The departure of the Soviet privilege-class limousine
The car that managed to shatter the Soviet tradition of copying American cars, before being erased from history by her own chief customer...
Evolving American trends
By the mid-60s, the GAZ-13 Chaika which we've examined recently, produced at the Gorky Automobile Plant began to slowly become obsolete. After all, the overseas "sources", which were always followed in the USSR when creating cars of this class have dramatically evolved and changed their appearance several times over the past decade. The Soviet limousine with aerospace-style elements and pompous, pretentious decoration began to look like a guest from the past in about the same, a decade earlier. And although the usual Volga models M21 and the KGB-spec M23 were in full production at GAZ for officials of a lower rank, looked no more modern than Chaika, a new car was required for the party-nomenklatura elite. By that time GAZ was also working on the future Volga GAZ-24 and there were no special design options - flat surfaces with almost right angles were meant to replace rounded shapes with smooth lines, following the new popular trends.
The team of GAZ engineers and designers who worked on the new model included those who were involved in the creation of the first GAZ-13 Chaika. And the sculptor Lev Eremeev, who at one time created the appearance of ZIM and the first Volga, was appointed to create the appearance of the future Chaika v2. Those talented and experienced specialists knew their job very well and worked on a new project according to a certain traditional method that was already delivering impressive results for GAZ.
Trial and error
Working on the first series of prototypes, the designers tried all possible options, including the deliberately problematic ones. In the second they began to approach a more or less serial implementation of the vehicle and in the third, as a traditional rule, they had already finished the main work on the appearance and concept of the car, leaving only the final fine-tuning trivialities like finishing and correcting the identified design flaws. For this, appropriate long-mileage trials were carried out in various climatic zones of the Soviet Union. The terms of reference for the GAZ-14 sounded something like this:
"It was necessary to create a completely new superficially executive class car, which in functionality would completely repeat the first Chaika, while surpassing it in terms of comfort."
It is important that in the technical part, the engineers had practically no freedom - it was assumed that the new car, for obvious reasons, would be based on the old platform and previous units. This would not only save money, but also reduce the time to work on the new model. The new Chaika had to be released simultaneously with the GAZ-24. Otherwise, an awkward situation would have ensued - mere mortals and officials of a lower rank would have a new model of a mid-size saloon, while the "powerful of this world” would only have an echo of the Detroit baroque.
Lack of source to copy
The engineers wanted to give the silhouette of the new car more . . sense of urgency. To do this, it was necessary to lower the bonnet line, but already during the work on the early prototypes of the first series, it became apparent that the "marriage" between the power unit and the X-frame did not allow it to fit into the "meter gap" - that is, to lower the height of the front end to a level to 1 meter. Thus, the engineers had to make some major changes to the power structure almost immediately. The concepts of the first series turned out to be severely overweight, and in the second series, the wheelbase and track had to be increased. It also wasn't helpful that the exterior of the car still wouldn't add up. Then a competition was announced for the appearance of the new Chaika, the winner in which was not an experienced designer, but a young, recent graduate of an Art School - Stanislav Volkov. It was he who found the solutions that ultimately determined the final appearance of the GAZ-14.
It must be said that the new Chaika looked very fresh already at the staging of mock-ups in 1968, compared to its predecessor, although at the same time it was strict, serious and just spelled “nomenclature” as loudly as possible. Obvious borrowings from the Western car industry were not present this time around, although the style evoked memories of some popular overseas dreadnoughts. And the good news was yet to come! Note that after the most powerful energy crisis in the United States, American cars were no longer updated as often as before and so until the end of the 80, GAZ-14 Chaika looked quite relevant not only against the grey background of the domestic Volga and Zhiguli. In 1969, the appearance of the prototypes was approved. Further, the factory workers had to laboriously work on the prototypes: laboratory tests of components and assemblies, bench and road tests, including races on the Dmitrov auto-range and finally - rally stages in real racing conditions. Yes, this limousine was rally-proven!
In the early 70s, Soviet automobile plants widely practiced full-range tests of their new developments, since the geography of the USSR made it possible to test in practice the suitability of a car both for severe northern frosts and for the desert heat. Driving performance and endurance were traditionally tested on the winding mountain road of the Crimea and the Caucasus.
The little-big progress
Conceptually, the three-ton Chaika of the fourteenth model was not far from its predecessor. The body of the semi-monocoque structure still rested on an X-frame backbone. Of course, the rest of the car remained a typical "classic of the genre" with rear-wheel drive and an inline positioning of the power unit. The front independent suspension retained the general scheme, but received ball bearings and silent blocks instead of conventional pivots and threaded bushings. The rear leaf spring dependent suspension did not undergo radical changes in their design, but became more refined and precise, more fitting to the features of the new body. And in other elements, the Chaika remained true to its nature - a worm-gear steering mechanism with a hydraulic booster, disc front brakes and conventional drums at the rear. Taking into account the considerable mass and the responsible mission of the future "Chairman", the brake discs were ventilated, and the hydraulic drive received two independent circuits for redundancy. At the same time, there were already three amplifiers in the system: the master brake cylinder had its own vacuum booster and each of the circuits had a separate hydraulic amplifier.
Things were also improved in the dynamics aspect. The V8 engine from the first Chaika had reserves - the boost margin made it possible to painlessly increase the engine power by couple of dozen horses. Applying a different power system with two carburetors and tinkering with the gas distribution mechanism, as well as some exhaust parts. The engine power was raised to 220 hp from a modest 25 hp increase over the original and the torque got a bump from 412 to 451 Nm. The engineers squeezed all the juice out of the engine for a very valid reason. Compared to its predecessor, the new GAZ-14 Chaika shamelessly gained several hundred kilograms in weight! After the modernisation, the engine of the limousine became not only more powerful, but also noticeably quieter, because hydraulic valve lifters and a torsional vibration damper of the crankshaft appeared as a novelty in its design. The gearbox had also undergone some modifications. Due to the use of a shorter main pair in the rear axle, the gear ratios of the 3-speed automatic were longer, and instead of the previous push-button selector, the choice of modes was assigned to the more traditional six-mode lever, located on the central floor tunnel. The package of updates had a beneficial effect on the dynamic qualities of the car. In comparison with the first Chaika, the acceleration time to a 100 km/h was reduced from 20 to 15 seconds and the maximum speed increased by 15 km/h - to 175. The increase in power increased the margin of freedom under the throttle pedal so now the car could quickly pick up the required speed.
Reinventing Soviet luxury
The nomenclature limousine was supposed to have the highest level of comfort. When working on the GAZ-14, the designers paid a lot of attention to the convenience of the entrance, for which the car was deprived of the side sills of the floor. They were unnecessary, taking into account the frame and the structure of the body. In addition, the reduced floor height also had a positive effect on the comfort of high-ranking passengers, who literally entered, rather than climbed into the passenger compartment. Formally, the new Chaika remained the same seven-seater saloon, like the GAZ-13. However, at the request of party officials, a partition could be installed in the cabin, turning the car into a limousine with a cab for the driver and front passenger and a five-seater back lounge. In addition, the huge rear sofa was made for two passengers - no one was going to be bumping shoulders anymore. The climate system deserves a detailed description. In those days, air conditioning on American-made cars was a completely familiar option that ordinary Soviet car owners never dreamed of. The new Chaika had a powerful system of heating and cooling the air in the cabin by employing a proper Japanese air conditioner! This made it possible to heat up the huge interior in a matter of minutes and keep it above +25 C even in a -30 C cold.
In order to brighten up the time spent on the road, the Chaika's package included a VEF Radiotehnika multi-band stereo radio receiver made in Riga, created specifically for this model and a Vilma cassette player, which could be controlled by the rear passenger. For this purpose a special remote control was provided in the armrest of the rear sofa. Some cars were even equipped with special communication means - a radio or satellite phone. The central locking, the retractable antenna, the power windows - all of this in the new car was driven by almost two dozen electric motors. Add here front and rear fog-lights, as well as headlight jet washers and it's not surprising that a second battery was required to service all of this electrical equipment. To ensure the safety of the driver and passengers, the engineers even provided inertial seat belts, which no one used in real life.
In 1977 GAZ commenced a small-scale production of the new Chaika which was set up in parallel with the old model up to 1981. As with the predecessor, the assembly of the new model was carried out manually in the small series car production workshop. The process was very slow and painstaking because to achieve the required result, each car had to be rebuilt several times over! In addition to the usual six-window saloon, the new Chaika was produced with an open top, as well as in the version of the "Kremlin ambulance". The 14-05 convertible was designed by order of the USSR Ministry of Defence for military parades. The car was distinguished by its interior equipment and a reinforced body. The station wagon GAZ-RAF-3920 was produced individually at the Riga bus factory. Several reanimobiles were manufactured by special government order, two of which were intended for Fidel Castro. Since 1985, the Chaika, slightly modernized in detail, wore the index 14-02. The life of the new limousine was much shorter than that of its predecessor. In a little over ten years, about 1100 cars were produced - almost three times less than the GAZ-13. It’s a paradox, but after the era of stagnation ended, the Soviet state itself in the 80s had a rather cool attitude towards Chaika, which was too “simple” in status for the person in charge and on the contrary - overly pretentious for the rest.
In addition, GAZ-14 Chaika became a victim of Gorbachev's struggle with the privileges of party workers and the state apparatus. Unfortunately, it was not only (and not so much) about the Chaikas themselves, the production of which was rather hastily curtailed by 1988. According to rumours, by order of Gorbachev all equipment and technical documentation were also destroyed. The same decision put an end to the plans to modernise the vehicle, which were embodied in the form of prototypes under the index 14-07. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, hundreds of Chaikas continued to serve in various ministries and departments, and in the difficult 90s, some of the cars went into private hands to wealthy collectors. Most of the Seagulls have turned into monuments to themselves, becoming commonplace real estate. A huge, powerful, heavy and voracious car demanded a lot of money for maintenance. In addition, it turned out that without the needed infrastructure, such a specific vehicle was of little use for everyday driving and the entrepreneurs of the new generation did not at all strive to become passengers of the Chairman's limousine, personifying for many the top of the step, from which many tried to escape as far as possible at that time. This is how the big black saloons managed to outlive their country by a little. As it turned out, the second Seagull had no fellow travellers in the new state.