Classic Russian car seen on the streets of Cambridge
If you thought that all Soviet cars were dull, box-like monstrosities, built solely for efficiency, then you might want to think again.
A classic car, similar to one that belonged to Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, can now be seen out and about on the streets of Cambridge.
The GAZ Volga M21 model III, made in 1969 and owned by Cambridge resident Kiril Vitanov, is believed to be the only car of its type in the city.
A Black Volga was much sought after in Soviet society – a sign that you had ‘succeeded’.
The original GAZ Black Volga, which was first made in the early 1950s, was produced only for government officials and used in all countries linked to the Soviet Union at that time.
GAZ roughly translates as Gorky Automobile Factory, which is located in Nizhny Novgorod, about 250 miles northeast of Moscow.
Kiril’s car – the rarer and faster M23 model was used by the KGB and is worth around £120,000 – was on the cover of this month’s Classic Car Club newsletter.
Originally from Bulgaria, Kiril lived in London for five years before moving to Cambridge a year ago.
“I started driving it on the weekends, when I’m free, and it’s amazing, people stop me in the street and ask me questions,” he says, “because the car is quite unique.”
He adds: “It’s a completely different style to the cars that they produced at that time here in the UK, because the Soviet Union was making strong, heavy cars in a different style.
"It’s not a fast car and it’s not a very beautiful car, in my opinion, but it’s a car produced to make a statement after the Second World War.”
Kiril’s passion for classic cars started when he was young – he clearly remembers his father telling him that a black Volga was a car for “special people” and that Gagarin had one.
As a boy who dreamed of becoming an astronaut, these words were music to his ears.
Kiril, whose first classic car was a Warszawa 1969, acquired his Volga, a luxury model, in excellent condition, from a fellow Bulgarian.
The car was then kept in a garage in Bulgaria for more than five years before Kiril was able to bring it to Cambridge.
The car, which had covered 14,000km when it came into Kiril’s possession, has three gears and can fit six passengers. In 2019, Kiril and his girlfriend travelled to St Petersburg to visit the official GAZ shop and buy parts for the interior.
While the Volga belonging to Gagarin is now on display at the Yuri Gagarin Museum in Moscow, others are owned by some famous people, including American comedian and talk show host Jay Leno, who has a white 1966 GAZ M21 Volga.