Four generations of Volga cars have been produced by the Soviet Union, each undergoing several updates during the production run.
The classic Soviet intermediate-size car of the late 1950s and 1960s, produced from 1957 to 1970. Very often to be seen as taxicabs.
The estate / station wagon version was designated GAZ-22.
A V8 powered version was designated GAZ-23.
Developed in 1968, the new Volga GAZ-24 replaced the GAZ-21 on the production line, and was then produced in two generations: 1970–76, and 1976–85.
The V8 powered version was designated GAZ-24-24.
After the introduction of GAZ-3102, as the third generation of the Volga (see below) in 1982, production of the old series continued, and their demand led GAZ engineers to devise a deep upgrade of the GAZ-24, utilising many of the -3102 features. This resulted in an entirely new car, which was produced right up to the start of the 1990s.
Externally the changes affected the new model loosing nearly all of its chromed detail via a new plastic grill, new "sunken" door handles, a new front door windows without the corner leafs. New plastic wing mirrors were now featured on both driver and passenger sides. Inside the old ZMZ-24 was replaced with a new ZMZ-402 engine, introduced a new carburator and cooling mechanism allowing a 98 hp output (from 85 hp on the -24). The 24-10 received a new suspension which allowed for larger wheels, with a new rim to be used and also had a new set of brakes (which now featured vacuum amplification). Some of the cars were fitted with disk brakes from the -3102. Inside the car received a completely new interior, based on the foreign models of the 1980s, including dashboard controls and headrests on seats.
The most significant impact of the car was that unlike the -3102 which was largely limited to the public, and sold primarily for state institutions and corporations, the GAZ-24-10 was exactly opposite, which meant that many private owners wishing for a mid-size car could now aquire one with relative ease. However on the whole, even at its introduction the car was already out-of-date compared with its western rivals and production ceased in 1992.
The car had two models, an estate GAZ-24-12, and a low-production V8 powered GAZ-24-34.
The GAZ-3102, produced on a separate conveyor on the GAZ factory, in parrallel with the GAZ-14 Chaika limousine, was initially destined to be an automobile for the mid-class of the Soviet nomenklatura. Loosely based on its predecessor, the new Volga, in addition to receiving a new model number, had much of the Chaika's innovations incorporated in the design.
Initially the model was planned to have a 3-litre V6 engine as standard, but GAZ instead opted for a new ZMZ-4022 I4 with . The main innovation of the engine was that ignition was accomplished not by a fuse but a jet of heated gases, injected from a special fore-chamber. Despite the high power of the engine, its torque compared to the ZMZ-24 dropped, and by the 1990s the engine was replaced by the ZMZ-402 from the GAZ-24-10. The car featured front disk brakes became standard, as well as 3.9:1 rear axle and many other improvements.
Initially GAZ had ambitious plans for the Volga, and 3102 was intended as an interim version for its completely new 3105, 3106 and 3107 designs. These however would never see light, and despite introductions of -3102 based models (-31029, -3110, see below), production of the -3102 continued into the late 1990s.
Following the introduction of the GAZ-3110, the model received a major mid-life upgrade in 1997. A new 5-step geerbox, single axle, power steering, new front ventilated disc-brakes, 15-inch wheels and modernised interior based on the -3110. Also from the -3110 came the 2.3 litre ZMZ-4062 fuel-injected engine. Small series production also included Steir and Chrystler engines as well as ZMZ-4064 with 200 hp.
Like its two Volga predecessors, there was limited version for police and KGB, with Chaika V8 and automatic gearbox, produced up to 1996). Since the early 1990s, 3102 is positioned by GAZ as a luxury saloon and costs slightly more than a standard Volga, and it is often mentioned that production quality of 3102 Volgas is slightly better than for other GAZ cars.
Based on the GAZ-3102, the Volga 31029 was introduced as a replacement for the GAZ-24-10 production of which ceased in 1992. Compared with the 3102, the new model had a more aerodynamic front bodywork. The model was also the first in the series to introduce injector engine ZMZ-4062.10 with four valves for cylinder, though carburator engines were also available. Also unlike the 3102, the 31029 featured a station wagon, GAZ-31022, an ambulance version of which became widely used.
Initially the car enjoyed popularity, given the archaic age of the GAZ-24-10 it replaced, but the economic hardships of the 1990s meant that soon its reputation would be broken by the poor quality of assembly and corrosion problems, and the older 3102, still produced on the special conveyor was soon given preferance after it was made available to the public following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite this and its short production run, GAZ set a record of more than 115 thousand per annum with the 31029.
The new Volga GAZ-3110, arrived in 1997 as a replacement for the GAZ-31029. In the new model, GAZ tried to upgrade the car to a new standard inline with the 1990s trend. Externally all except the door panels were re-styled and replaced. Power-assisted steering became standard, along with new 15-inch wheels and Lucas brakes.
A major new feature of the 3110 was that in addition to the standard engine complection of the 31029, was the introduction of two diesel engines ZMZ-560 and ZMZ-561. Moreover beggining in 2001, following the upgrade at GAZ factory itself, the -3110 now received mettalic paintwork as standard drastically combating the corrosion problems that plaqued the Volgas.
In 2003 the -3110 received a facelift, and ball-joint front suspension, before being replaced by the GAZ-31105. The estate version of the 3110, the Volga 310221, along with the 310223 ambulance, remains in production as of 2008 along with the GAZ-3102 on its separate conveyor line.
Instead GAZ took a different approach, and opted for designing a new car, which amongst others would feature ABS, power steering, climate control, automatic gearbox and most of all V6 and even V8 engines as standard, along with leather interior. The external design was completely new and featured old GAZ-21 influenced retro styling cues developed in collaboration with US-based Venture Industries.
However problems began mounting in production costs, as some details had to be borrowed from the Chaika such as the axle, thus pre-production models lacked the automatic gearbox, and the engine was the same ZMZ-4062.10 that went into GAZ-3110. First shown in 1998, production was scheduled to begin in 2000 with 53 cars delivered, as the -3102 would phased out GAZ envisioned a rate of 25 thousand per annum. But only 342 were delieved in 2001, and 20 in 2002, with further nine of 2004 before all production ceased.
GAZ-3111 was a failure in terms of marketing and demand. Its high base price and poor reputation that the Volga brand carried meant that those who could afford it, would opt for a foreign car such as the Mercedes E-class or the BMW 5 series with whom GAZ-3111 thought to compete.
Faced with the failure to enter the foreign-dominated Executive car market with the GAZ-3111, GAZ learning on its mistakes, opted for a deep modernisation of its mid-size GAZ-3110. The Volga borrowed some of the styling used by the 3111 such as the front headlights and grille, as well many minor improvements such as pearl indicator lights. Inside the car's transmission and suspension received upgrades. In 2006 the standard engine selection was added with a Chrysler DOHC 2.3 litre engine.
In 2005 GAZ introduced a long-wheelbase 311055 luxury model, with a new interior that included wood trims. The latter feature became standard on models produced from 2007 onwards when GAZ gave the car a facelift. Among changes were completely new taillights and a conversion to Euro III standard with the introduction of its new ZMZ-40525 engine, complementing the Chrysler engine, GAZ was able to finally phase out is archaic ZMZ-4021 and 4062.10. The 31105 is available only as a saloon, with the estate continuing with the old 3110 styling.
Following the introduction of the Volga Siber in 2008 GAZ hopes to fully finish production on both the -3102 and the -31105 by 2010 the base design of both cars still traces its roots to the GAZ-24, thus ending a successful production run of 40 years.
The convertible model has also been seen again in very limited production, mostly aimed at official procession cars; the roof is replaced with a soft top and the rear doors deleted; front doors are the same size as on the four-door model.