Saturday, June 6, 2015

1987 GAZ-14 Chaika



Even if allegedly all people were equal in communist countries, the functionaries found subtle ways to let everyone know that they were more equal than the rest. Case in point: the car. Even if he had the money, an average communist couldn't possess a representative car, as they were allotted according to the political status. GAZ, Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod, was the place to go when you had already climbed the ladder: who got into a "Chaika" clearly belonged to the very privileged few.

The design of the GAZ models had always been inspired by period American car styling. The GAZ-12 from 1950 looked like a blend of contemporary Cadillac and Buick up front, combined with the cabin of a Hudson. The GAZ-13 of the late 1950s seemed to be the offspring of a mid-1950s Packard. With the GAZ-14, presented in 1977 and produced until 1988, the designers finally had found an own, distinctive look. Underneath its skin, however, the "Chaika" was still based on the same old 1950s construction of its predecessor.

Our pictured "Chaika" was one of five in Fidel Castro's fleet. Since they finished their duty as representative cars, they serve as public taxis. The armor got removed and the engine replaced by a Mercedes Diesel. Easy to guess that this diet worked miracles to the economy and performance.

With a bit of luck you can catch a ride in one of these "Chaika" taxis in Havana. The interior of our pictured car features fancy rear shelf air conditioning, period all-Russian lettering on its dashboard controls, and psychedelic 1980s patterns and colors all-around. "Beach Towel" would be the right connotation. If this was the original trim, then Fidel Castro and his buddies sure had a big smile on their faces every time they drove in this car. Riding in this taxi, the average Cuban communist today can at least discover the amenities of a representative limo and feel just like the comandante en jefe and his chums.

Incidentally, the end of the GAZ-14 was caused by Michail Gorbatchev's perestroika policy which should ultimately end the Cold War and trigger the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1988, the central committee of Russia's communist party announced a decree over the omission of privileges. The use of representative cars was now forbidden for Russia's top brass, and GAZ lost its clients from one day to the next. After 11 years of production —pretty short for such a kind of car in Russia — the assembly line of the "Chaika", as well as most documentation, became obliterate. An attempt to revive the production in 1996 resulted fruitless: building such a dinosaur again simply wasn't rentable anymore.

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