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Thread: My search for a Volga

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    Administrator av8or1's Avatar
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    Hi gang!

    Ok due to the emails I have received asking that I recreate this thread, I am taking the time tonight to do just that. Don't know how far I'll get in one sitting but let this be my start, at least. Sorry for the delay in doing so, but I am in the process of buying a house (I close next month), work has been crazy-busy and my side-work has picked up lately too. Then there have been a few personal things going on to boot. (I am now engaged...yikes!)

    A few notes/disclaimers:
    • I prefer to keep the individual posts somewhat short, focusing on one primary subject usually (though not always) for the sake of making them "easier to digest" for potential readers
    • Thus you will see many rather short-length posts rather than a few lengthy ones
    • The effort I am expending in posting this thread is meant primarily to help others, should they decide to embark upon a similar journey of buying a car and importing it from Russia (or Ukraine/the Eastern block, or thereabouts)
    • Secondarily, as an engineer, I like to document my "more interesting" exploits so that I can look back on them later and "enjoy re-living the journey once again" , be it for good or bad and thus the "diary" style approach that I will take to recording the events of the endeavor
    • I make no guarantees about anything other than what I post was/is accurate at the time I posted it (ergo, no exaggerations or BS)
    So sit back and enjoy the show, it's been an interesting ride thus far let me tell ya what!

    And with that here we go!

    Jerry
    1983 GAZ Volga 3102
    1987 GAZ Volga 3102
    1970 Plymouth Road Runner
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1992 Toyota 4X4 - 324,000+ miles and still kicking
    2000 F350 XLT SD 7.3L PSD DRW CC LB 4x4

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    THE BACKGROUND: HOW I DISCOVERED THE VOLGA - A LITTLE HISTORY

    Because of the massive, sometimes unitelligible publicity that it receives, Russia and the Former Soviet Union (FSU) in general are misunderstood by most of us in the West. As someone who was quite interested in the Cold War and certain aspects of World War II, I had wanted to see this whole "communist" thing that I was taught to fear when growing up. I had wanted to see it for myself, up close and in person; not from books or pictures/videos in the Internet. So I decided to set about doing that in mid-2003. By March of 2004 through my research and talking to others who had made the journey, I felt comfortable enough to actually set foot on "communist soil" and it was in that month that I made my very first trip to the FSU.

    I was amazed by everything I saw and experienced. The people, the spectacle, the radically different way of life, or at least the attitude expressed therein and the overall welcome that I received. I visited war monuments by the handful and talked with anyone who would care to speak with an annoying American, though I didn't make myself "annoying" per se. That means that I was not boistrous or obnoxious; I blended in with the locals as best as I could; and yet I was eager to talk with anyone who was interested in doing the same. I met many people that first trip and still keep in touch with a couple of them to this day.

    Fast forward 5 years and 25+ trips to the FSU later. As an experienced traveller of the FSU, I still find that I very much look forward to each trip that I plan on taking. My next will be in a couple of months over Christmas/New Years 2009/2010. The only "grind" that I don't particulary enjoy any longer is the long-hop each way across the Atlantic. But somehow when I am in country it is all worth it and I can't wait to return the next time.

    So that's the how-I-discovered-the-Volga part of the story. I discovered it by being in country for non-automotive related reasons. In the next post I will attempt to describe how I came about the notion of buying one for myself.

    Jerry
    1983 GAZ Volga 3102
    1987 GAZ Volga 3102
    1970 Plymouth Road Runner
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1992 Toyota 4X4 - 324,000+ miles and still kicking
    2000 F350 XLT SD 7.3L PSD DRW CC LB 4x4

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    Administrator av8or1's Avatar
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    THE BACKGROUND: WHY I DECIDED TO BUY A VOLGA - A LITTLE HISTORY

    So...during all of those years and trips to the FSU I found that I have developed a strong fondness for the Volga. It's difficult to explain why really, it just is. I suppose that a part of it is the "sleek lines" and elegance that I feel that the Volga has; it's also partly to do with the overall size of the car, it's big by Russian standards, which I find that I like for some reason. Then there's the history of the Volga; such a rich history. Back in the day if you owned a Volga, you were somebody. It carried with it a certain elite status that was revered. Not that I am one to purport a division amongst populous classes within a society or anything, it's just way-high on my "coolness" scale if you will because of the "stately nature" that was associated with it. Then there is the fact that the design of the car was and is to this day entirely Russian. The Lada was based off of the Italian Fiat designs and although there have been some influences on minor aspects of the Volga products over the years during more recent production runs, the Volga has remained overwhemingly Russian at its core.

    You know, for all that I think that more than anything I fell head-over-heels with the Volga simply because of "the feel" that I get whenever I have ridden inside a Volga. I mean there is something "purely magical" about it that I just can't put a finger on. For me anyway. I somehow "feel like I am Russian" when I ride in one. I can visualize how high ranking members of the Soviet government rode around in them as their daily drivers, be it to a secret meeting held in the Kremlin or to a state dinner in the heart of Moscow somewhere. Imagination run amuck here? Perhaps, but I doubt that I'm too far from the truth really. Isn't it just crazy-good to imagine those possibilities? Well for me it is, based in part on my fascination and curiosity regarding Russia and its people, its history, its culture.

    Hmmmmm....and BTW I've never been a fan of the Lada, for example, even though it is a Russian product technically speaking. It's just too small and "boxy" for me, though it is rugged and usually holds up pretty well to the harsh weather conditions that prevail in Russia. When I have ridden in a Lada I just haven't received that "stately Russian feel" if you will. I mean the Lada is Russian but yet it is not Russian too.You know? And then there is the physical aspect to riding in a Lada. When in one of these critters I have usually felt cramped as heck; my knees virtually buried in my chest, my feet pinched and crammed into some black hole in the floorboard into which I can't even bend myself around or over to see what's down there let alone correct the problem; and then my arms...well I don't recall what I end up doing with my arms now that I think about it. Bleeech. I've always felt that the comparison between these two Russian makes was analogous the Chevy Chevette (Lada) versus the Ford Crown Victoria (Volga). So for me, the only option when considering buying a Russian car was the Volga, hands down.

    Mind you, I have seen all different makes of cars that operate in Russia today, from the Eastern imports (Toyota, Honda, etc.) to a few American vehicles to the Russian-made ones. For whatever reason, during those years and all of those trips I found myself saying "...you know I really should buy a Volga and bring it home...", a notion to which several people, usually Russians or Ukrainians, have scoffed and/or outright laughed. But it has stuck with me all this time.

    And so this year I decided to get serious about it. I decided that I wanted a Volga; I wanted to see it in my garage each day. I wanted to know that I had a piece of Russian history sitting there. Something that was all mine; partly as a souvenir from all of my trips and partly just "to have" for my own enjoyment. Something to remind me of how I have felt when in-country. And finally just simply because I think Volgas are "neat." Understand?

    I mean we've all seen it at some point, right? A guy who has his treasured vehicle kept safely tucked away in a corner of his garage. A car that despite being in that garage is also covered for "protection." A car that isn't driven much and only by the guy who treasures it. A car that is kept in good running condition despite the fact that it "just sits and looks pretty." Yup, I wanted that kind of a car, but instead of it being the typical 60's vintage Mustang, a Corvette or earlier Stingray, or a Porsche or something along those lines I want to do the same kind of thing with a piece of Russian history, I wanted to do it with a Volga.

    And here we are today.

    Jerry
    1983 GAZ Volga 3102
    1987 GAZ Volga 3102
    1970 Plymouth Road Runner
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1992 Toyota 4X4 - 324,000+ miles and still kicking
    2000 F350 XLT SD 7.3L PSD DRW CC LB 4x4

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    Yea - The buying a Volga story is back!
    My only question is could you find a few more things to do all at once? Even get engaged on top of all other things...
    Kyle

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    Administrator av8or1's Avatar
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    Hi Kyle,

    Well you stay pretty busy yourself, so I'd imagine that you can empathize with such goings-on!

    Thank you for the enthusiastic welcome-back to the thread. 'Hope it entertains and helps others. I plan to make the next installment tonight; gotta work this afternoon though, so we'll see...

    Jerry
    1983 GAZ Volga 3102
    1987 GAZ Volga 3102
    1970 Plymouth Road Runner
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1992 Toyota 4X4 - 324,000+ miles and still kicking
    2000 F350 XLT SD 7.3L PSD DRW CC LB 4x4

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    BEGINNING THE SEARCH

    Ok so I've described "the why" pretty well, now for a little more information regarding " the what." True enough, I have stated "the what" already at the outset of this thread, and it is quite simply that I want to buy a Volga and bring it home. But I haven't said much about whichVolga I am interested in. I'd like to address that now.

    If you have browsed this forum much, you have seen several different flavors of Russian vehicles, and most likely different variants of the Volga too. Perhaps you've even come to your own decision as to which is your favorite (and if you have, please share it, I'm interested). So which one appealed to me?

    Well the answer is rather simple and yet it complicated things. More on that later. There are several models to choose from, naturally, the M21, M24, M24-10, etc. all of which have their own appeal in their own way. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" as the saying goes and - for whatever reason - my eye has always been drawn to the Volga GAZ 3110. For me it has all of the elements that I like in a Volga; the "sleek lines", the stately elegance in its appearance and the overall characteristics that make it undeniably Russian. It also has an updated design of a few components, namely the body styling, even though it possesses the same basic chassis design that was developed in the late 60s and used on the M24. So that's it, for me anyway. It's the GAZ 3110.

    Though there are other photos of the 3110 that can be found in this forum, I've attached a few photos here for completion.

    Jerry
    Attached Images
    1983 GAZ Volga 3102
    1987 GAZ Volga 3102
    1970 Plymouth Road Runner
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1992 Toyota 4X4 - 324,000+ miles and still kicking
    2000 F350 XLT SD 7.3L PSD DRW CC LB 4x4

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    SEARCHING FOR A VOLGA: THE PROBLEM WITH A 3110

    My interest in the 3110 was high enough to warrant the initiation of a serious pursuit of bringing one home in short order. That is, I had wanted to jump right in and begin looking. However I decided that I needed to first do the due diligence involved in researching the process of importing a vehicle into the USA before engaging in the search proper. As I would soon learn, this would be a prudent course of action.

    The 3110's production run began in 1997 and ended in 2005, although the estate version of the vehicle remains in production today (this is the "station wagon version"). Essentially, it would be that one detail, the age of the 3110, that would complicate things as I mentioned in the previous post and that would ultimately be its undoing, at least in terms of being able to be imported into the USA. Why? Well the devil would lie, as he always does, in the details.

    You see, the process of importing a vehicle into America is complex and yet somehow simple. First of all, without even getting into the customs issues and associated importation fees, any vehicle that you want to import must pass the DoT/NHTSA (Department of Transportation/National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) crash test standards as well as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) emission standards. It is debatable, but personally I think that a modern Russian vehicle would do ok in regard to the EPA test, but even the 31105, which is the GAZ current production model, would not be able to meet the NHTSA stuff. And therein lied the rub. How can I import my 3110 if it won't pass the required standards? Where do you turn for help regarding the issue? Fortunately there was help, so not all was lost. At least not yet.

    As I would learn, there are businesses out there who's sole purpose is to bring imported vehicles into conformity with all applicable standards that we maintain in the USA. These businesses are called Registered Importers (RIs), where the "Registered" part of their name means that they are registered with the NHTSA as an approved "Importer". Different importers can import different types of vehicles (per their certification with the NHTSA) and bring them into conformity as necessary. You can find the current list of RIs on the NHTSA's website. Behold what you will find however, as not everything is helpful in this world, as I would soon discover.

    Jerry
    1983 GAZ Volga 3102
    1987 GAZ Volga 3102
    1970 Plymouth Road Runner
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1992 Toyota 4X4 - 324,000+ miles and still kicking
    2000 F350 XLT SD 7.3L PSD DRW CC LB 4x4

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    SEARCHING FOR A VOLGA: THE PROBLEM WITH A 3110 (cont.)

    Ok so what I was learning was that not only did I have a problem with importing a 3110, I was having a problem finding an RI to help in the process. Why? Because most all of the RIs that I called and spoke with were more interested in making a quick buck than they were in anything else. That is, most RIs that I found were interested in importing a car from Canada and that was their limit. Such vehicles need very little modification, so these RIs can do a quick turnaround on them and charge whatever they want. Simply put, they were not interested in the business I offered them of importing my 3110. Heck, when they asked me what vehicle I wanted to import and I told them it was a Volga, the typical and somewhat amusing response was something along the lines of "A Volga? What's that? Never heard of it." I would then explain that it was/is a Russian car, the response to which ranged from "Oh we don't do that" to "Why in the hell would you want to import a hunk-of-junk from the communists?" I kid you not.

    So I kept looking. In the end, I settled with an RI based in Houston. They've been in the importing business forever and were one of the first RIs approved by the NHTSA when it began the program in the early 1990s. They are willing to work with us "little guys" and are glad to help me in my endeavor. So that is good....I have an RI and they aren't far from Austin! Good stuff. Ok one thing down.

    Of course the problem is that even with a good RI, the cost of bringing a foreign vehicle into conformity with US standards can be costly. Sometimes outrageously so, depending on the level of modifications required to do so. For a Russian vehicle the cost quote I got was approximate but they told me that it was "pretty close" and that it could actually increase, depending on what they found once they "opened 'er up." The base figure was $10,000 USD. Ooouch. This of course would be in addition to the cost of buying the vehicle, paying the associated fees and the cost of shipment. Clearly an issue demanding serious consideration. I mean I do pretty good salary-wise, but I don't have crazy-stupid money either. And I had been saving to buy a house. So the forecast for having my 3110 sitting in my garage looked pretty bleak. And how.

    But just when I thought my endeavor was about to meet its responsible-personal-financing end and that all hope was lost again, I would find salvation through further research. Well a partial salvation anyway.

    As it turns out, if you import a vehicle that is 25 years or older, that vehicle is exempt from the restrictive NHTSA standards. And the number for the EPA emissions stuff is even lower at 21 years old. Hmmmmm....wow, a reprieve. That 's new. And good. So I decided that I would elect to go this route, to buy an older vehicle and avoid all of the hassle of conformity modifications and their associated high price tag. All I would need to do is to buy a 3110 that is at least 25 years old!

    Hahaha! Yeah right. Ahem, no. As mentioned previously, the production run of the 3110 was from 1997 - 2005. At best these cars are 12 years old, far short of the 25 year figure. So like many things in life, there was an "upside and a downside" to this picture. The upside was that I could indeed bring a Volga home, but it would have to be an older Volga and that meant that I had to look for something other than a 3110, which was the obvious downside.

    However, the notion of a wholesale avoidance of the insanely-high import conformity costs had at a minimum brought the idea of owning a Volga back into the realm of reality, so that was a good thing. Not only was the cost once again reasonable at around $1500 - $2000 USD for a 25+ year old vehicle but the process itself was much, much simpler without the conformity issues. All that was left was a basic check by the inspectors to ensure that the car isn't stolen plus a simple "safety check" and then I could take delivery of my very own Volga! So the picture was pretty again.

    Now to re-think which Volga I wanted to buy. More on that in the next installment. It's late, headed to bed. Thank you for reading.

    Jerry
    1983 GAZ Volga 3102
    1987 GAZ Volga 3102
    1970 Plymouth Road Runner
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1992 Toyota 4X4 - 324,000+ miles and still kicking
    2000 F350 XLT SD 7.3L PSD DRW CC LB 4x4

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    SEARCHING FOR A VOLGA: BEGINNING ANEW

    As happens so often in our lives, an unexpected external impediment can force our hand into taking a course of action that, while unplanned, yields an even greater reward than we could have expected. I couldn't have seen that result materializing when I first began the process, but in the end I would discover that this is exactly what had transpired for me. And I would be grateful.

    This part of the story all began when the unexpected 25-year-old-car requirement surfaced its unswerving head. It was time to formulate a new plan as to what I would do. I had decided that I still wanted to purchase a Volga even if I couldn't buy a 3110. I hoped that I could find something that would at least resemble it however. Since I was only "familiar" with the older models that I could choose from, I decided to investigate them a bit further. Due to the overall consistency from year to year with which the Russian automobile manufacturers approach their work I thought I would stand a decent chance of finding "a 25 year old 3110."

    Taking a trip back in time I learned of the GAZ Pobeda from the mid-1940s and of the GAZ M21 from the mid-1950s. For whatever reason neither car appealed to me that much, though I could appreciate its rich and colorful history. I wasn't suprised that I felt that way really either; I'm not a big fan of 50s American cars either. So I kept moving forward in time. The next production model was the GAZ M24 that was based on a new chassis design from the late 1960s. The first production M24s rolled off the line in 1970 and the model continued through two series until its run ended in 1992. However, an updated M24 dubbed the GAZ 24-10 would be produced alongside its bigger brother, specifically from the years 1985 until 1992, when the production of both cars would cease. In looking at them, clearly these vehicles in any of their three basic forms were of a different look-n-feel than the earlier Volga models and somehow I could see the 3110's reflection in the lines of the M24. If I looked closely enough. It would depend on the year in question; well for me it would anyway. And just as clear was the fact that the M24 would meet the vehicle's age requirement (though the 24-10 would not), so it seemed like a good candidate. Indeed, it had made my list. But I wanted to keep looking to see if there was another Volga that could fit the bill.

    And has luck would have it, there indeed was. Very much so! When researching the 3110, I had learned that it was actually the product of a continual refinement of the GAZ 31029. The 31029 had taken over in 1992 when the 24-10's production run had ended, though the 31029 was never meant to be the actual replacement of the 24-10. That was supposed to be the 3105, a vehicle design that never saw the light of day due to budget constraints that were so prevalent during the early 1990s. Nope, instead GAZ simply kept modifying the 31029 until it became different enough to warrant a new Russian model number, the 3110. (see Betauser's post regarding the significance of Russian model numbers) As you may recall, the 3110 began production in 1997, so naturally the 31029's run ended in 1997 and not coincidentally. But the real nugget of gold to be found in the story would rest with the 31029 itself: I mean, where did it come from?

    Jerry
    1983 GAZ Volga 3102
    1987 GAZ Volga 3102
    1970 Plymouth Road Runner
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE
    1992 Toyota 4X4 - 324,000+ miles and still kicking
    2000 F350 XLT SD 7.3L PSD DRW CC LB 4x4

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