GAZ 13: The Soviet Bel Air

The GAZ Chaika 13 started life in 1955 as a prototype sedan for use by the Soviet Government as a luxurious form of transportation.

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, with a 0-60 of 15 seconds and topping out at 99mph.

The interior of the GAZ 13, bearing striking similarities to the 55′ Packard Clipper
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Built by Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod for an incredibly long production run of 22 years (1959-1981), it was offered in 3 different shapes. These were as a sedan (GAZ 13), a cabriolet (GAZ 13B) and a limousine (GAZ 13A).

GAZ 13B Cabriolet. Author: Alexander Migl CC BY-SA 4.0

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. 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. Its designer Lev Eremeyev was supposedly a personal fan of Packard and American cars of the era in general, which might explain the less than subtle similarities.

Rear lights heavily resemble the 55′ Packard Clipper. Author: János Tamás CC BY 2.0
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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. They were used mainly by Soviet embassadors but were also in service with semi-high officials, although 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 for its large size and powerful V8.

Front of the GAZ 13. Author: Tschaika CC BY 2.0

The long production run of the GAZ 13 came to an end in 1981. With 3,179 units produced its time was up to make way for its replacement the GAZ 14. Today the irony of styling your politician’s cars after your enemy’s vehicles can be seen and it makes for a rather unknown yet interesting addition to the catalogue of post war automobiles.

Keep scrolling to find out how Henry Ford shaped the Soviet Union’s auto industry.

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How Henry Ford Kick-Started Car Production In The Soviet Union

In the early 1920’s, the Soviet Union completely lacked an automotive industry, importing nearly all of its cars, something the country wanted to change. The Soviet industrial machine was plagued with issues however – poorly disciplined labour, high production costs and low quality materials stunted the newly formed state’s dream of large scale automobile construction. To cure the broken system, it was going to need a complete re-invigoration, and for this, the Soviets looked West.

Before the bitter rivalry that the two nations are known for, the Soviet Union expressed great admiration for the manufacturing prowess that America possessed. During the 20’s, Soviet political figures, economic officials and even the mass-media exhibited considerable interest in the exploits of industrial America, and more specifically, Henry Ford. The Soviet Union’s intentions of receiving American industrial practices was validated by Ford and other big business men, so the Soviets began scouting Ford and other big auto companies such as General Motors.

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Henry Ford 1919.

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