GAZ 13: The Soviet Bel Air

Chaika GAZ 13

The 1950s and 1960s saw the United States and USSR lock horns to show the world who was superior. Despite claiming themselves to be the best, the USSR famously copied large amounts of technology from the Americans. One such example was the Tupolev Tu-4, an exact copy of the US B-29 Superfortress bomber. The copying didn’t stop at aircraft however. The GAZ 13 was a car that is eerily similar to American cars produced at the time.

Conception

The GAZ 13 Chaika started life in 1955 as a prototype luxurious sedan for transporting Soviet officials.

It officially debuted in 1959 and used a 5.5 liter V8 in a front-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration. The engines 195hp reached the road through an automatic transmission. The GAZ 13 had a 0-60 of 15 seconds and topped out at 99mph.

Rear lights heavily resemble the 55′ Packard Clipper.
Author: János Tamás CC BY 2.0

Built by Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod for an incredibly long production run of 22 years (1959-1981), it was came in 3 different shapes. These were as a sedan (GAZ 13), a cabriolet (GAZ 13B) and a limousine (GAZ 13A). 3,179 units were produced until its time was up to make way for its replacement, the GAZ 14.

Design

What’s hard to ignore is its striking resemblance to American sedans of the time. An almost carbon copy of Packard’s designs like the 55′ Packard Clipper, it also borrows the design language from cars such as the Chevrolet Bel Air, the 56′ Mercury and the 56′ Oldsmobile Super 88.

1956 Clipper
The Chaika 13 is strikingly similar to the 1956 Clipper Super. Image by Herranderssvensson CC BY-SA 3.0

They didn’t just borrow exterior designs either, it used a large V8 similar to the American vehicle principles of the era and and an automatic transmission that was essentially a reverse engineered Ford-O-Matic. The designer, Lev Eremeyev, was supposedly a personal fan of Packard and American cars of the era in general. This which might explain the less than subtle similarities.

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Users

While a small handful were assembled for Mosfilm, a major Soviet film studio at the time, the GAZ 13 was used by the Soviet government only and was not on sale to the general public.

The interior of the GAZ 13.

They were in use mainly with Soviet embassadors but were also in service with semi-high officials. Nikita Khrushchev reportedly preferred the GAZ 13 to his more luxurious ZiL limousine. Krushchev also delivered one to Fidel Castro as a gift.

Its other slightly darker use was by the infamous KGB who found its large size and powerful V8 particularly useful.

The GAZ 14. Image by Matti Blume CC BY-SA 4.0

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