The M20 “Pobeda” (Russian for Victory) was a passenger car produced in the Soviet Union by GAZ from 1946 until 1958. Although usually known as the GAZ-M20, the original car’s designation at that time was just M-20, for “Molotovets” taken from the factory name. Originally intended to be called Rodina (Homeland), the name Pobeda “Victory” was a backup name preferred by Stalin at the time in 1943 when designs began at Gorky Avto Zavod GAZ ” the Gorky Car Plant” (would you have argued?) so the name came to be.
It was the first Soviet passenger car not copying any foreign design, and moreover it introduced most modern ponton styling, with slab sides, preceding many Western manufacturers. Only the construction of the monocoque body and the front suspension were partially influenced by the 1938 Opel Kapitan, yet even they had their own distinctive features. The M20 was the first Soviet car using entirely domestic body dies.
The first prototype was ready on November 6th 1944 for the anniversary of the October Revolution, approval was gained and the first model rolled off the production line on June 21st 1946.
The Pobeda was the first Soviet car to have turn signals, two electric wipers, an electric heater, and a built in AM radio. With a four wheel hydraulic braking system the car was well ahead of its competitors, even in the west.
In 1955, the 4×4 variant was unveiled, it was the first comfortable, mass-produced monocoque all-wheel drive vehicle, known as the M72, with a four-wheel drive system adapted from the contemporary Soviet Gaz 69. It was the brainchild of Vitaly Grachev, assistant to the GAZ-69’s chief engineer, Grigory Moiseevich Wasserman. It used a standard Pobeda transmission, mated to the GAZ-69 front axle, leaf sprung suspension, a transfer case, with a brand new rear axle (used on no other vehicle, rare for Soviet car production).
The body had fourteen panels added to strengthen the floor, frame, doors, and roof. Trim and interior were the same as the M20, and in all, 4,677 were built by end of production in 1958.
A limited edition M20G for the KGB powered by a 3,485 cc straight six (from the GAZ M12 ZIM), was also produced, giving the Pobeda a top speed of 87 mph (140 km/h), and 0–60 mph (0–97 km/h) time was reduced to 16 seconds from the stock model’s 34 seconds, however handling was compromised by the extra front-end weight.
Total production numbers of the Pobeda was 235,999, including 37,492 taxis and 14,222 cabriolets. A great number of cars were used by government organizations and government owned corporations, including state run Taxis.
Despite its 16,000 ruble price tag, with average wage 800 ruble per annum, the Pobeda was available to buy for ordinary citizens, and for the first time from 1954-1955 the demand for cars in the USSR started to overtake production numbers, with long waiting lists to buy cars. It was also the first serious opportunity for the Soviet automobile industry to export cars, with western drivers finding it to be almost indestructible.
The car came to be a symbol of postwar Soviet life and is today a popular collector’s item with many still in use throughout the soviet states, due to their solid construction and simplicity to repair.