Sam Glover

Sam ac­quires a pre­sumed-ex­tinct KGB mus­cle car

Practical Classics (UK) - - CONTENTS - SAM GLOVER

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.

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