A few special guests got a chance to drive Andre’s 1965 GAZ Volga 21, with unexpected results.
The Soviet luxury car Andre bought was a 1965 GAZ Volga 21, which represented a small piece of his past. Andre was born in Moscow, and his grandfather (who was a bigwig in the CCCP) had one. His memories of being a kid, riding along for a family trip hit him in the feels. As such, when an opportunity came along for Andre to purchase a “running” version locally, he couldn’t resist.
When Andre first acquired his Soviet luxury car, it didn’t run very well or like to stop.
The original 149 cubic-inch four-cylinder engine made between 74 – 83 horsepower. It was hooked-up to a three speed, column-mounted manual transmission. That power was fed to a solid rear axle. The original engine, transmission and rear axle were removed and replaced with an old Buick V6 and revised running gear. We think the V6 is a late ’60s to early ’70s 231 cubic inch V6, connected to a “three-on-the-tree” manual transmission, with a unique shift pattern. Finally, someone replaced the rear-end with a Ford axle.
At a distance, the Volga looks like a big car. Think mid-to-late ’50s American sedans, but it’s not. The overall size isn’t much larger than a current Toyota Corolla sedan. In fact, its 106.3-inch wheelbase is identical to the 2022 Corolla sedans. The size is somewhat deceptive based on its ground clearance and high roof. It was built to handle difficult roads, so ground clearance is almost truck-like.
Improvements, driving feel and special guests:
Andre was nice enough to allow MotoMan and Nathan day of driving decadence. Since he bought the Volga, Andre spent a few grand improving the brakes, tires and running gear. For a vehicle that’s well over five decades old, it ran surprisingly well. Both MotoMan and I commented that it was far more pleasant than we expected. It rides over rough roads better than some modern off-roaders. On top of that, it has a mellow ride on the highway, until you push past 40 mph. It begins to vibrate a bit, but more acceleration calms things down – and it’s a gem again.
It isn’t exactly fast. I’m guessing the Buick V6 makes under 100 hp in its current tune. It also handles like a tall truck with vague steering. Big surprise. The recirculating-ball steering gear isn’t fast or communicative, and it requires minor corrections just driving straight. The brakes now work, and feel like a lot of 1950s and ’60s cars we’ve driven. Still, they do the job.
In deference to MotoMan’s expertise on collector cars, and automotive trends, we both think that something like this would make for a unique showpiece for Andre to cherish. Far mores so than his beloved Buhanka van.