Volga V12 Coupe (as seen in C&D)

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by B17A, Apr 26, 2004.

  1. B17A

    B17A Now with more ///M

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    [​IMG]

    Volga V-12 Coupe

    A car to kill for.
    BY ZOLTAN SCRIVENER
    PHOTOGRAPHY BY PETER PAWINSKI
    May 2004


    Snow is falling over Moscow in the failing winter light. Down Tverskaya Street comes a convoy of bureaucratic black sedans, like a scene from the gloomy days of Comrade Brezhnev, except now they part a sea of battered Ladas and brand-new Audis. Looking right, the convoy can glimpse the golden spires of the Kremlin and the walls of Red Square before heading for the plain, stone-slabbed Duma, the Russian parliament.

    Some of the cars, however, continue along the street and pull up outside an imposing seven-story yellow building that looms over Lubyanka Square, home to the once-feared KGB and still used by its successor, the less onerous Federal Security Bureau. It's also a place associated with one car above all others—the black Volga sedan once used by the upper echelon of the communist bureaucracy.


    Today, these bureaucratic convoys contain more stylish and reliable Mercedes S-class vehicles. Once the Soviet standard, Volgas are now chopped liver.

    Except one—there is still one Volga that makes pedestrian Muscovites raise their high-cheek-boned faces to the bitter wintry winds. And even smile. The one we see this day looks like an immaculately restored 1957 Volga coupe. But that can't be right. The Gorky Automobile Works (GAZ) that produced these Volgas between 1956 and July 1970—the M-21 model—never built a coupe version.

    All the 334,812 M-21 Volgas that were produced by the GAZ factory were four-door sedans or station wagons, cars that represented the peak of the Soviet Union's automotive technology. The Volga may have looked like a commie copy of a '53 Ford Custom sedan, and as Autocar magazine's test in 1960 reported, the engine might have stalled every time the car stopped on a slope. But in a country where for most citizens the alternative was riding an old, decrepit bus, the Volga was hugely desirable. This was the car driven by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man to rocket into space. It was the car the Soviets were proud to export to the British Isles, with an advertising blurb describing its cabin as making "lengthy out-of-town voyages joyous"—although dissident Soviets of the time who found themselves bundled between a pair of austere KGB agents on the big back seat might have disagreed.

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    Those genuine Volgas neither looked nor drove like this coupe. So ignore the chrome "Volga" letters on this coupe's trunk and the famous "shark's teeth" Volga grille, because this Volga coupe is not a Volga at all. Only the head- and taillights are original.

    This coupe takes a BMW 850CSi chassis (last built in '96), transmission, and engine and grafts on the unique body. It's not powered by a wheezing 70-hp four-cylinder lump but by a 380-hp V-12 BMW engine capable of hurtling it down Moscow's multilane highways at a claimed 150 mph. It is said to go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, performance that a KGB agent—even one equipped with the later 195-hp V-8-engined KGB version of the original Volga—would have, well, killed for.

    Inside the car, above the leather-trimmed interior, a tiny plaque has been stamped into the car's plush roof lining, attesting to being handmade "for the owner Mr. D.Z." We never found out who the mysterious Mr. D.Z. was, but we were told he paid $500,000 for this special Volga look-alike. Hard to believe, but these are the new capitalists in Russia. The firm that produced the car is "A:Level" (meaning "No. 1, top drawer"), and it's a company where you need more than just dollars to drive away a car boasting its exclusive plaque stamped with your initials.

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    To get to A:Level's home and workshop, we drive 12 miles west of Moscow's fume-choked city center, along tree-shaded lanes, past humble wooden huts, and pull up in front of a huge steel gate. We are about to be the first journalists allowed a glimpse of what's inside.

    The gates glide open, and we are greeted by a uniformed guard and a thick-coated dog. A low, 7100-square-foot brick warehouse lies next to a yard occupied by cars hidden under nylon sheeting and covered with snow. Peek under one gray sheet, and there's a rare Ferrari-engined Lancia Thema sedan. Lift another, and there's a 176-mph black Lotus Omega/ Carlton sedan—a limited-production model from the early '90s. There's also an armored Rolls-Royce Silver Spur.

    We walk into the warm building to find four young guys in blue overalls exercising their ratchets by a hulking Lamborghini LM002 sport-ute. It is covered in matte-black rubber-texture paint with radiation warning signs on its doors—the owner wanted it to look "different." In another room is a homemade robot device, powered by six windshield-wiper motors, that is designed to carry tools. It seems the perfect setting to hear someone say, "Nu, slushaete, 007." ("Now, pay attention, 007.")

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    Instead, we hear the angry burble of a Porsche 944 scrabbling through the snowy yard. Then the door opens to reveal a fresh-faced Ivan Shishkin, one of two directors of A:Level. The other director is 34-year-old Anatoly Mikhaylov, a graduate of the Moscow Automotive and Mechanical Institute at Moscow State Technical University. Shishkin, a chemistry graduate of Moscow State University, wears his hair in a ponytail and sports that rare thing in Moscow—a smile. He's 30, and that is typical of everyone working here. Of the 30 employees, just two have already seen their 30s come and go.

    Flinging off his scarf, Shishkin leads us past a lift holding a British Marcos Mantis sports car, circa late 1990s. The car is about to get a new, beefier front suspension, specially designed by A:Level, to cope with potholed Russian roads. He walks on, and I find him crouching by the broad black Volga V-12 coupe.

    Seventeen months went into building this car. Underneath might lie a BMW 850CSi floorpan, but above, it shares not one single panel with a BMW. It is 2.6 inches wider than an 850, 2.8 longer, and 1.9 taller. There was no skimping on the steel, either—you could build an iron curtain around a small country with the amount of metal in this baby: At 4608 pounds, it is 496 pounds heavier than the donor 850, reflecting its size and solidity. Each panel was painstakingly hand-beaten into shape by a team of five men, as they had no presses a few years ago when the car was built. One door skin alone was a month in the making. A front fender took two weeks.

    Meanwhile, the original BMW's dashboard and seats were faultlessly trimmed with Alcantara faux suede and Karelian birch. Definitely decadent, comrade.

    "The important thing is that we build a car that is Russian," Shishkin declares loudly. He does not seem concerned that chassis, engine, and transmission seem fairly German. Special "double curvature" glass had to be imported from Italy. Dismissively, Shishkin says, "The base is unimportant. The style is Russian character. There is real energy here." He pauses. But it is the calm before the storm.

    "All we want to build is cars with . . ." Shishkin pauses right there, and then, like a Milanese opera tenor, he cranks his right arm violently against his chest and shouts, "WAAHH!" I guess that translates as "passion."

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    But why make it look like the M-21 Volga? "This was the symbol of power in Russia, something people desired. We wanted to have one final look back. It is our way of saying goodbye to the past."

    I ask him how many of these Volgas he plans to build.

    Shiskin is startled by the naïveté of my question. "How many?! HOW MANY!? We only ever build one of a car!" He takes a breath, then continues: "At the Paris motor show, a man came up to us and said, 'I'll give you $1 million [for the Volga]. I'll buy it now!' We told him we are absolutely NOT interested!"

    His tone rises. "Our cars are works of art! Each is built like a tailored suit for one customer. We're not selling handbags by the dozen here!"

    He pauses again. Then he instructs: "Eighty percent of customers who come to us, we reject. Most have money but no imagination. The worst thing a customer can say to us is, 'I want the same as that.'"

    A:Level cars are only built to order after lengthy discussions with a potential customer on the style and direction the car will take—and only after the customer has paid for it.

    Shishkin continues: "Unfortunately in Russia, many of the wealthiest people are the least cultured. We cannot communicate with them."

    He adds: "It is not enough that a customer has money—he must burn!" Again, I think he means with passion.

    Turning down a request by some of the unsavory figures that post-communist Russia has spawned can be tricky. "Some got angry and shouted, 'We have the money! You do what we tell you!'"

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    So far, just 10 applicants have been accepted to the A:Level customer club. Shishkin's crew is working on two cars right now, and both will be different from the Volga.

    "The Volga was just the first ball in the game," Shishkin euphemizes adroitly. At the time the Volga was being built, resources were scarce.

    So the Volga project was principally a stylistic exercise designed to test reaction at the 2001 Moscow show and encourage the existing backer to widen his financial support. It worked. Shishkin isn't exactly forthcoming about the company's finances. But with more money, they gathered a team of Russian engineers, including Russian émigré engineers from Belgium and Germany, allowing the new projects to be more technically oriented.

    A current project—evocatively titled "the Big" and based on a Mercedes CL chassis—was racing around the Nürburgring at the time of our visit with air-pressure sensors stuck under it for final aerodynamic tweaks. A:Level was trying to produce downforce at 120 mph of 69 pounds-force on the front axle and 117 over the rear axle. The car looks much like a Mercedes CL with spoilers, bulging wheel arches, and a wing, except its speedo will be wound around by a heavily modified 6.7-liter V-12 Mercedes engine able to go over 180 mph. Fitted with twin Garrett turbochargers and a "huge intercooler," it thumps out a reported 850 horsepower via a transaxle gearbox that is based on a Porsche 928GT's unit—the only manual transmission they found strong enough to handle 594 pound-feet of torque.

    But if that's not different enough, follow Shishkin into the end room, and as the camera-shy young mechanics disperse, a striking-looking swoopy coupe is revealed. This one has been dubbed "the Impression." Built on a Mercedes CL600 chassis, but with doors hinged so they open toward the back, it uses a mix of design cues. There's a Bugatti-inspired grille at the end of a long curved hood, and there are rear wheels enclosed behind panels reminiscent of a 1970s Citroën SM. Officially, it is "designed with a spirit of Bugatti, Delahaye, and Hispano-Suiza." During our visit, the front end was stripped, exposing suspension turrets moved 12 inches forward and poised to accept a 550-hp Maybach engine. Shishkin wasn't saying what this one had cost. "Once we don't reproduce our cars—why speak about money?" Translation: "You cannot put a price on uniqueness."

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    Then it was time to drive the more modest 380-hp Volga. With fresh snow falling, they didn't want us dueling with the unruly Russian traffic. So we were confined to the large square in front of the Stalinist-style Moscow State University. We are unable to confirm the brochure blurb that "it is a sports car and knows what is hot drive of nighttime highways." But what undoubtedly did get hot was a babushka ("grandmother") who, at another photo location, had to help push the car up a snowy, wheel-spinningly slippery incline. Even with the traction control on, the slightest nudge of the gas pedal put the back end out.

    We were never able to exploit all six speeds, so we can't assess handling, but we haven't felt this level of solidity since stepping out of a T-72 tank. The Volga's doors thud shut, and noise is blanked out the moment you finish pulling the leather door handle.

    Worth a half-million dollars? Shishkin recalls that acquaintances had informed Mr. D.Z., "You could have got two Bentleys for the money." But Mr. D.Z. replied in a way that offers insight into the type of customer A:Level will be dealing with, "I already have two Bentleys."


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    http://www.caranddriver.com/article.asp?section_id=4&article_id=8018&page_number=1
     
  2. LEGbEND

    LEGbEND .

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    i remember that car from years ago.

    i have high-res pics around here somewhere...
     
  3. Zulu

    Zulu New Member

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    find them
     
  4. KoukiS14

    KoukiS14 New Member

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    that is fucking :cool:
     
  5. < DEV >

    < DEV > Red Rocket

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  6. LEGbEND

    LEGbEND .

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    yessa massa, i be findin
     
  7. 98SHDiamond

    98SHDiamond Active Member

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    It's a russian car! Look at the last picture all the guys are pushing the car!:rofl::beer:
     
  8. B17A

    B17A Now with more ///M

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    When I read it in the physical magazine I was quite impressed. Car is a one-off and the company said they wouldn't build another, no matter how much money was thrown at them. :cool:
     
  9. B17A

    B17A Now with more ///M

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    Did you read why they were pushing the car?
     
  10. B17A

    B17A Now with more ///M

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    :wackit:
     
  11. LEGbEND

    LEGbEND .

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    meh, cant find the pics.



    and id kick a baby in the face for that car.
     
  12. < DEV >

    < DEV > Red Rocket

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  13. xzvxwk

    xzvxwk FORMER New Member

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    I'd kick one for a 850csi chassis!
     
  14. B17A

    B17A Now with more ///M

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    google maybe? I'd look, but gotta take a lunch break.
     
  15. Dr. Woo

    Dr. Woo Guns don't kill people

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  16. Zulu

    Zulu New Member

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    I would fuck a goat... AND HIS WIFE...


    ENJOY IT...

    then let him fuck ME... wait for his wifes babies to come out... fuck THEM...

    then eat their shit.
















    for that car
     
  17. LEGbEND

    LEGbEND .

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  18. fishbulb

    fishbulb Active Member

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    nice av :coold:
     

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