GAZ 21-02 Volga

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Keywords: volga, v12, v 12, coupe, russia, russian, moscow, tverskaya, tverskaya street, lada, ladas, audi, audis, lubyanka, lubyanka square, black volga sedan, volga sedan, russian volga sedan, russian volga, volga, mercedes s-class, s-class, 1957 volga coupe, 1957, 1957 volga, gorky automobile works, gorky, gaz, gorkey automobile, m-21 model, m-21, gorky model, gorky m-21 model, m21, yuri gagarin, bmw 850csi, bmw, bmw 850,
Description: A car to kill for.

Snow is falling over Moscow in the failing winter light. Down Tverskaya Street comes a convoy of bureaucratic black sedans, like a scene from the gloomy days of Comrade Brezhnev, except now they part a sea of battered Ladas and brand-new Audis. Looking right, the convoy can glimpse the golden spires of the Kremlin and the walls of Red Square before heading for the plain, stone-slabbed Duma, the Russian parliament.

Some of the cars, however, continue along the street and pull up outside an imposing seven-story yellow building that looms over Lubyanka Square, home to the once-feared KGB and still used by its successor, the less onerous Federal Security Bureau. It's also a place associated with one car above all others—the black Volga sedan once used by the upper echelon of the communist bureaucracy.

Today, these bureaucratic convoys contain more stylish and reliable Mercedes S-class vehicles. Once the Soviet standard, Volgas are now chopped liver.

Except one—there is still one Volga that makes pedestrian Muscovites raise their high-cheek-boned faces to the bitter wintry winds. And even smile. The one we see this day looks like an immaculately restored 1957 Volga coupe. But that can't be right. The Gorky Automobile Works (GAZ) that produced these Volgas between 1956 and July 1970—the M-21 model—never built a coupe version.

All the 334,812 M-21 Volgas that were produced by the GAZ factory were four-door sedans or station wagons, cars that represented the peak of the Soviet Union's automotive technology. The Volga may have looked like a commie copy of a '53 Ford Custom sedan, and as Autocar magazine's test in 1960 reported, the engine might have stalled every time the car stopped on a slope. But in a country where for most citizens the alternative was riding an old, decrepit bus, the Volga was hugely desirable. This was the car driven by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man to rocket into space. It was the car the Soviets were proud to export to the British Isles, with an advertising blurb describing its cabin as making "lengthy out-of-town voyages joyous"—although dissident Soviets of the time who found themselves bundled between a pair of austere KGB agents on the big back seat might have disagreed.

Those genuine Volgas neither looked nor drove like this coupe. So ignore the chrome "Volga" letters on this coupe's trunk and the famous "shark's teeth" Volga grille, because this Volga coupe is not a Volga at all. Only the head- and taillights are original.

This coupe takes a BMW 850CSi chassis (last built in '96), transmission, and engine and grafts on the unique body. It's not powered by a wheezing 70-hp four-cylinder lump but by a 380-hp V-12 BMW engine capable of hurtling it down Moscow's multilane highways at a claimed 150 mph. It is said to go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, performance that a KGB agent—even one equipped with the later 195-hp V-8-engined KGB version of the original Volga—would have, well, killed for.

Inside the car, above the leather-trimmed interior, a tiny plaque has been stamped into the car's plush roof lining, attesting to being handmade "for the owner Mr. D.Z." We never found out who the mysterious Mr. D.Z. was, but we were told he paid $500,000 for this special Volga look-alike. Hard to believe, but these are the new capitalists in Russia. The firm that produced the car is "A:Level" (meaning "No. 1, top drawer"), and it's a company where you need more than just dollars to drive away a car boasting its exclusive plaque stamped with your initials.

To get to A:Level's home and workshop, we drive 12 miles west of Moscow's fume-choked city center, along tree-shaded lanes, past humble wooden huts, and pull up in front of a huge steel gate. We are about to be the first journalists allowed a glimpse of what's inside.

We walk into the warm building to find four young guys in blue overalls exercising their ratchets by a hulking Lamborghini LM002 sport-ute. It is covered in matte-black rubber-texture paint with radiation warning signs on its doors—the owner wanted it to look "different." In another room is a homemade robot device, powered by six windshield-wiper motors, that is designed to carry tools. It seems the perfect setting to hear someone say, "Nu, slushaete, 007." ("Now, pay attention, 007.")



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