The first Volga model was originally developed as a replacement for the very successful GAZ-M20 Pobeda mid-size car which was produced since 1946. Despite its very progressive fastback design with Ponton body styling, the rapid evolution of postwar automotive design and powertrain meant that already in 1951 a brief was issued for its eventual replacement. In 1952 this matured into two projects: Zvezda ("Star"), an evolution of Pobeda's fastback contour with panoramic windows and large tailfins, and the Volga with its conventional styling, which was more realistically suited for the production realities of the 1950s.
By the spring of 1954 the Volga prototypes were being actively tested. The new car introduced a range of additions and advantages over the Pobeda. In addition to being bigger, it had single panoramic forward and rear windscreens, a larger four-cylinder overhead-valve engine, central lubrication system of the main chassis elements, hypoid rear axle and an automatic hydromechanical gearbox. The car's external design was made by Lev Yeremeev and though influenced by North American vehicles of the same period, the 1954 Ford Mainline in particular, the project was mostly independent, with an exception for the automatic transmission that was derived from the 3-speed Ford-O-Matic. After thorough testing of the car, which lasted for a further two years, a go-ahead was finally given by the state, and the first pre-production batch left GAZ on 10 October 1956.
Although there were many models and versions of the car, its production can nonetheless be split into three distinct generations and two derivatives. In total 639,478 Volgas were built from 1956 until 1970.
The first prototype Volga appeared at a celebrated May 1955 trial from Moscow to the Crimea. While the Soviet leadership touted the speed of its development (begun 1954), only five cars were built in 1955. The first generation is easily identified by its characteristic chromed bar fascia with a central badge containing the five pointed star. Serial production began 10 October 1956, all powered by a 2,432 cc (148.4 cu in) flathead engine modified to produce 65 hp (48 kW; 66 PS). These were used in much publicised promotion drives across the whole Soviet Union, where they notched up to 30,000 kilometres. Unlike the Pobeda, Volga's engines were now to be produced at a specialised motor factory in Zavolzhye. Despite hasty construction, it would start engine production only in summer 1957, which meant that the first thousand or so vehicles were equipped with the Pobeda's flathead engine. Other features of this transitional series included the Spur gear rear axle from the ZIM and the manual 3-speed gearbox from the Pobeda. Drag coefficient was a surprisingly low 0.42.
Styling was by Leo Emerius, taking inspiration from the Ford Customline. The chromed bars, being a decorative element, required excessive manual labour to assemble, which was not feasible for a mass-produced vehicle. Moreover, they reduced the supporting strength of the front body panels. Finally, as the Soviet Union had great aspirations for the vehicle in generating good revenue, it became immediately apparent that the military connotation would scare potential western customers. At the Soviet pavilion Expo 58, which opened in April, the featured example was the facelift prototype with the 16-slit shark-mouth grille; it also had the originally intended ZMZ 2,445 cc (149.2 cu in) overhead valve inline four, the ZMZ 24. Now actually in mass production, priced at 5,400 rubles, the popularity and genuine interest in the vehicle sealed the fate of the "Star", and in November the "Star" was retired. In any case, in popular culture, the car's alternative nickname as "Zhukovka" survives to this date.
Despite its short production span, and only 32,000 vehicles being assembled, the "Star" carried yet another important milestone for the Soviet automotive industry—it would be the first mass-produced vehicle to be equipped with an automatic transmission. Though a novelty at first, soon it became apparent that such complex mechanism required a standard of service not available in the USSR. Even more problematic became the sourcing of transmission fluid, as these cars were originally only allocated for private ownership. Faced with such difficulties, a manual transmission became available, with synchromesh on the top two gears; it soon eclipsed the automatic, though it would remain in the production line-up until around 1960 for domestic models (1965 for export); only approximately 700 automatic-equipped cars were produced, most being 1958 models. The first generation contained the following models. It should be noted these are listed in Russian alphabetical order, but not chronological. The base version, that was to have an automatic gearbox and the 70 hp (52 kW; 71 PS) engine was simply designated GAZ-M-21, without any suffixes. A taxicab version was called GAZ-M-21A, and featured the manual gearbox, but the identical ZMZ-21 engine. The "transitional" series was GAZ-M-21B for the taxi with the 60 hp (45 kW; 61 PS) engine (this was produced until late 1958, as most of the taxi parks used the Pobeda, and a common engine eased servicing). GAZ-M-21V was the next standard version (and proved the most common) with the 70 hp (52 kW; 71 PS) engine and manual transmission. The early GAZ-M-21G was the "transitional" series for the 1956–1957 years, with the 65 hp (48 kW; 66 PS) engine and ZIM's differential. Export versions were called GAZ-M-21D and GAZ-M-21E, manual and automatic respectively. Their difference from the domestic Volgas was a better quality trim and an uprated 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS) engine. This was achieved by increasing the compression ratio to 7.2:1, to take advantage of the higher quality of gasoline that was available abroad.
The 16-slit vertical grille for models from 1958 (which gave it the unofficial nickname Akula (Shark)) was by far not the only change. Most of the changes came in February 1959, and included new front fenders with raised wheel arches, reflector glasses in the tail lights, a flock trim on the dashboard (later replaced by leatherette), a new radio with a metallic mesh speaker, windscreen washer and lock actuator on the boot. The following year was to have a new rear design with more contemporary tailfins , but this was not implemented. Instead, the car body received several reinforcement supports and the novel, but ultimately troublesome central lubrication system was removed.
The actual model designation of the Sharks was such that the automatic-equipped vehicles would retain the GAZ-M-21 with no suffix designation and the GAZ-M-21E (though by this point these have all but disappeared from the line-up). Also unchanged was the taxicab GAZ-M-21A. The base model, from February 1959 was now called GAZ-M-21I. Its export 80 hp vehicle was now became the GAZ-M-21K. In addition to the engine, it now had a more extensive chrome trim elements on the exterior (including the mentioned grille) and improved upholstery inside. Russian customers could order the latter features, for an extra price, and such vehicles were called GAZ-M-21U.
In 1961, the Volga lost another characteristic icon, the removal of the deer mascot from the bonnet. A feature of both the "Star" and the "Shark", it became an iconic attribute of the 21st Volga, and Soviet automotive industry in general. Nonetheless, it was not only a common victim to hooligans, but also would divert splash stream right into the windscreen should the car pass a puddle at speed. Even more, it played a role in Pedestrian injury during accidental run-overs. Given its added cost, it was gradually phased out. In 1959 the taxi models gained a new droplet shaped object. In 1960 the deer was standard only on export cars and vehicles allocated for private ownership. In 1961, the deer could be found on the extra-trimmed GAZ-M-21Us. Simultaneously, two-tone colour schemes were also phased out from available options.
In 1962, the car was visibly modernised for the final time. Once again the radiator grille was changed, this time in favour of a new 36 slit design "Baleen" (Kitovy Us). The latter, would become a GAZ trademark that survives to date. The bonnet leaping deer mascot was completely removed, as was the longitunal moulding. Generally, the car was characterised by a more sleek profile with the bumper overriders removed and the front indicators were also altered. Inside, the upholstery received new woollen seats and leatherette headliner. The engine was now 75 hp (56 kW; 76 PS) (due to new cylinder heads, which increased compression to 6.7:1, and new crankshaft), with no loss in fuel economy. (Export models got the 85 hp (63 kW; 86 PS) engine, with 7.65:1 compression.) Telescopic shock absorbers replaced the lever type ones (a change made in Series 2). The radio became optional. The mentioned optional chrome trim elements which were limited to the window arches were now joined by front and rear details on the top of the wings, "arrows" in front and "fintails" in rear. Models were as follows: M21L base sedan, M21M export variant, and M21T taxi. Also in 1962, an export version destined for countries with left-hand drive was developed, called the M21N. The M21U retained its designation for the more expensive version with optional trim.
In 1965, the car underwent a final modernisation. Changes included strengthened spars at the steering fixture and replacement of ball bearings in the wheel hubs with rollers. A new floor design, which allowed warm air to reach the rear legroom and a more fuel-efficient carburettor. There was also a proposed fourth generation to go visibly with the improvements, with a horizontal radiator grille. However, this venture was rejected due to costs and because such a change would not get the required government approval. Given that work was already undergoing on its successor, it was decided to continue production in this final form, up to 15 July 1970. In a much publicised event, on that day the final car left the assembly line, followed by the first GAZ-24 without a pause.
The 1965 modernisation also removed the -M- prefix from the name. Originally a feature of GAZ's early days, when it carried the name of Vyacheslav Molotov. The plant was renamed following the downfall of his career in 1957. However, the designation "M" was retained for current models. In the final line-up, the export model to countries with left-hand traffic became the GAZ-21P, the base model was now called GAZ-21R, export was the GAZ-21S, taxi became the GAZ-21TS, the version with optional chrome trim was now called GAZ-21US.
By 1965, the price had reached 6,455 rubles (plus 270 for a two-tone paint job).
Between 1960 and 1962, Volgas were shipped to the Belgian company Sobimpex without engines. Sobimpex installed a 1,620 cc (99 cu in) 65 hp (48 kW; 66 PS) diesel manufactured by Perkins. This was changed to a 2,228 cc (136.0 cu in) 65 hp (48 kW; 66 PS) Rover diesel in 1962. In 1968, a 68 hp (51 kW; 69 PS) Indénor diesel was also offered. The diesel, despite the higher cost, were "by far the most popular version in the Benelux countries", and both Sobimpex (later Scaldia-Volga) made strong effort selling them.
After the appearance of the GAZ-24, M21 exports stopped, though sales in the Eastern Bloc continued until 1970. Export sales were never strong, because the car was slow, had trouble climbing hills due to the carburetor design, and had design features not needed on Western Europe's better roads. Total sales of the M21 were 638,875. Approximately 470,000 third-generation GAZ-21s and were built, making it the most numerous of the three.
In 1962, GAZ announced a station wagon/estate version of the M21, as the M22 (and export M22G, both 75 hp (56 kW; 76 PS), and the 85 hp (63 kW; 86 PS) M22K), with split tailgate, folding rear seats, and payload up to 400 kg (880 lb); it would not appear until after the debut of the sedan/saloon, and would serve as the basis for an ambulance (the 75 hp (56 kW; 76 PS) M22B and 85 hp (63 kW; 86 PS) M22BK), also. Station wagons/estates never gained the same social status as sedans/saloons, and so were uncommon.
The station wagon/estate was included in the original design brief, which for its extra size was quickly dubbed saray (the shed). Mechanically, it was identical to the third generation of the sedan. The only difference was a strengthened leaf-spring rear suspension and the rear section. While the longer roof panel was serially stamped, the side panels were handmade, by taking the sedans, cutting off the rear section and welding on additional elements. The rear section was made of two doors, an upper window and a lower "picnic table". Other differences were the slightly bigger tyres, 7.10—15" instead of the 6.70—15" of the sedan. The car could carry 176 kg (388 lb) of cargo and five people, or 400 kg (880 lb) of cargo and two people, with the rear seat folded.
Only those shipped abroad for export were sold to private customers. All domestic station wagons/estates, with a rare exceptions (such as Yuri Nikulin, requesting one for carrying his circus inventory), were never available for private ownership. The Soviet rationale was that allowing such a car to citizens would also make it too available and popular with dealers in the grey market economy, that was allowed but limited by the state.
Despite this, the "Shed" was a common sight on the Soviet streets, they were readily used as taxis, ambulances, in airports as escort vehicles with large "FOLLOW ME" signs painted on the rear window, and for official consumer duties. Thus, despite the spartan trim (only exported versions had the chrome details), much fewer GAZ-22s survive to date, making them a key item for collectors and restorers.
Models included the base model M22 (though no automatic transmission was ever used on the M22), M22B ambulance, M22G for export with chrome trim (with 75 hp (56 kW; 76 PS) engine), and M22K (with 85 hp (63 kW; 86 PS) engine). Export ambulances were thus M22BG and M22BK. In 1965, the car received a modernisation identical to the sedan. In the new lineup GAZ-22V became the base model, GAZ-22D—the ambulance. Export versions were now GAZ-22E and GAZ-22M for the 75 and 85 hp engines, whilst ambulances were GAZ-22EB and GAZ-22MB respectively.
The M22 was also the basis for a prototype four-wheel drive station wagon/estate, using GAZ-69 components, and a pickoupe; neither entered production. There was also a fuel injected M21 prototye, with higher compression; it was rejected as overly complex for the average driver to service.
In 1962 a very rare GAZ-M-23 model was introduced. Powered by the 160 hp (120 kW; 160 PS) 5.53 litre V8 from the Chaika limousine, this car was developed for the KGB's 9th Directorate as an escort vehicle for motorcades, hence the unofficial nickname Dogonyalka (the "Chaser") or "The Double" (because it had a V8, rather than the more common straight four). To accommodate the additional weight of the big engine, the body and suspension required excessive reinforcing. Moreover, to handle the immense torque (three times more than a standard ZMZ-21A engine), not only was the Chaika's automatic transmission employed, but a ballast steel plate was carried in the boot for traction to remain. In addition, it used the Chaika power steering; even so, KGB disliked them, due to their poor handling. They retained drum brakes, despite a reported top speed of over 112 mph (180 km/h) (the most the speedometer would register). Though never classified from public knowledge, nonetheless their existence was not widely circulated. For example, official driver's and service manuals published by GAZ mentioning all the Volgas, including specialised ambulances, simply ignored the GAZ-23. Hand-assembly was performed at the small-volume production unit within GAZ, alongside the Chaika limousines and other specialised vehicles. A total of 603 were made between 1962 and 1970.
Development of the planned replacement for the GAZ-21 Volga began in 1961. At the time, the North American automotive industry was still perceived as the global leader in design and innovation, and it was natural for its Soviet counterpart to look up to it. Despite Nikita Khrushchev's populist slogan to "catch-up and overtake America", the Soviet planned economy could not afford to match the American tradition of altering the car for every model year, nor were its centralised factories physically capable of doing so. Thus a more conservative measure was taken, where a typical car would last 7–10 years on the conveyor, typical of Europe. GAZ-24 Volga was planned to have such a lifetime, lasting through the 1970s. However, even before its 1968 première, it was already behind schedule and as the USSR slipped into the Era of Stagnation, following Alexey Kosygin's 1965 Soviet economic reform, the car was to become an iconic feature of that epoch, both aesthetically and technically. Developed in mid-1960s, and after the initial production run lasting more than a decade and a half it would go a series of modernisations and facelifts, and despite unsuccessful attempts to find a replacement (GAZ-3105, GAZ-3111 and the Siber), the car would be finally only in 2009.
Design of GAZ-21's replacement began in early 1960s, and original sketches showed an evolution from the contoured body of the early 1960s to the more angular and rigid profile. The M24 was to introduce the popular measure economy of scale into the model range, where the same body would house different powertrains, mechanics and interior trim, and hence could me marketed as separate cars (platform sharing). GAZ hoped to employ this on the new Volga and a range was drawn where the entry model would carry the traditional, though modernised, four cylinder engine and manual transmission (the prototype appeared with a 120 hp (89 kW; 120 PS) 2,990 cc (182 cu in) V6). The first prototypes were built in 1966, and a year later the car was certified for production. For economic reasons V6 model, despite showing promising results, was deemed infeasible for mass production. The first batch of 24 vehicles were assembled in 1968, 215 more followed in 1969 and in a public ceremony held on 15 July 1970 the car superseded the GAZ-21 on conveyor without halting it.
Like the GAZ-21 (and most Soviet-built cars), its exterior was inspired by US-models, essentially the Chevy II and its German stylistic derivative Opel Rekord A of the early '60s. Despite its more imposing appearance, the GAZ-24 was in fact 75 mm (3.0 in) shorter in length and 120 mm in height, yet its wheelbase was extended by 10 mm. The lower body waist line, allowed the window area was to be increased, whilst using thinner linings in doors, roof and other body panels, notably increased interior space. The combination of this progressive design and a lower clearance gave it a much more lighter and elegant aura.
The car was powered by a 2,445 cc (149.2 cu in) ZMZ-24D engine, an evolution of the ZMZ-21A. Retaining the basic OHV configuration, it now ran on 92 RON gasoline (while the ZMZ 24-01 could use commonly available 76 octane, and the 24-07 could use liquid propane). The cylinder block was die cast, instead of the slower coquille for the 21A. The engine featured a twin-choke carburettor, with a higher compression ratio, producing 95 hp (71 kW; 96 PS) at 4500 rpm and an even more impressive 186 N·m (137 ft·lbf) of torque at 2200–2400 RPM. Transmission was now fully synchronised four on floor layout. The brakes were improved, with a hydraulic vacuum servo unit (a licence-built Girling PowerStop), as well as an independent parking brake (rather than transmission brake of the GAZ-21). At the same time, certain features were retained for their proven reliability, like the kingpin front suspension and recirculating ball steering.
The car was built in several modifications and these were now indicated by numbers rather than letters. The sedan version was called GAZ-24. GAZ-24-01 was the taxi, which included a robust artificial leather interior and a slightly modified ZMZ-21A engine to run on 80 RON petrol. GAZ-24-02 was the estate wagon, introduced in 1972. Unlike the GAZ-22, it was serially assembled on a reserve conveyor, rather than out of sedan side panels. The rear, fifth, door was now a single unit that opened upwards instead of sideways. The car could seat eight people, due to a third row of seats in the cargo section. To allow maximum cargo volume and functionality, the seats in third and second rows were split (rather than a single bench) and could be folded independently of each other. GAZ-24-03 was the ambulance version of the -02. GAZ-24-04 was the taxi estate, with the powerplant and interior trim of the -01. In 1977 a GAZ-24-07 conversion kit was introduced for taxiparks. The GAZ-24-24 was the successor to the GAZ-23 "Chaser", with an identical V8 and automatic gearbox from the Chaika. Yet, unlike the -23, given the purpose of the car, even less effort was put in to differentiate it from standard vehicle due to costs. For example, the automatic selector was masked under a standard shifting lever. A small batch of export cars for countries with left-hand traffic was called GAZ-24-54 (less than a thousand examples built). GAZ-24-76 and -77 were export versions to Benelux countries, who would retrofit the cars with Indénor diesels and a more luxurious trim such as vinyl roof. Five experimental vehicles were built on the chassis of GAZ-69 4×4, called GAZ-24-95, one of which was known to be personally used by Leonid Brezhnev.
Though the vehicle never underwent a generational facelift on the scale of the GAZ-21 (if one does not count its derivative successors), nonetheless the car was modernised during production. The early stage included removal of bonnet-mounted rear-view mirrors, new ignition and boot locks. The novel belt-speedometer proved too complicated and was replaced by a standard arrow-driven one, as was the fate of the engine cooling coupling that controlled the ventilator fan (proved unreliable, the ventilator would be permanently on, whilst warm air for cold starts would be manually controlled with venetian-type shutter). Additions included external comfort lights were on the rear pillar's chrome element, that turned on upon opening of rear doors.
In the original design brief the GAZ-24 was to be retired by 1978, and though by that time work on a successor (the GAZ-3102) was underway, it was clear that the car would have to soldier on the conveyor for a foreseeable future. In 1977, following a 1976 report by NAMI on the Volga's major shortcomings (problematic steering prime among them), GAZ refused to update the GAZ-24's front suspension, instead making only cosmetic changes. (The front suspension would be unchanged until 2003, when the kingpins were changed to sealed ball joints, while the rear got an antiroll bar.) Visually, these Volgas can be identified by front and rear bumper overriders, front fog lights and rear reflectors integrated into a single block. Inside the car gained retractable seat belts, a new dashboard where all exposed metal elements were covered by plastic. In this final shape the car was produced until 1986, the estate until 1987. Including the GAZ-24-10, almost one and a half million such Volgas were produced.
Overall, the original Model 24 Volga was a major success. Like the GAZ-21, it remained a dream car for the Soviet consumer. However, unlike the GAZ-21 it cost almost twice as much, and given that its launch coincided with the launch of the VAZ plant, the more available Lada allowed for the Volga to rise in exclusivity. The lion's share of cars were used for the ever-growing Soviet nomenklatura and the rest in taxi, police and ambulances. Private ownership would often be offered only to representatives of Soviet elite and celebrities. Given that it was possible to openly purchase a new Volga only via Beryozka chain (where it cost almost ten thousand rubles) its resale value would thus be several times higher than the stated nominal price. In both cases, the sum would be well outside the financial abilities of the Soviet working class. Thus, though the car was as iconic of its time as the predecessor, it was also become a symbolic feature of Social stratification in the USSR, and the Era of Stagnation during which it was produced. This more negative connotation began to disperse following the introduction of the GAZ-3102.
Whereas the GAZ-21 became a collectible by the Soviet Union's collapse, the GAZ-24 extended assembly line life meant that only in the late 2000s have prices for low-mileage mint-condition models and restoration interest began to climb.
GAZ always desired a six-cylinder version, and built prototypes with a variety of sixes: a 125 hp (93 kW; 127 PS) 2,494 cc (152.2 cu in) BMW in 1973, a 120 hp (89 kW; 120 PS) Peugeot (as used in the Peugeot 604 and Volvo 260) in 1978, a Mercedes R6 in 1975, and a 135 hp (101 kW; 137 PS) (the 2.8 from a Ford Scorpio) in 1984. (The 2,445 cc (149.2 cu in) continued in production until 2008, by then only on special order.)
In 1977, the 31011, with the 160 hp (120 kW; 160 PS) 4,250 cc (259 cu in) V8 and automatic transmission, appeared, for KGB and police use, joined by the experimental 31014 with 5,530 cc (337 cu in) ZMZ 503.10 V8, delivering 195 hp (145 kW; 198 PS) and 450 ft·lbf (610 N·m). Production pursuit cars, which became available in 1986, were 31012s with the 5.5 liter (with one four-choke carburetor), fitted with a three-speed automatic and power steering (some with power windows and air conditioning), while the 31013 was the same, but with electronic ignition. These "were quite simply the fastest cars on Russian roads", and they got just 20 litres per 100 kilometres (14 mpg‑imp; 12 mpg‑US). Their low-key appearance made them sleepers, though Soviet and Russian drivers soon learned to spot the extra radio aerials and dual exhausts. These cars were never true production models, "to all intents and purposes hand built". How many were made is unknown, the last being assembled in 1995.
Small numbers were built with the 140 hp (100 kW; 140 PS) two-rotor 1,300 cc (80 cu in) VAZ-411-01 Wankel engine (which featured a 9.4:1 compression ratio) as the 31028. It was never common. There are reportedly also a few with the three-rotor VAZ 431 rotary, and with a pair of single-rotors operated independently (a bit like an Armstrong Siddeley Double Mamba). The rotary models were operated by KGB and traffic police, but these agencies preferred V8-powered 3102s.
There was also a prototype 31015 built in 1989, with a 160 hp (120 kW; 160 PS) 2,600 cc (159 cu in) Mercedes engine.
The GAZ-24 was the Eastern Bloc's largest family car, but proved difficult for families to actually obtain, with official purchases at first taking precedence.
When launching the M24 Volga, GAZ envisioned an average, for the USSR, production run of a decade. The newer designs were produced by smaller numbers due to development of other projects in the Soviet automotive industry, in particular the coming about of the VAZ plant and a much bigger Moskvitch, the project 3-5, to replace the 408 and 412 series. The latter's being more economic would have proved a natural relieve the Volga of its traditional taxi role, leaving GAZ's new vehicle as a more exclusive personal luxury car for the mid-range Soviet nomenklatura. With this in mind, the vehicle's mock-up demonstrated in 1976was to grow in size, have the V6 powerplant as standard, and a perspective 4.2 litre V8 optional with many other features of the contemporary foreign cars of the 1970s. In 1976-7, the new GAZ-3101 appeared in prototype form, but it was little more than "a cosmetic tart-up of the mainstream Volga", with new front door windows, door handles, and lights; it also got longer front overhang and longer trunk. This would be renamed the 3102 in time. A few were built with a 4,250 cc (259 cu in) V8 as the 31011, but this never entered serial production, nor did the continuing GAZ-desired V6 model. (Among its standard features were a fire extinguisher.) It was powered by a twelve-valve version (ZMZ 402.10) of the venerable 2,445 cc (149 cu in) inline four with electronic ignition, producing 105 hp (78 kW; 106 PS), enough for 94 mph (151 km/h). Disk brakes were fitted in front, while the rear drums were equipped with a crude antiskid system.
Manufacture of the 3102 began in 1981, with its official launch the next year. However, such car would never see light, as the 1970s unrolled, the stagnation era effects has significantly thwarted any innovation in Soviet Union's planned economy structure. Moreover, the Minister of Automotive Industry, Viktor Polyakov, had open favouritism for the new VAZ giant, and thus neither AZLK's 3-5 project, nor GAZ's ambitious third-generation Volga would see their respective conveyors. In 1973 more economic solution was adopted for the future car, that rotated around giving a major upgrade to the GAZ-24 by replacing most of the mechanics, the body panels, the interior yet keeping the skeletal body sections and platform, thus avoiding the most costly replacement of production press stamping.
The first users of the 3102 were KGB and other government bodies through 1983. It proved unavailable to the public until after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This limited availability has given the 3102 a particular cachet in Russia (even over the Mercedes common among the privileged), allowing GAZ sell it at a markup.
In 1976, the first prototypes were shown and under the new Soviet automobile numbering system, the car was christened as the GAZ-3101. Visually the vehicle included a completely new fascia, reminiscent of the more muscular fashion of North America, framed by East German built square headlights with water jet washers, a more angular chromed bumper with resin lining, fog lamps suspended below and the trademark "Baleen" grille. At the same time, conservative European influence can also be traced in the new rear panels, with a large tail-light cluster. As a measure of additional security, the fuel tank migrated behind the rear seat from its position under the boot, allowing the spare wheel to occupy its space. From the side, GAZ-24's profile remained, but doors now void of quarter glasses and featured sunken door handles in accordance to new standards of passive safety to pedestrians. Although the traditional chrome door mounted mirrors were retained, a provision was made for internal adjustment.
Inside, the vehicle had a completely new interior, with headrests on all seats, a new polyurethane coated dashboard with integrated instrument clusters and steering column controls for windscreen wipers/washers and indicator/high beam lights, rear window heater and other features. Chassis-wise the vehicle featured a vacuum servo assisted split-contour braking system, front disc brakes, radial tyres and "aerodynamic" hub caps. The prototypes were powered by a 2990 cc GAZ-24-14 V6 with a cast iron cylinder block originally developed for the GAZ-24, and the identical GAZ-24-18, with an aluminium block. Both engines produced 136 hp, but the latter was much lighter in weight. The shown GAZ-3101 prototypes also featured automatic transmission, power steering, electric windows and air conditioning. Like its predecessors, the prototypes took part in much publicised tours of the USSR, and GAZ was ready to begin its pre-conveyor batches in 1978.
For the next two years GAZ was left with a car approved for production, but without the necessary go-ahead from Moscow. Several reasons played a role, but most of all was the same administration of USSR's planned economy that forced the third generation Volga into a GAZ-24-derived replacement. Polyakov, who was keen to see the VAZ giant producing newer cars secured a hefty investment sum for Porsche to assist in development the new front-wheel drive Lada Samara family. Other reasons included the inability for client producers, namely the Zavolzhye engine plant to begin production of the V6 unit. Autoexport was also cautious of such engine, as fuel economy became a major issue following the 1973 oil crisis in Europe, export to which was a source for much needed foreign currency.
Faced with these constraints, GAZ continued to modify and alter (read simplify) the make-up of the car. One such result was the ZMZ-4022 motor with a stratified charge or in original terms—"prechambered—torch ignition". Similar to Honda CVCC design, GAZ experimented with such technology in the early 1950s, and its patent dates to 1968. Now that it had time to spare, it was decided to introduce this novelty. To keep production costs low, the new engine retained all of ZMZ-24Ds key features: 4 cylinders, OHV, displacement etc. However the material of both cylinder block and head was now aluminium. The big novelty was four additional inlet valves that charged the combustion prechambers. Feeding this was a three barrel carburettor, where the draft from third barrel was directed into the four prechambers. The spark plugs were located inside these chambers, and lean fuel-air mixture in main cylinders was ignited by conical jets (the "torches") from these prechambers. Compared to the ZMZ-24D, power rose by 10 hp to 105 at 4750 rpm. Though the car was 50 kg heavier in weight, it could now do 0–100 km/h acceleration in 16.2 seconds (compared to the 22 on the GAZ-24) and the top speed also rose from 145 to 152 km/h. Whilst not exactly impressive dynamics by the turn of the decade, its fuel economy figures were: from 10.5 litres per 100 km on the GAZ-24 to 8.5.
With the new engine, and in simplified trim, the new car was re-christened as GAZ-3102. Still hoping to introduce the V6 powerplant at a later date, the GAZ-3101 designation was retained for it (and will used for the V8 "Chaser" models). Power steering and automatic gearbox were also removed from the make-up. The "new" Volga was re-submitted to Moscow for the go-ahead to production in early 1980 and was showcased at the Moscow Olympics to the wider public. Despite the general interest in the car, it would take a completely different route for the production order to finally come.
Back in late 1976 GAZ launched its third-generation limousine, the GAZ-14 Chaika. Unlike the 3101, GAZ was able to secure the necessary go-ahead and funding for this limited vehicle. It also kept its original upsize design philosophy and compared to its predecessor, the GAZ-13 Chaika, the 14 turned out to be a much bigger and more prestigious car. Though the country's economy was stagnating at an alarming rate, its ageing ruling class (the nomenklatura) was increasing, as were its appetites, and in the semi-official hierarchy, not everyone was entitled to upgrade from the old Chaika to the new one. As a result, GAZ-13's assembly, a car developed largely from the 1956 Packard Patrician and built since 1959, was continued alongside the new Chaika, despite its obvious archaism for the time.
It would take a tragedy to break this paradox situation. On 4 October 1980, outside the city of Minsk, a truck rammed the motorcade killing the First secretary of the Byelorussian Communist Party, Pyotr Masherov. It remains controversial if this was an "accident" given his political ambitions, but he died in a GAZ-13 Chaika (though his status not only allowed him the GAZ-14, but even the flagship ZIL-4104 limousine). In the aftermath, GAZ had to endure criticism that it was producing an archaic vehicle, and in 1981, the last 13th Chaika departed Gorky. Such turn of events left the Soviet third-ranking nomenklatura without a status car, for whom the standard GAZ-24 Volga was no longer acceptable. It was here that the GAZ-3102 finally found its role, never to be sold to the public or be available to it as taxi or ambulance. An estate version, though developed, never saw assembly.
In April 1982 hand-assembly of this car began at the specialised unit on the factory that built the Chaikas, with an annual production of about 3000 cars. Despite its status and assembly quality, by the mid-1980s it was clearly an out-of-date automobile compared to its western counterparts (Mercedes-Benz W124, Volvo 760, Renault 25, Nissan Cedric etc.). It was planned that both the GAZ-3102 and GAZ-24 be retired by the end of the decade. With ascendancy of Mikhail Gorbachev, the start of perestroika and the appointment of Nikolay Pugin, former administrator of GAZ as Minister of Automobile Production, headway was made into development of their replacements by the new 3103/3104/3105 family. As a temporary measure, GAZ was able to use most of the mechanical upgrades of the 3102 and retrofit them to the GAZ-24 (see GAZ-24-10) in 1986.
However the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Russia's difficult entry into the market economy froze these ambitions permanently. In 1992, the stampings of the GAZ-24 would completely deteriorate, and using the 3102s press forms, the GAZ-31029 would result on the conveyor (effectively the anticipated end-result, more than a decade late). At the same time, hand assembly of the GAZ-3102 has all but ceased as the target market, the mid-level officials, now had access to foreign cars, with whom the GAZ-3102 could not compete. No longer tied to the state, in 1993 GAZ made the 3102 available to the public. Again this was a temporary measure, as the small-volume unit anticipated a new car (in the form of GAZ-3105 and GAZ-3111, see below), but "temporarily" lacking one would leave a sizeable workforce unemployed. Without a stablemate (the GAZ-14 Chaika was forcibly retired in 1988, again see GAZ-3105 section) GAZ now had the resources to increase volumes to ten thousand per annum (which it reached in 1996).
Adoption for greater volume assembly would require several modifications (or simplifications) to be performed. The novel, but ultimately troublesome in maintenance stratified charge ignition was removed, replaced by a standard ZMZ-402 engine. Another change was the location of the fuel tank and spare wheel. The original GAZ-24 had its tank under the boot, and the wheel fixed inside it, occupying a generous cargo volume. For the GAZ-3102, the fuel tank was moved behind the rear seat, and the spare took its place. Not only did this increase safety, but also ease of access at the petrol station (the hatch was located just below and slightly behind the C-pillar). For economical reasons, the GAZ-31029 retained the original configuration and in unifying the stamping forms, the 3102 was fitted with the older layout.
Despite a higher price, the GAZ-3102 enjoyed relatively good sales, and remained in demand. Compared to the GAZ-31029, it had a notably higher reputation for build quality. When the former was to be retired, and replaced with the GAZ-3110, the 3102 was fitted with 3110 upgrades, but not upgraded externally, as its look had become classic. The upgrades included a 5-speed gearbox, fuel-injected ZMZ-406 engine, ventilated Lucas disc brakes, a single rear axle, power steering, new electric dashboard and trim. In fact, all these features would be first tested on the GAZ-3102, before being introduced to the mass-produced Volga.
This final arrangement would enter into a pattern, that would hold until 2009. Any novelty would first be introduced in the 3102, would be then fitted to the 3110 (and 31105 after 2005). Changes would include body-coloured door handles, electronically regulated door mirrors with indicator lights and twin-torsion beam rear suspension, removal of the archaic kingpins from front suspension, and new engines such as the ZMZ-405 or licence built Chrysler DOHC and Steyr Diesels. In early 2009, after nearly 26 and a half years in assembly, the GAZ-3102 would be finally retired. A total of 155,850 cars were hand built over the period, including 27 thousand original Volgas with the ZMZ-4022 engines.
Like the GAZ-23 and the GAZ-24-24, specialised V8 "Chasers" also existed, and these retained the original GAZ-3101 designation. The GAZ-31011 carried Chaika's original engine, the ZMZ-13 with 195 hp. The GAZ-31013, on the other hand, had the more powerful twin carburettor 220 hp ZMZ-14 V8 from the newer Chaika. No more than 300 such cars were produced for the 9th Directorate and its successor, the Federal Protective Service until 1996.
There were also a number of prototypes built: the 1983 31025 with 70 hp (52 kW; 71 PS) 2,112 cc (129 cu in) Indenor diesel; and the 3102L with longer wheelbase, from 1987.
When the Soviet of Ministers authorised the long-delayed assembly of the GAZ-3102 in 1981, there was hope that a full upgrade of the conveyor produced GAZ-24 to 3102 would follow. However, as the first serial cars left Gorky for government garages in 1982, it became clear to GAZ that lobbying for mass-production of such a car would be pointless. Not only would it fall on deaf ears, but also the general age of the car and the cost of refitting the conveyor would be too high. A more feasible route was thus chosen to use most of the features of the 3102 and retrofit them to the GAZ-24, in a simplified format. Yet it would take a further two years to gain this approval from Moscow, whose leadership was pre-occupied with the political aftermath following the death of Leonid Brezhnev to allow for a modernisation to begin. The "upgrade" was done in several stages, mechanical and body.
For the mechanical upgrade, work began with the engine, in accordance to the new standard now known as ZMZ-402. This produced 100 hp (75 kW; 100 PS), but needed 92 octane petrol. The other option was the ZMZ 4021, which gave 90 hp (67 kW; 91 PS) but only needed the more common 76 octane. The main novelty of the ZMZ-4022 was stratified charge ignition. This was immediately ruled out, due to its complication for the mass-produced car. Other changes, however, were retained. These included fingerless crankshaft bearing caps, new cast iron camshaft supports with no bushings, inlet and outlet valves of increased diameter with double-wound-springs, a new water pump, vibration dampener on the crankshaft pulley, contactless ignition system with a new alternator, new spark plugs, and an upgraded K-126GM carburettor. Some cars would feature the K-151 carburettor with a paper air filter (as opposed to the traditional oil bath filters), and an idle fuel cutoff solenoid with exhaust gas recirculation. These would often carry the aluminium cylinder block from the ZMZ-4022. Power was now 100 hp (75 kW; 100 PS). 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62 mph) took 19 seconds, top speed was 147 km/h (91 mph), and fuel economy 9.3 L/100 km (30 mpg‑imp; 25 mpg‑US). The GAZ-3102's braking system was also improved, with atandem brake cylinder that featuring a dual-chambered vacuum servo and pressure regulator on the rear brakes; the 3102's front disk brakes were left out. The 3.9:1 rear axle, clutch and 205/70R14 radial tyres with "aerodynamic" hub cups were also carried across. The dashboard and steering wheel were also from the 3102 parts bin.
With these additions, the Volga was shown in a 1984 Soviet car show and in early 1985 the first cars left the assembly line as "hybrid" cars with the GAZ-24-10 mechanicals and GAZ 24 bodies (unofficially called Gaz 24Ms); only in 1986 were "pure" 24-10s offered. The second part of the modernisation was the interior. Most of the 3102's layout, including separate front seats with headrests were carried across. However the cars differed, the 3102's trim was velour, for the standard car, standard fabric cloths. The dashboard of the GAZ-3102 was made of shock-absorbing foam with a coloured finish, the mass Volga had to do with hard black plastic. Though the exact layout of switches and ventilation outlets differed, the instrument clusters were identical. The 24-02 estate was similarly upgraded in 1986, to become the 24-12, production beginning in 1987.
For the exterior, GAZ developed a simplified project repeating the 3102's silhouette but in a much simplified trim, with many chrome details, notably the "baleen" grille and the bumpers replaced by black plastic. Given that the car was to serve a temporary role, it was chosen to avoid replacing the body panels on grounds of cost, with the exception of the doors. To somehow improve the car's aesthetics, a novel decision was chosen to simplify the look. Thus most of the chrome details were removed: the boot lip trim, the cursive "Волга" name on the front fenders, mirrors and wipers were now painted black. The bumper overriders were also removed, as was the comfort light on the c-pillar ornament. Marker lights were integrated into the headlamp, and rectangular fog lamps replaced the circular ones. As a final touch, the Baleen radiator grille was replaced by a black plastic one (originally developed for export models to Benelux countries that were retrofitted with local diesels). Introduced in April 1986, this completed the transition (the estate's upgrade would linger on until 1987).
As the car was but an upgrade, it did not receive a new car index, though given that it was significantly different from the GAZ-24, the plant issued it the +10 suffix to it and all its models. The taxi (which retained its 80 RON petrol) was thus GAZ-24-11, the estate GAZ-24-12, ambulance GAZ-24-13, taxi estate GAZ-24-14, natural gas powered GAZ-24-17.
The limited-production V8 chaser models were now called GAZ-24-34. These were fitted with the 195 hp (145 kW; 198 PS) ZMZ 503.10 V8 of the Chaika 14, though a number are believed to have been fitted with 220 hp (160 kW; 220 PS) dual-carburettor ZMZ 505.10s. The 23-34 was produced between 1987 and 1992.
Compared to the GAZ-3102 it was of course a step back, yet with the GAZ-24, it was nonetheless progress. Coincidentally, its introduction took place during the ascendency of Mikhail Gorbachev and the country entering into a new era—perestroika. The GAZ-24-10 would be a small, but an icon of the period nonetheless. This was in part due to its greater availability to the general public as part of the liberalisation programme. With the 3102 capitalising the prestige and exclusivity of the Volga brand, the GAZ-24-10 is merited at upholding its practical role. Thus, despite its obvious archaism in terms of design, and despite never being exported outside the Eastern Bloc, the GAZ-24-10 was a success overall. Its price was 16,300 rubles, compared to 15,300 for the 3102.
The 24-10 also spawned a 1985 four-wheel drive prototype, the 3105, which GAZ hoped could replace both the 3102 and Chaika. Only 55 were made between its public debut in 1992 and 1996, all by hand.
Like the GAZ-24-10, the 31029 was also intended as a temporary vehicle. Its introduction marks perfect timing of the plant's Realpolitik to the political and economic reality of the early 1990s. The development of successors to the 24s derivatives, both the 24-10 and 3102, the 3103/3104/3105 family was experiencing delays, and it was clear that the mass-produced 3103 and 3104 series would not come about for a few years to come. At the same time, the 24-10's stamping presses have completely worn themselves out.
The coming of a market economy demanded a light commercial vehicle and work was hastily underway to retrofit the plant so that it could produce the GAZelle, a car originally intended to be built at the future KiAZ plant in Azerbaijan. To fill the void in demand, offer a fresh and new vehicle (so it could also alter the prices, corrected for the hyperinflation) GAZ carried out yet another modernisation of its Volga car.
Whereas the 24-10 was largely mechanical rather than bodywork, the GAZ-31029 was the exact opposite. Most of the panels were borrowed from the GAZ-3102, whilst the front fascia was made on one hand more modern, with an aerodynamic slant, yet less formal, thus ensuring the 3102's status would be untouched (effectively the full modernisation plan was implemented, and GAZ finally realised its successor programme for the GAZ-24, almost a decade late). Other differences included black plastic bumpers (the car thus lacked any chrome details, save the optional hub caps).
Mechanically it was identical to the GAZ-24-10, with the exception of electrics, that were slightly modernised, the K-151 carburettor that became standard and the single rear-axle. Introduced in 1992, the car was now wholly available for purchase, and commercial demand quickly capitalised on it as a workhorse. At the same time, the quality of production, due to increased volume (a record was set at 115 thousand per annum in 1993) plummeted. It was the GAZ-31029 that transformed the vehicle's popular image. Whereas in the previous three decades the Volga was a status of power and career success, and even the repressive side of Soviet society, the GAZ-31029 showed a new style of a Volga ownership as an inexpensive vehicle whose owners gained a stereotypical image of being arrogant road users. In popular culture the term "Kozlobyk" was implement (goat-bull) for its robust image.
With the launch of the GAZelle in 1994 (that used more than 50% of Volga's parts, including the engine and electrics), demand for the Volga slightly fell for commercial role, but not for private use. GAZ finally returned to its modernisation programmes and in early 1996 a version was offered with the new 2287 сс ZMZ-406 fuel-injected DOHC engine and a five-speed gearbox. Producing 145 hp, its acceleration was now 13.5 seconds, and a maximum speed of 170 km/h. Thanks to the overdrive fifth gear, a fuel economy of 9,3 litres per 100 km was possible. This model, GAZ-31029-50 also required to use the front disk brake assembly of the GAZ-3102, and non-integrated power steering.
The car is best remembered in the James Bond film GoldenEye during a street chase scene in Saint Petersburg. The GAZ-31029 retained the modifications of the GAZ-24-10, GAZ-31021 was the taxi version, running on 80 RON petrol, GAZ-31022 was the estate version. GAZ-31023 was the ambulance. In 1993 a project was put forward for a pick-up version, the GAZ-2304 "Burlak" which progressed to prototype stage and shown at the Moscow International Motor Show that year, but the GAZelle's entry did not justify production investment.
Unlike the previous Volgas no V8 versions were made for the FSO on the GAZ-31029 basis, the abundance of modern foreign cars have made this vehicle obsolete, and the Special Purpose Garage (GON) would retire most of its Russian-built vehicles by the late 1990s.
After the launch of the GAZelle, whose demand was astronomic, the plant secured a stable influx of needed revenue for its own upgrade and future models. Having failed to introduce the 3103/3102/3105 family, and seeing that demand for the GAZ-31029 Volga was still high, it was clear that the car could and would soldier on for a considerable time. Instead of experimenting with "temporary" cars, such was the inherit nature of both the 24-10 and 31029, a more permanent solution was chosen by giving the vehicle a major upgrade. Work began in 1995, and a prototype was shown at the Moscow car show that year.
The engine unit for the new car was already present and a test batch of ZMZ-406 equipped GAZ-31029s was available since 1996 (see above). Sharing the 402's piston group, the motor was to all intents and purposes completely new, despite undergoing a lengthy research and design period. The motor's brief was drawn in 1982, and finalised only in 1986, to be used on the new 3103 and 3104 models. A contemporary twin overhead camshaft (DOHC)—four valve per cylinder scheme was chosen with Bosch fuel-injected intake. The high inertia of the piston stroke limited potential forced induction, and was thus reduced from 92 to 86, hence a volume decline of 2445 cc to 2286 cc. Compression on the naturally aspirated 406 was now 9.3 instead of 8.5 of the 402, and the redline grew to 5500 RPM (4750 on the 402). A two-step timing chain was implemented for reliability, and a cast iron cylinder block to give it necessary strength when used on future modifications with forced induction and/or diesels. The 406 engine was mated to the five-speed gearbox. Front disk brakes and power steering was now standard.
Externally the car retained only "skeletal" details of its predecessor: central pillars, doors and platform. The remaining panels were designed from scratch, simultaneously tying in the mid-1990s contoured fashion with passive security crumple zones. A side-asset of this new layout was a dramatic ease in vehicle manoeuvring during tight traffic and parking, as the archaic corners were effectively sanded off, particularly the rear boot space, that narrowed off after the rear-wheel arch. The boot lid had a higher profile and its lip extended to bumper level, simultaneously easing access and increasing volume. Inside, the boot featured a modern trim, the spare tyre was conveniently pushed into the centre of the seat on a special frame, whilst driver's toolkit was stored in hidden recesses underneath. The car's fascia retained the GAZelle/31029 corporate look, but built on it with a vertically split grille and the front plastic bumper had a chrome top finish. Punctuating the new silhouette were 15 inch alloy rims.
Inside the car's interior was also new, with fully adjustable heated seats, foam-filled dashboard and door linings, whose finish colour can be now selected (as opposed to standard black plastic on 24-10/31029). The decorative elements could be ordered with an image of lacquered timber (as opposed to the stickers on the previous cars). Also new was the soft steering wheel with a driver's airbag (not available initially). The new instrument cluster finally gained a tachometer and battery charge was indicated in volts rather than amperes. Cabin ventilation and heating was also new, and air conditioner was an option. Windows were now athermic, and tinted, the front electrical raisers were standard, the rear, optional.
For the 1997 model year production overlapped with the GAZ-31029, but afterwards a budget version was necessary, and a simplified 402 engine/4 speed gearbox with a poorer trim and lacking some options (though power steering and disk brakes would remain) was available.
Overall the GAZ-3110 was an instant success, despite its aged profile, GAZ finally had a car that could bridge a gap before the planned new vehicle (GAZ-3111) entered in early 2000s. Though hardly a rival for new foreign marques, it certainly did snatch their re-sale market in its favour. Prices in 1997 was US$8800 for the budget version with 402 engine, and US$12,900 for the 406 equipped. Even the 1998 financial crises hardly affected the Volga's demand, quite the contrary, GAZ capitalised on marketing it as an inexpensive alternative.
However, the car was still plagued by the common reliability issues of all 1990s built cars: poor assembly quality, faulty electronics, and low service culture, especially for the fuel-injected 406 models. The latter engine in 1999 already had its first refit and a compression ratio reduced to 9.2 to avoid detonation, reducing the power from 150 to 131 hp.
As the decade closed, in 2000 GAZ was in active preparation to launch the 3111 Volga. The vehicle demanded a serious upgrade to existing facilities at the plant, and as these came online, they were extensively tested by the 3110. For example, the new Haden Drysys paintshop, when introduced to the conveyor, with attractive acrylic and metallic finishes, helped to tackle the major corrosion problems of the 3110. Simultaneously came the new 265/70R15 tyres. A small series of licence-built Steyr Diesel engines (ZMZ-560) were available.
The coming of the 3111, would not have replaced the 3110 altogether, and to finish its conveyor lifetime in 2001 a small visual facelift introduced body coloured bumpers with a black resin trim, that featured drooping spoilers and integrated fog lamps.
In late 2002, it became clear that the GAZ-3111 would never come about, and a two-stage upgrade programme was initiated that would result in the GAZ-31105. The first stage was mechanical and was featured on all 2003 model year cars (sometimes called transitional series). The most significant feature was much improved handling, that was achieved via new ball-joint front suspension replacing the archaic kingpins. The rear suspension gained new silent blocks and horizontal stabilisation bar. Also new was the reworked double-synchronised 5-speed gearbox. In accordance to Euro II regulations, all vehicles now featured neutralisers.
GAZ-31105 was a second stage of the GAZ-3110's modernisation, though the designation was applied to cars produced from January 2004, the mechanical features were introduced almost a year earlier, and certain external ones were available in separate batches as standard or optional in others.
The most striking difference was the new fascia which now featured a drooping hood with the radiator grille integrated into it as a single unit. New block headlights, inspired by the 3111 surrounded it. This effectively restored the nostalgic corporate look that GAZ was re-fitting to its model range. Inside the car featured a new digital instrument cluster on the dashboard. The steering column became more horizontal and greater headroom was made possible due to thinner seats.
It was the GAZ-31105 the final 24-derived Volga that restored its reputation. Despite its obvious age, assembly quality of these final cars reached acceptable level.
In 2006 the standard engine selection was added with a Chrysler DOHC 2.4 litre engine.
In 2005 GAZ introduced a long-wheelbase 311055 luxury model, with a new interior that included wooden trim. The latter feature became standard on models produced from 2007 onwards when GAZ gave the car a minor facelift. Among the changes were completely new taillights and a conversion to Euro III standard with the introduction of its new 2.4 litre 123 hp ZMZ-40525 engine, complementing the Chrysler engine, with which the archaic ZMZ-4021 and 4062.10 were phased out. The 31105 was available only as a saloon, with the estate continuing with the old 3110 styling.
Following the introduction of the Volga Siber in 2008 GAZ hoped to fully finish production on both the -3102 and the -31105 by 2010. The base design of both cars still traced its roots to the GAZ-24, thus ending a successful production run of 40 years.
During the late 1980s GAZ developed a concept car for a future replacement for both the business -3102 Volga and the luxury limousine GAZ-14 Chaika. As stated above, the -3102 itself was envisioned as interim project that would fill the void created by the exclusiveness of the -14 Chaika. The new car would leave ZiL to handle the upper class. However the resulting GAZ-3105, which was never to be part of the Volga family, as it would be produced on the Chaika's conveyor (presently still used for the -3102) due to the economic problems never reached production.
In total, only 55 cars were produced.
During the early 1990s GAZ managed to survive the crises by having the Volga do a generation jump from the GAZ-24-10 to the GAZ-3110 in 1997. Simultaneously it never abandoned its quest to develop its eventual replacement, and continued designing a new car, which would feature ABS, power steering, climate control, automatic gearbox and most of all V6 and even V8 engines as standard, along with leather interiors. The external design was completely new and featured many GAZ-21 influenced retro styling cues developed in collaboration with a US-based company.
However problems began mounting in production costs, as some details had to be borrowed from the older models, at least initially such as the Chaika's axle. The pre-production models lacked the automatic gearbox, and the engine was the same ZMZ-4062.10 that went into GAZ-3110. First shown in 1998, production was scheduled to begin in 2000 with 53 cars delivered. GAZ thought of the -3111 as a replacement for the -3102 and envisioned a rate of 25 thousand per annum. But only 342 were delivered in 2001, and 20 in 2002, with further nine of 2004 before all production ceased.
GAZ-3111 was a failure in terms of marketing and demand. Its high base price and poor reputation that the Volga brand carried in the 1990s meant that those who could afford it, would opt for a foreign car such as the Mercedes E-class or the BMW 5 series with whom GAZ-3111 thought to compete.
In total, about 500 cars were produced.
Although GAZ was developing a "spiritual successor" to the 3111, the front-wheel drive Volga 3115, in December 2005 RusPromAvto, the parent company of GAZ, announced that production of Volga passenger cars would be phased out over a 2-year period, with production to end in 2007. GAZ stated that they would instead concentrate on their more profitable truck, bus, and commercial vehicle businesses. At the same time the announcement was made, GAZ also introduced the Volga 311055, a long wheelbase derivative of the 31105. However, in the summer of 2006, GAZ reversed its earlier decision, announcing that further investments would be made in upgrading the styling and technology of the Volga saloons, keeping them in production as "retro" or "historical" vehicles. In early 2006, GAZ signed a deal with DaimlerChrysler to acquire the tooling and intellectual property rights for the Chrysler Sebring mid-size car design. GAZ stated that the new car would not carry the Volga brand.
When GAZ acquired the Chrysler Sebring license, it decided to further modify the car, and the Volga Siber was the result. The Volga Siber was unveiled in August 2007, and production began in July 2008, with a goal of producing 20,000 units the first year. However, sales figures were not met and only 2,500 Sibers were built in all of 2009.
In total, about 9,000 cars were produced during the 2008–2010 production run.
The current four-model Volga range, based on the 1967 GAZ M24, consists of the top-range 3102 (since 1982), the 310221 Universal estate (since 1997), the most modern, yet lowest-priced 31105 (since 2004), and the long wheelbase 311055 (since 2005). The Volga Siber is the newest to join the group.
The convertible model has also been seen again in very limited production, mostly aimed at official procession cars; the roof is replaced with a soft top and the rear doors deleted; front doors are the same size as on the four-door model.
Volga production peaked at well over 100,000 vehicles per year during the early to mid-1990s, then fell sharply due to Russia's worsening economic crises, reaching just 56,000 cars in 2000. With a gradually reviving export network, the Volga has made progress on the road to recovery, with nearly 70,000 cars produced in 2004.