What is it?
If you were born in the Eastern parts of Europe, chances are high political leaders in your country used the GAZ Chaika 13 as a parade vehicle before 1989. It was a full-size luxury car, positioned below the ZIL 11 series and available in several different body styles, including a convertible and a sedan.
It was never sold to regular customers, however they were allowed to rent Chaikas for weddings and special occasions. In addition to political elite, Chaikas were also used by KGB, the main security agency for the Soviet Union until 1991, and by Soviet ambassadors in East Germany, North Korea, Bulgaria, Hungary, Mongolia, and Finland. Even Cuban politician and revolutionary Fidel Castro was given one by the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union - Nikita Khrushchev.
Where and when was it made?
The Chaika (which means “gull”) was produced between 1959 and 1981 in GAZ factory in Gorky (nowadays Nizhny Novgorod) and by RAF (Riga Autobus Factory) in Riga, Latvia. A total of 3,179 examples were assembled with most of them being 7-seat, 4-door limousines and only a few convertibles and ambulances.
Many say the GAZ Chaika 13 was heavily inspired by the Packard Patrician in terms of design and similarities are obvious. Under the hood the Soviet vehicle had a naturally aspirated 5.5-liter V8 engine, delivering 195 horsepower (143 kilowatts) at 4,400 rpm. Power was channeled through a push-button three-speed automatic gearbox to the wheels. This setup provided a top speed of 99 miles per hour (160 kilometers per hour), while the average fuel consumption was roughly 13 miles per gallon (21 liters per 100 km).
Why is it special?
The Chaika was basically the Mercedes S Class of the Soviet automotive industry – stylish, comfortable, and fast (for its era). You can’t help but notice the ridiculously high amount of chrome at the front end – so typical for the Russian cars of that era. But what we really love about it is the interior layout with retractable second row of seats and room for up to seven passengers.
In Eastern Europe, the Chaika is kind of mythological machine with its impressive sizes and poor fuel economy. For example, word on the street says KGB operatives loved it because the large rear bench made it easy for them to simply pull inside the car “suspicious” citizens.
Next time you ask a Russian auto-enthusiast about the most beautiful car of this era, don’t be surprised if you get the Chaika as an answer. Russians literally love it and European collectors do so as well - the vehicle is still highly-desirable with collector prices gravitating at around $55,500.