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Soviet Luxobarge: 1977-88 GAZ 14 Chaika

Jim Yu March 14, 2012 Cars You Should Know 60 Comments
Q: Why is the GAZ 14’s key hole almost halfway between the door handle and the door sill?
A: Because nearly half of GAZ 14 drivers were KGB, the low key hole position made it easier for crouching KGB agents to unlock the door while being out of the line of sight (or fire).
Though the GAZ 14 Chaika (seagull) was hierarchically one step below the top-of-the-line ZIL, it is arguably the best luxury sedan the Soviet Union ever designed and manufactured.  It was technologically superior to its longer wheelbased cousins and because it was shorter, it was relatively more nimble.
But what really makes the 14 stand out is its looks.  Though it was inspired by large, blocky 1970s American sedans, it was by no means derivative.  Its designers announced to the proletariat with this car that its occupants were professional, cosmopolitan, and not to be messed with.   
The GAZ 14 was equipped with a 5.5 liter  aluminum block V8 (with two 4-barrel carburetors) that was good for 220 horses.  It could haul the Black Beauty up to 109 mph. Officially, the 5,700 pound car got 17.6 miles to the gallon.  That’s about as credible as figures given at a presentation to the Politburo on cotton production in the Uzbek S.S.R.  
The GAZ 14 seated seven in a 2+2+3 configuration.  There are two fold-out jump seats in the middle and two contoured sofa seats in the back.  If absolutely necessary, a monkey could uncomfortably sit in the middle, between the two contoured seats.  In keeping ambient noise to a bare minimum, the seats were covered in quiet cloth rather than loud leather.
No expense was spared to make the ride as smooth as possible.  During a road test on surface streets, Car & Driver noted that the 14 was outcornered by a city bus.  ‘Nuf said. 
The first GAZ 14 was presented to Brezhnev in 1976 for his 70th birthday.  Thereafter, about 100 were made every year.  At the end of its run in 1988, Gorbachev curiously ordered that all blueprints be destroyed so that the car would never be built again.


The following video, in Russian, has some detailed shots of the sedan’s interior and exterior:

This video features the GAZ 14-05 convertible parade car, which still sees regular duty at Victory Day celebrations:

Information sources: Bruce McCall’s September 1988 C/D article and Cars of the Soviet Union.

Images source: www.auto.az, your Azeri internet source on cars! 

  • Savant_Idiot

    I see an amalgamation of AMC Ambassador, Lincoln Continental, Mercury Monarch hubcaps and some Eurotrash influence (Lada, Fiat, etc).

    Absolutely horrendous. Gorby was right to destroy the evidence…

  • facelvega

    You can keep the GAZ and the ZIL– there was only one seventies luxobarge behind the iron curtain for me, this one:

    <img src="http://ned.ronet.ru/0/1977%20Tatra%20613.jpg"&gt;

    • Hold your horses! I am working my way around the world. If you can tell me a little more about it, I can begin the research. Thanks!

      I've got a Toyota Century and Hyundai Equus down the pipeline.

      • Devin

        Looks like a Tatra 613. It's Czech and rear engined, that's pretty much all I know.

        • facelvega

          bingo. That's an air-cooled, four overhead cam V8 which in combination with the front-mounted transmission gave a 50/50 F/R weight distribution. Cabin warmed by dual gas-powered heaters (engine was air-cooled, remember?) that were at least in the later versions programmable up to a week in advance, google tells me. Debuted with Vignale styling. Beautifully engineered and built. If you get the watered-down late styling, you also get fuel injection and way more power. Earlier ones would do 70mph in 2nd gear; the last version could do 0-60 in 7.5 seconds. Win, win, win. Like the communist Bristol, but with more interesting engines.

          • tonyola

            Car and Driver tested the successor Tatra 700 in 1998. They said that the handling of the car was scary in that the tail was apt to swing around at unpredictable times.

            • AlexiusG55

              I believe that during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Nazi officers were banned from driving that Tatra's ancestor (the T87) because so many of them had been killed by its unusual handling…

    • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

      Wait, isn't that a VW Dasher?


  • Er, that's a negative. It looks somehow, I don't know, retro-futurist or something. I can imagine it appearing in Terrahawks.

  • Manic_King

    Well, I have wrenched a tiny-tiny bit on these cars when I during college had summer work experience gig at local ministerial garage. There was 15 soviet republics and there was less than 10 of these per republic. Federal gov. had more but still, the idea of some KGB guys driving these parade floats, esp. during fire fight is not really realistic. These were just not used every day, only when important VIPs from Moscow or from abroad decided to pay a visit in . In Moscow probably highest of ministers and Generals used Chaikas more often but still maybe not every day as they normally had shiny black Volga 3102 with driver 24/7 available for daily duties.
    In the video above KGB special Volga GAZ 24 is shown which had engine out of Chaika.

    • I agree. Unrealistic to go undercover in one of these. But C/D said nearly half were KGB. I may have been duped.

      How were they to work on?

      • Manic_King

        Simple, robust cars, built like a brick sh'thouse. Some parts bin parts used e.g. speedometer and other parts in dash. But these were best Soviet car industry managed to create so quality was much higher compared to other cars. I was right hand man to very thorough old school electrics guy, that was only way young guy like me could have access to that high level cars. Chaikas had best people working on them so no corner cutting which was usual otherwise, even in most important garage in town.

  • OA5599

    <img src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-y6UVwyLuMqg/T2Aa3UDcqcI/AAAAAAAAQjQ/akTRDoHaZco/s640/DSC08155.jpg&quot; width=500>

    The intake runners look really puny and restrictive for a car that has 2x4bbl carbs. The air cleaner inlet is similarly insignificant-looking.

    Are the spark plugs concealed under those green covers? Where is the distributor hiding?

    • Joe_Btfsplk

      The distributor looks to be the silvery round thing behind the air cleaner housing. I looks like the ignition wires were sealed in a tube from the distributor to the metal housing covering the spark plugs. Protection from snow?

      • OA5599

        That tube looks more like plumbing to me. The only way to put 4 plug wires through it would be to install the boots later, meaning you would have to replace an entire side at a time if something needed repair. Also, with the wires bundled so closely together, arcing and crossfiring might be a problem.

        • I'm inclined towards the distributor-and-ignition-wire theory. My Plymouth has a factory wiring loom that requires the boots at the distributor to be installed afterwards, so I don't find that part surprising. Of course, with the Plymouth, the loom is designed to keep the wires apart, not force them to run adjacent and parallel to one another. I suppose that shouldn't be surprising here either, though.

          Besides, it would account for those secondary green covers that are held in place with wing nuts. I don't see any other spark plug leads.

          • OA5599

            The loom or whatever that thing is on this car has something that looks like hose clamps at the ends. I wouldn't think those would be necessary for plug wires, but in absence of a better explanation, I'll accept it for now.

            • I saw those. My guess is the runners are flexible tubing (probably just ordinary hoses) which are intended to be removed at each end and straightened to ease installation and removal of the wires. If I were to engage further in pure speculation (and why not?), I'd say someone with clout had a wild theory about engine design that, despite having about as much validity as Lysenkoism, nonetheless got pushed through to production.

            • Manic_King


              Yep these are plugs in sealed system. Why? Maybe, because of generally bad road conditions, engineers feared that had engine stopped in the middle of road because of small-lake-sized obstacle, they'd be sent to Siberia?
              This limo is really truck-like actually tech.-wise, except for these small reliability improving ideas.

              • All of the components are listed as "not available" on that site! That does it, I'm no longer interested. I wouldn't want to get stuck with something so obscure that parts become difficult.

    • Any idea what western design that engine was derived from? I check pictures of Packard, Studebaker, and Buick nailhead V-8s. It didn't look too close to any of those.

      • jeepjeff

        GAZ had some history with Ford, but that ended in 1938, and either the spark plugs or the distributor are in the wrong spot for their line up (after the Windsor, Ford put the distributor out front, and the Y-block has the plugs below the exhaust headers).

        Maybe a Mopar? Like the Chrysler Spitfire (polyspherical)? The valve covers are a bit wrong, but Chrysler was putting the generator way up high in the late 50s, the plugs are in the right spot and the distributor was in back. Also, they came in 301, 331 and 354. 331 is a 5.4L, which is right in line for turning into a 5.5L engine. This is just from staring at pictures on allpar.com.

        (I'm really curious too, because the Soviets couldn't possibly have designed their own V8…)

      • Jim-Bob

        My gut says they derived it from Packard as I seem to remember reading that somewhere. Remember that Stalin had a thing for Packards and even had ZIS build copies of them for his personal use after Roosevelt gifted him one during the war. However, I tend to think this engine is a later development (It reminds me a little of a Rolls Royce/Bentley 6 3/4 litre on the outside). You have to remember the way the USSR worked. They were pragmatists of the highest order and would try to use one design of a component for many different pieces of machinery. Thus, this was probably also some sort of an industrial engine as, for example, ZIL was primarily a maker of heavy trucks. High end cars was one of their other minor projects for the state. As I think this engine was shared with ZIL, it would make sense that it may have also been developed for use in some other application, an ekronoplan perhaps or some sort of medium duty truck.

        Remember that the Soviets were not as backwards as we like to think and were perfectly capable of developing their own products when the need arose. It's just that copying the designs of other companies (that they would refuse to pay royalties for) was far simpler most of the time than designing it out of whole cloth. For example, why would you spend the effort to develop a long range strategic bomber if all you had to do was copy a Boeing B-29 and christen it the Tupolev TU-4? It's not like Tupolev was incapable of designing anything better, it's just that it was done for expediency's sake. They later designed aircraft that were a match for anything the Americans or British could put in the air so what makes you think something as simple as a passenger car engine was beyond their abilities?

        • I guess the fact they didn't make their own steering wheels made me think they probably "borrowed" the engine design too. But it does seem this might have been a somewhat original design. It looks like most of these engines found a home in the BRDM armored cars.

  • Wonder if they just bought those steering wheels from Mercedes or copied them?
    <img src="http://www.examiner.com/images/blog/EXID8812/images/r_mercedes_450sl_1978_interior.jpg"width=500&gt;

    • C/D says the Merc steering wheel came out 3 years before the GAZ 14. Good eye!

    • Savant_Idiot

      Everything about this car is poorly copied from something else; mostly cribbed from "bourgeois, imperial pigs".

    • TurboBrick

      Bought them? With what? You need hard western currency for that sort of thing. You couldn't just call Peggy at US Prime Credit to give you more limit back then.

      • I'm pretty sure we bought some platinum and a few other oddball minerals from the USSR, between that and AK-47 and T-55 sales to various 3rd world dictators they had some hard cash.

      • Manic_King

        With FIM's from Lada & Mosse sales to Finns:)
        USSR had all kind of export so hard currency was somewhere in the bank vault. Not that normal soviet citizen could go to shop and buy anything western made. But it was used for something. When soviet people were let to visit capitalist world currency was changed beforehand by state and exchange rate was not bad at all.

        • TurboBrick

          Yep, that awesome bilateral trade agreement in full swing…

          FIN: "You can have these 100 steering wheels, how about you give me back 75 Ladas and 50 Mosses and we'll call it even"
          USSR: "Ok! What can you give me for a tanker full of oil and some accordions"
          FIN: "How about a truckload of Viola cheese and Turo Tailor suits?"
          USSR: "Great! Let's talk about some zinc buckets next…"

      • Jim-Bob

        Off the subject a bit, but have you ever noticed the car that sits beside the shack in those commercials? It appears to be a Tatra 603!

        • Of course! That's Peggy's car.

        • TurboBrick

          I did notice that, very nice touch. I should rewatch those in slow-mo to see what else I've missed. Or maybe I won't have to. By the time the Stanley Cup finals start I'll probably be able to draw each ad frame by frame off the top of my head.

    • david42

      I think the seats are out of a Benz as well… maybe a w116.

    • Maymar

      Don't forget the ribbed taillights also.

  • Devin

    I prefer the earlier, Packard-esque Chaikas.

    <img src="http://i.allday.ru/uploads/posts/2008-09/1221440786_img_1381.jpg&quot; width="500">

    • According to Wikipedia, they are the same car underneath.

    • Спросите человека, который владеет одной!

    • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

      The best part about those is they were made until the 80's, I'm pretty certain.

  • VeeArrrSix

    I imagine most regular folks who saw the inside of these didn't live much longer.

    • P. Frere

      You're thinking of the inside of a Sedan DeVille or Continental Town Car trunk!

      I gather that the Soviet car that you might not have wanted to see the interior of at the time was this one:
      <img src="http://gazavtomuzei.narod.ru/f20.jpg"&gt;
      It's a Gaz 24-24 with the 5.5 liter v-8 from a Gaz 13, a special model that was 'not for general sale'.

      image from <a href="http://gazavtomuzei.narod.ru/9_.html” target=”_blank”>http://gazavtomuzei.narod.ru/9_.html

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        This might be a good place to get an decent answer. Some references about The Legend of The Black Volga:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Volga http://forum.hooniverse.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&amp

        Black Ice says it is urban legend. I thought the urban legend part was the crazy stories that kids made-up to go along with it. My friends' mom was really racist towards Germans. So my friend and I believed that the big black cars were driven by Germans that would steal German looking Polish children so Germans couples that could not have kids could adopt them.

        Later I thought it was that people were taken away in these cars and that parents really had no better way to explain to a young kid than 'Avoid big black cars. There are bad men in them. Sometimes people that are taken away in them do not return.' So I thought the urban legend portion was what kids made-up like about Jews and vampires in other parts apparently.

        But then I have to admit that the whole 'here in Gdansk it's not so bad, but if you were in Lublin, watch-out' does have a central characteristic of many urban legends. So I just don't know at this point.

        • BlackIce_GTS

          All my information is whatever wikipedia says, I don't have any personal knowledge. Your theory sounds quite plausible, and I hope more firsthand information surfaces.

        • Manic_King

          That's quite stupid. Black Volgas were quite strictly in government official use, I mean ministers and generals and such.
          For lower ranks were gray, light blue or white Volgas and then already lower ranking cars like Lada or Moscwich.
          Idea of nuns or priests having an Volga is completely ridiculous as in communist state religion was banned or barely tolerated and these people just couldn't get this kind of hi-end car.

          Can be of course that behind that story is one occurrence of crazy killing spree by someone access to black or red Volga.
          But that would mean it's completely blown out of proportions. KGB also of course from time to time "removed" people deemed to be hazard to soviet system. But that would be just the way secret service work and scale wouldn't be nearly such as this urban legend maintains.

  • craigsu

    I wouldn't be at all surprised if that radio was tubed. That would be all kinds of awesome.

    • Jim-Bob

      Well, the Russians are the last ones to still be manufacturing new vacuum tubes today so it isn't beyond the realm of possibility!

    • Van_Sarockin

      I must have that radio. So many buttons, and is that a signal strength meter?

  • Manic_King

    Yep, that sounds like a fairly good explanation or theory.

  • Thank you Eastern European residents/former residents for all the insight!

  • Gaz 14

    If u want some more info let me know. That car on pictures is actually mine 🙂 Of course not the first one…
    I was a little bit shocked to find my car on US website. I feel quite honored =)

  • legion

    Looks to me like a mash-up of a 70s mercedes and a 1967 Imperial (or 66 lincoln, they look the same)

  • legion

    not bad, i wouldent mind having one

    • Gaz 14

      It is for sale. Make your offer 🙂

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