In 1963, taxi drivers in Riga, Latvia were invited to pit their humble GAZ-21 sedans against each other in a race series held on a circuit in the city district of Mežapark.
You’ve likely heard the saying ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ – well, this was ‘race in the morning, work in the evening’.
The series was named Dzintara Volga, and the very first events were so popular that they soon attracted taxi drivers from all over the country. In the late ’70s, the series moved to the famous Bikernieki Circuit, and the cars competing became the then Soviet citizen’s dream machine – the GAZ-24.
As the competition became more serious, the number of actual in-service taxis became less. Drivers started preparing GAZ-24s just for the series, either picking up ex-taxis (those that had clocked up over half a million kilometers), or if they had close contacts at the factory, a brand new shell.
Throughout their history, GAZ car were used for motorsport competition in the USSR. In fact, there was even a factory race team created.
Early on, it became apparent that the Volga’s main enemy was weight. To reduce it, the team took advantage of their factory-backed special status and created around seven lightweight body shells using thinner metal. The logic was simple: if a car has a safety cage, it doesn’t need any body strengtheners.
The series continued through to 1991, when the end of the USSR spelled the end of the racing. For 19 years, anyway.
In 2010, enthusiasts from Riga decided to revive the championship, starting with some experimental races in Latvia. A couple of years later, sporty Volgas returned to their homeland – specifically the city of Nizhniy Novgorod – for their first race in Russia. Today, these nimble machines are an integral part of the Moscow Classic Grand Prix (MCGP).
This new championship was billed as a bridge between the past and present of local motorsport. Only classic cars are eligible, but a range of modern improvements are permitted, especially when it comes to safety.
The car you’re looking at actually started out as a GAZ-3110 – and one of the seven factory lightweight machines – but today resembles a GAZ-24-10. Its components are borrowed from almost every factory Volga model to achieve the best possible handling. The front beam is taken from the last Volga passenger sedan, the GAZ-31105, once produced with a Chrysler engine; the rear axle is a GAZ-3110 item with leaf springs. To increase the wheelbase, the rear axle was moved 30mm back.
It doesn’t stop there either. The front suspension is from a GAZ-3102, and the stabilizer bars have a quick adjustment function. Custom adjustable Shock Therapy dampers are used front and rear.
In the brake department, you’ll find rare 4-pot Girling calipers and discs up front.
The MCGP has two classes for such cars: Volga 402 and 406, named by engine type. Equipped with a 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder, this one competes in the senior division.
Inside, the crankshaft, connecting rods and lubrication system are fully stock, but the pistons are forged and the camshafts are custom. The race regulations prohibit the use of fuel injection, hence the dual-barrel Holley XP carburetor drawing from an ATL tank. On the ignition side, a Link ECU fires Nissan GT-R coils. Power, more than 200hp, is transmitted through a stock GAZ gearbox via an AP Racing clutch.
There are no electronic aids, but data on suspension travel, steering angle, throttle opening and so on is collected via a number of MoTeC sensors. This telemetry is vital in setting up the car for utmost performance in a very competitive field.
Outside, while the bolt-on overfenders could easily pass for period items, they’re actually newly designed with help from a 3D printer. Furthermore, many exterior parts are made of carbon fiber.
Inside, you’ll find a fully-welded roll cage, Recaro HANS seat with harness, and a whole lot of carbon paneling. There’s also a MoTeC C125 display and PDM with keypad.
What might not come across in these images is just how big the GAZ is. With a length of around 5 meters and a width of 2, it looks absolutely menacing out on track – I imagine even more so when its filling your rear-view mirror.
It might not be the fastest racing machine, but it’s certainly one of the most majestic.
Translation by Sergey Ospishchev
Photography by Shimanovskiy Ilya
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