototypes just sat around until somebody in Yanukovych's circle decided to purchase one.

This 410441 is still quite old underneath, using the engine and running gear of the carburetted 41041 sedan, and is said to have only a couple thousand kilometers on the clock. Just two were made by ZiL in 2007, in addition to several Atlant-Deltas that are 99 percent similar on the outside. The cost of building this ZiL ran in the hundreds of thousands for the factory, and they've essentially lost money on this failed bid. Had the Ministry of Defense's bid requirements called for something modern, neither ZiL nor Atlant-Delta would have likely been able to produce new cabriolets.

A sharp example of the rare GAZ 22 wagon, in Soviet police livery. Photo by Andriy Yatsulyak, Ukrainian magazine Autocentre

The collection also contains a number of GAZ 21 sedans, including GAZ 22 station wagons in old police livery. The GAZ 21 was a large four-door sedan that was powered by a four-cylinder engine. To answer your next question: yes, it looks like an old Ford Mainline. The 21 went into production in 1956, replacing the old GAZ M20 Pobeda, and was made in three series of facelifts. A great number of different versions were made, including ambulances, police cars, even right-hand drive examples for export. The GAZ 21 was originally planned to be offered with an automatic transmission, but only the first few hundred cars were equipped with an experimental hydro-pneumatic three-speed transmission.

It's virtually impossible to find one of those now, in addition to a V8 engined variant, but regular manual transmission GAZ 21s are still relatively plentiful. Production ended in 1970, and the nicest examples can retail for upwards of $30,000. All the GAZ 21s in Yanukovych's collection appear to be extremely well kept, and there are a couple rare examples among them. And believe it or not, there are about a dozen of these in the U.S. We saw a sharp black one at Greenwich Concours in 2010, but unfortunately that example later perished in Hurricane Sandy when the Brooklyn garage that it was kept in flooded. Jay Leno also owns one, and he recently took it for a spin on his car show.

Once a common Russian limo, this GAZ 12 ZiM is a bit tough to find now. Photo by Andriy Yatsulyak, Ukrainian magazine Autocentre

A rare convertible version of the GAZ 13 Chaika, only a few dozen were made. Photo by Andriy Yatsulyak, Ukrainian magazine Autocentre

Perhaps one of the better Russian cars was the GAZ 13 Chaika or "Seagull," because of its baroque exterior and resemblance to the Packard Caribbean and Packard Patrician. Their resemblance to Packards, just as the ZiS limousines before them, was not the product of laziness on the part of the design team -- the order to imitate the exterior of any particular car tended to come from the top, and the top preferred Packards since the early 1930s. These V8-engined sedans were really the first Soviet cars produced in any great number to be fitted with automatic transmissions, and in the hierarchy of Soviet limousines, they once again occupied the second-tier spot, just beneath the ZiS and ZiL cars meant for the top-ranking members of the Politburo.

The GAZ debuted in 1956, and managed to outlive just about every other Soviet limousine, leaving production in 198,1 by which time it had already been replaced by the GAZ 14. The GAZ was made as a cabriolet, a phaeton, and a station wagon, though only around 10 examples of the wagon were made. Almost all 3,189 were state owned but a few were given to private citizens as gifts, such as the only white example given to the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova.

The direct successor to the GAZ 13, the 14 entered production in 1977. Photo by Andriy Yatsulyak, Ukrainian magazine Autocentre

The GAZ 14 debuted in 1977, and in terms of interior space and luxury, it almost rivaled the car to which it was supposed to be subordinate in the hierarchy of state sedans: the ZiL 4104. In reality, the V8-engined GAZ 14 premiered one year before the larger ZiL 4104, and it was a huge leap forward over its predecessor which actually stayed in production alongside the new model for another four years. The GAZ 14 boasted an automatic transmission, but its exterior design didn't really imitate any one given American sedan even though there are a couple candidates that come close.

The GAZ 14 offered many of the same features as the slightly larger ZiL 4104, but the interior finish was a little simpler, and the car itself was a bit lighter. Unlike the ZiL 4104, no armored examples of the GAZ 14 were built as this was a car for second-tier bureaucrats like ministry heads, factory directors, and regional politicians. Cabriolet and station wagons were built in small numbers, and cabriolets remain on the books as parade cars in Minsk, Belarus. At the end of its run, the GAZ 14 fell victim to Mikhail Gorbachev's fight against government privileges, and production was halted, with all blueprints for the car destroyed.

Even so, the GAZ 14 remained in government use until 1997, and they can still be found in Russia today doing wedding duty. The 14 itself was replaced by the GAZ 3105, a modestly sized V8-engined sedan with all-wheel drive, though just over a hundred examples of this (not represented in Yanukovych's collection) were made. There aren't any in the U.S. that we know of, but one example has been running around Toronto for the last few years, reportedly the recipient of a Ford V8 engine transplant.

This 41047 limo has been updated a little inside and out, and has newly redesigned seats. Photo by Andriy Yatsulyak, Ukrainian magazine Autocentre

At least two ZiL 41047s have also found its way into the collection. The 41047 is the second facelift that the ZiL 4104 received since its debut in 1978. The basic 4104, also known by its old-style index 115), replaced the ZiL 114 which had been the top government car until the late 1970s, and featured a 7.7-liter V8 engine making 315-hp. The 41047 differed from the 4104 in just a few exterior details like the headlights, the taillights, and some trim elements.

The 4104-series cars were the longest production sedans in the world that weren't stretched limousines, which earned it a place in the Guinness Book of Records. The 4104s were made in a variety of versions which at times differed very little on the outside. There were cabriolets (41044), medical station wagons (41042), security vehicles (41072) and communications cars (41043 and 41049, among others). The 4104 series cars even spawned a short-wheelbase sedan, which was probably one of the few times in automotive history where a shorter sedan was developed based on a longer one. The 4104-series cars stayed in limited production until 2002, amazingly enough, though the presidential security service was almost the sole customer for these vehicles in their later years.

Development of the model effectively halted in 1986 with the debut of the 41047 (also represented in Yanukovych's collection), so even the 2002 model year cars were pretty outdated. A number of these have ended up abroad -- an early 4104 that once served Soviet leader Yuri Andropov is currently hiding in a collection in California, and British pop singer Jay Kay owns a later 41047 sedan.

A trio of Ukrainian ZAZ compacts from the 1960s. Photo by Andriy Yatsulyak, Ukrainian magazine Autocentre

The inclusion of these small cars among state limousines may seem strange at first, but they were made by Ukraine's own ZAZ factory, or Zaporozhsky Avtomobilny Zavod. The 965 entered production in 1960, using an air-cooled V4 engine mounted in the rear making about 23 hp. An economy car by Soviet standards, the ZAZ 965 and the 965A were the most affordable cars at the time. One was seen in the James Bond film "GoldenEye." The 965 stayed in production until 1969, though in 1967 another model entered production: the ZAZ 966. The 966 was a larger rear-engined sedan, and its variants stayed in production until the early 1990s with few changes inside and and out.



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