What Makes This Vintage Ford So Special?
Photography by Andrey Smazhilo
These days, it is a common practice for automotive companies to sell the same car under many names. Take, for example, Volkswagen Golf. If you want a more premium version, you can buy Audi A3, and if you don’t have enough money to afford a Golf, the Skoda Octavia is the way to go.
From the outside, these cars are completely different but from the technical point of view, the three cars are almost identical. Globalization, as they call it, leads to the situation when bigger and more successful car companies get over the small ones, which in turn has its effect on production. Smaller companies get access to new technology, and the bigger ones increase their profits and market share.
However, it was completely different 85 years ago. To use someone’s successful products, you’d have to purchase their technology. And so it was for the USSR in 1929 when the Soviet government decided that it was time for the country to start mass production of its own cars. The government signed a contract with Ford Motor Company, and a factory was built near modern Nizhny Novgorod, called Gorky back then. The plant was named GAZ, short for Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod (Russian for ‘plant’ or ‘factory’).
The car you see here is GAZ Model A, the first Soviet mass-produced passenger car. And yes, it does look like a clone of 1930-31 Ford Model A Standard Phaeton…because it is one.
Before the Second World War, the level of engineering in the USSR was still very low, so the government simply bought production-ready kits that included everything but tires. Production of these cars started only in the end of 1932. The kits were transported to GAZ from the USA, and cars, which were built there, were sent to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the two largest cities of the country, which were in the most need of passenger cars.
GAZ-A, as it was called in the USSR, had some minor differences from the original Model A. It was, in some ways, a cheaper version of it. Its radiator shell was of a simpler form, there is one rear light instead of two, and some parts, including the front bumper, were painted instead of being chromed. The drivetrain was the same as in the original Model A. These cars were built for use by various ministries and military structures. However, they were also used as taxis.
Unfortunately, very few people were permitted to buy these cars for personal use. This, and the next point, ensure that it’s one of the most rare Model A variants.
When a new GAZ-M-1 was introduced in 1936, owners of GAZ-As were ordered by the government to sell their cars, and, if they wanted to, buy the new car. This idea belonged Joseph Stalin, who decided that there was no place for the old-fashioned car on the streets of ‘modern capital’ of the USSR. As a result, the cars were sold or transferred to people and government structures outside of Moscow, and these days it has become almost impossible to find one since there were only about 40,000 of them produced and many of them were destroyed during the Second World War.
This exact car was found near Saint Petersburg about seven years ago. There was little left of it, apart from the body. Sergey Simonov, who found it, is a car collector and apart from having passion for cars, has a unique ability to find rare and forgotten cars.
It took him four years to find all the necessary parts, and another three years for his workshop, Simonov Motors, to restore the car to its original condition. Many of the panels have rusted out and were irreparable, so they were fabricated from scratch. During the process of restoration, the car was sold to a person who prefers to stay unknown, and has only recently visited the shop. He intends to fully enjoy the car on the road during the upcoming summer.
Apart from this car, Sergey also has another Model A. I’ve seen it during my visit to Moscow Classic Grand Prix last year, and when I saw the restored car at an exhibit in the beginning of March this year, I thought that it was the same car.
What a surprise it was to me, when I saw both cars in the workshop! This freshly restored one was already washed and sitting inside waiting for the photo shoot, and the one that was raced was sitting outside under a tent. Unfortunately, the weather was no good for these oldies to go outside and be driven. Nevertheless, I hope that the guys at the workshop will get their hands on the twin-sister pretty soon because it is a very important piece of Russian automotive history and needs to be restored and driven. I’m definitely going to revisit the GAZ-A sisters later on—there are very few left, so I’ve got to enjoy their company while I have the chance.