Alien appearance, first Soviet automatic machine and station wagon body: myths and facts about GAZ-13 Chaika




It is safe to say that the Soviet passenger car industry emerged as a phenomenon through cooperation with the Americans, or more precisely, with Ford, because both the GAZ-A and the Emka were licensed copies of models produced by Henry Ford. Pre-war executive limousine ZIS-101, as well as its successor under the index 110, were also the “heirs” of a pair of “Americans” – Buick-32-90 and Packard Super Eight, respectively.

There was also an obvious American school influence in the appearance of the postwar models – especially in terms of appearance. This applied to the Pobeda, the “twenty-first” Volga, and the limousines GAZ and ZIL. Not surprisingly, many contemporaries of Soviet car artists immediately accused them of plagiarism, invariably citing a couple of Packards – Patrician and Caribbean – as the source.

Indeed, at the end of 1955 the Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Institute purchased these models in order to NAMI specialists, as well as engineers and designers of Soviet car plants were able to study the latest examples of American car industry. Of course, the style of the Packard exterior has left a definite imprint on the appearance of the Chaika, which was to “catch up and surpass” overseas potential classmates not only in comfort, but also in modernity of appearance, which could not be said about the archaic ZIM GAZ-12.

An interesting detail: the designer of GAZ Lev Eremeev, who participated in the work on the appearance of the “twenty-first” Volga and the new Chaika, once worked on the exterior of the ZIM. Most surprisingly, Yeremeev won the open competition related to the design of the future ZIL-111! That is why the Moscow and Gorky limousines are so similar to each other.

However, it cannot be claimed that sculptor Boris Borisovich Lebedev, who worked with a dozen other members of the creative team on the appearance of the new limousine, simply copied the design of the car from the Packards.

And in the details GAZ-13 differed by some original solutions, among which – a characteristic chrome “birdie” on the rear doors, echoing similar details on the radiator grille and trunk lid. The Caribbean was a two-door car with hardtop or convertible bodies.

And it is unlikely that the Chaika, if it was just “copied” from some car, would have been able to take the Grand Prix of the World Industrial Exhibition EXPO-58 in Brussels, where achievements of Soviet designers and designers were highly appreciated by industry experts even before the beginning of serial production, that is, in 1958.



Because of the specific purpose of GAZ-13, the essence of which was to serve the party and nomenclature top brass, many contemporaries considered this car conservative and did not attribute the framed Chaika to the latest automotive technology, recognizing its modernity except in the “transmission”, because the Chaika was equipped with automatic transmission, which in our present “parsing of flights” deserves a separate section. However, skepticism about the technical progressiveness of GAZ-13 is completely unfounded: many technical solutions in this car in the Soviet automotive industry really for the first time. For example, the classical solution in the form of a frame body received in this case a new reading, because the X-shaped frame had no side members, and the body was attached to it through the rubber cushions. In addition to the torque converter and planetary gearbox, the Chaika received such comfort options as power steering and vacuum booster brakes; the tires were tubeless for the first time in the Soviet automotive industry.

The V-engine, which was also equipped with a centrifugal oil filter for the first time, should not be ignored either. But that’s not all: the new Soviet car, though not designed for “mere mortals”, received a five-band radio with auto-tuning and electric antenna drive, as well as electric windows.



Even quite distant from the domestic cars of the middle of the last century motorists know that both Seagulls were equipped with automatic transmission, which was considered a real curiosity in the USSR. With the exception of buses LIAZ, it was impossible to find an automatic transmission in the Soviet vehicles, and all Seagulls without exception were equipped only with a gearbox, which at that time was called the GMP. It consisted of a hydraulic transformer and a planetary three-speed transmission with a transformation ratio of 2.35. The original solution was a push-button automatic selector, located on the front panel.

The ZIM predecessor also featured a very original transmission solution – a hydraulic clutch located between the engine and the clutch. It allowed the driver to start in almost any gear and provided a high level of comfort due to soft shifts. However, it was not analogous to an automatic, because the driver still had to change gears on his own, although he had to do it much less often than in a car with a regular “manual”.

GAZ-13 received a classic hydromechanical transmission, created in the image and likeness of the automatic transmission on the Americans of those years. And just for this purpose NAMI acquired in the mid fifties a couple of Packards, as well as two copies of Ford Mainline. Although work on the automatic transmission in the NAMI was conducted a few years before that – in particular, under the project “D2” for the Victory, and also an automatic NAMI-DK was equipped with an experimental minivan NAMI-013. But to consider the Chaika the first Soviet passenger car with an automatic, because a couple of years earlier in the series went another sedan model from Gorky – Volga GAZ-21, which at first also was equipped with an automatic transmission! Approximately fifteen hundred “twenty first” produced between 1957 and 1959 were equipped with a hydraulic automatic, similar in design to Ford’s Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission. Alas, due to the lack of the necessary oil type ATF and low technical culture of “service men” the majority of Soviet automatic machines on the Volga rather quickly failed, forcing many owners a couple of years after buying cars to install instead of an unusual box usual three-stage mechanics.

Because of the automatic transmission Chaika was deprived of a “crooked starter”, so if necessary to crank the engine crankshaft (eg, when adjusting ignition) this operation was carried out in an unusual way – with a screwdriver, which rested on the teeth of the torque converter crown. This allowed to turn the crankshaft in place, but to get to the teeth, the designers had to make a special hatch in the bottom of the gearbox



Government limousines sometimes received some additional body modifications (such as a phaeton), but not the utilitarian-practical ones to which the station wagon body belongs.

However, a two-volume Chaika did exist, although it had nothing to do with cargo transportation. More precisely, as fate would have it, Universal Chaika regularly transported “special cargo” – live and very valuable. In the early seventies, the Fourth Main Directorate of the USSR Ministry of Health included a new institution – the United Special Hospital with Polyclinic, which was unofficially called the “Kremlin Hospital” or “Kremlin”. Almost all high-ranking officials and leaders of the country, whose age at the time had already become advanced, were treated in this medical organization. To service the “Kremlin Hospital” it was decided to create special cars that would allow hospitalization of high-ranking patients, if necessary.

In order to quickly create such a car “with little blood” it was decided to use GAZ-13 with a significantly modified body, of course, which in accordance with the purpose of the car was to become a large station wagon. The height of the roof did not matter as the patient was lying on the floor and no resuscitation or other emergency treatment was supposed to be provided during the trip. However, they tried to attach a high roof to the Chaika, but then it was realized that it would require too large scale modifications and it would not affect the appearance of the truck in the best way.

Since the Gorky auto plant was overloaded with orders not only for the passenger car industry, but also for the national economy, as well as the military industrial complex, the production of custom vans based on the “thirteenth” was supposed to take the Riga Bus Factory (RAF), which had extensive experience in mass production of sanitation minibuses. It had suitable production facilities (a small-batch workshop in Riga), as well as a staff of highly skilled modelers and tinsmiths. The project was headed by engineer Artur Eisert, who was the author of the appearance of avant-garde concept RAF-982, which later became publicly favorite “Rafik.

The standard sedans, which arrived in Riga from Gorky, were partially disassembled by removing fragments of the roof and trunk. The new roof consisted of three parts, and a fifth liftgate was added to the rear of the body. Another distinctive feature of the GAZ-13C was a pair of extra side windows, which made the truck eight windows already!

Inside, in addition to the stretcher for bed-ridden patients, there were seats for the attendants, and the spare tire was in a special recess behind the left rear tailgate, which did not provide access to the cabin. Technically the special station wagon repeated almost completely the usual Chaika, even retaining the classic for an executive sedan and very uncharacteristic for a “sanitarian” radical black color of the body, because of which the car was often called the “Black Doctor”.



If under the hood of the ZIM was an ordinary inline six, the Chaika had a V-shaped multi-cylinder engine, which was commonplace for American cars of this class. However, in the USSR there was no such engine, and subsequently V8 engines were massively used only on trucks – “gas” (GAZ-53) and “shishiga” (GAZ-66). Because of this, many not very technically literate drivers of Gorky trucks and began to think that the Chaika received a “cargo” unit, although in reality it was exactly the opposite!

Having taken the Chrysler V8 as a base, GAZ has “creatively rethought” it, and at the same time unified its V8 with the engine of the Volga twenty-first in details of the piston group and gas distribution mechanism. The cylinder block, cylinder head, intake manifold and even the pistons of the engine were made of aluminum alloy, which at that time was not only progressive, but also extremely rare even in world practice.

The first prototypes with a working volume of 4.89 liters produced about 180 horsepower, and after a series of tests in 1958, experts have found their capacity insufficient, increasing the capacity to 5.5 liters, which allowed withdrawing from the engine 195 “horses”. The engine had a torque of 412 Nm already at 2200 rpm, so even with an automatic transmission, the Chaika could accelerate to 160 km/h, gaining the first hundred in 20 seconds.

So the answer to the question “Who was on whom?” is simple and unambiguous: this engine was designed specifically for Chayka and later in a slightly modified form was used not only on trucks, but even on BRDM-2. Moreover, based on the “Chaykovsky” engine were created versions of the ZMZ engines with a reduced displacement, which then for many years were installed on GAZ trucks and PAZ buses.



Since the predecessor of the Chaika had an official index M-12, the new limousine had to get the next number, which was the M-13. However, due to the fact that Molotov fell into disgrace for his attempt to overthrow Khrushchev and was removed from all posts in 1957, the factory designation of the new car was changed to GAZ-13, not paying attention to its belonging to the “black dozen”. In addition to the dry alphanumeric code, the new model also received its own name – Seagull, although in the early stages the variant of the name “Strela” was also considered.

About a hundred and fifty “Seagulls” were produced annually in Gorky, and a total of 3,179 GAZ-13s were produced from 1959 to 1980. It is interesting that for some time (since 1977) the first generation limousine was produced simultaneously with GAZ-14.

According to a beautiful legend, since GAZ-13 was of a higher class than the “twenty-first”, thanks to its name the Chaika seemed to float above the Volga in all senses, including semantic. “Marketers” of the All-Union Association “Autoexport” tried to tie the name of the car to reality in a simpler way, explaining the “ornithological” name of the car by the fact that Gorky residents often admire how seagulls fly rapidly over the smooth surface of the great Russian river Volga, on which the city stands. Be that as it may, the Seagull Automobile does have a connection to the Volga, because both of these cars were created at the same time and by the same people.



An amazing fact: ZIM in the USSR could theoretically be bought by anybody, since GAZ-12 was officially on sale as freely as Pobeda and Moskvitch. True, before the 1961 reform, the ZIM cost a whopping 40,000 rubles, almost four times more than the Moskvich-400 (9,000 rubles) and almost three times more than the Pobeda (16,000 rubles). That is why for the majority of Soviet citizens with their salaries the cost of the ZIM and its hypothetical affordability was only of speculative interest.

ЗИМ М-12

The new limousine, unlike its predecessor, had never worked in a cab and was not intended for sale to “privateers” even at the concept level. Therefore the GAZ-13 could be driven only by a professional driver, who had to turn the big “steering wheel” on duty. And of course only really experienced drivers were supposed to drive the car intended to transport high-ranking officials.

Nevertheless, a “common mortal” could have a ride on the Chaika not alone but together with his wife and his friends! But only as a passenger and at a certain point: after the Chaika had served its time in different departments and ministries, they were overhauled and were often passed to registry offices and wedding palaces.

It was there that the “black bird” could be rented, which about forty years ago cost fifty rubles for a driver and a staff car, twice as much as it cost to rent a similar Volga. However, such a service was in demand, and a lot of newly minted Soviet families were entering a bright future in the cabin of the Chaika.


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