Sam acquires a presumed-extinct KGB muscle car
Sam finds the holy grail of Soviet cars to add to his collection.
I’ve already talked about the Soviet ‘dogonyalka’ programme in Practical Classics, in reference to my lairy 135bhp Wankel-engined Lada Riva. ‘Dogonyalka’ translates as ‘catcher upper’. These state-issued sleepers were visually indistinguishable from their proletarian brethren, but packed a significant punch under the bonnet. Lower echelons of the KGB and privileged police departments got Wankel Ladas. Upper echelons of the KGB got muscle cars built in a special department at the Gorky Automobile Plant (GAZ).
The first of the bloodline was the GAZ-20G, a GAZ-20 Pobeda with a 90bhp 3.5-litre flathead straight-six and automatic gearbox from a GAZ-12 ZIM limousine. Around 200 were produced from 1955, none of which are known to survive. Next was the Volga 23. This was a Volga 21 with a 195bhp 5.5-litre V8 and auto 'box from a GAZ-13 Chaika. A total of 603 were built between 1962 and 1970. Then came the 2424 and 2434, which had the same GAZ-13 drivetrain in the bodies of the Volga 24 and the facelifted 2410. Some 2172 were built between 1973 and 1993. Overlapping and outliving these were two variants based on the more sinister-looking Volga 3102. The 31012 had the GAZ-13 drivetrain and was built from 1988 to 1992. The 31013 had a 220bhp engine from the GAZ-14 Chaika and was built from 1985 to 1998. Production totalled 29 and 283 respectively.
I broached the subject of trying to buy one with my friend Vladimir Vozovik, who owns both a Volga 23 and a 2424 in Moscow. It didn’t look promising. Dogonyalkas were issued to KGB departments and destroyed when they left service. Only a handful survived by entering private ownership by underhand means. Vladimir explained that on the rare occasions that real 23s, 2424s and 2434s came up for sale, they commanded cosmonautic prices. No 31012s were known to survive. He reckoned, however, that it might be possible to find a 31013 at a sensible sum. This suited me: with their evil faces and gawkish but unmistakably Soviet proportions, the 31012 and 31013 were the coolest of the bunch.
A five-year search
Tracking one down became a five-year pet project for Vladimir and I, although, in reality, it was Vladimir that did all the work. My input was limited to finding adverts online and submitting them for inspection. They are almost always ringers. One 31013 in Tver proved worthy of inspection. Vladimir reported that it was genuine, though it’d been fitted with an earlier GAZ-13 engine. The seller, however, was fully aware of its value and was something of a madman. The price fluctuated wildly and bizarre clauses were added. After much negotiation, the deal hinged on Vladimir finding the seller’s granddaughter a job in Moscow. He arranged several interviews, but her lack of competence proved prohibitive. The stalemate was never resolved. Then, Vladimir spotted a vague advert for a V8 Volga on a web forum for American car enthusiasts in Moscow. He paid the seller a visit. What he found lurking under a tarpaulin was astonishing: a genuine, complete and presumed-extinct Volga 31012. The seller – who dreamed of owning an American muscle car – had bought it at a local bankruptcy auction and had no idea of its significance or value. Vladimir retained a perfect poker face, kicked the tyres and declared it fit only for parts. He phoned later and made a low offer, which was accepted. A beaver-tail was rapidly deployed.
We’re still researching the car’s history. We’ve so far ascertained that it started life in 1989 in the central operational department of the Moscow KGB, then was reassigned to a factory that produced something secret enough to justify KGB protection. The factory’s director took a shine to it and used it as his personal transport, which granted it a stay of execution when the KGB disbanded in the postsoviet confusion of 1991. It seems to have spent much of the time since in a garden. Vladimir reports that it’s rusty, but far from doomed. Anyway… I can’t sit around typing all day: I’m off to Moscow. I’ll report my findings in the next issue.
The Volga 31012 looks exactly like a standard 3102 from the outside.
Under the sizeable bonnet is a 195bhp 5.5-litre all-aluminium V8 from a GAZ-13 Chaika.