Founded in 1929 as NNAZ when a joint venture between the Soviet Union government and Ford was established. The name changed to GAZ (short for Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) when the city was renamed after Maxim Gorky. The first car to roll off the production line in 1932 was the Ford Model A
, which was sold in the Soviet Union as the NAZ A, then as the Ford Model AA under the GAZ AA marque - the Model A remaining in production until 1936 with over 100,000 being manufactured.
The successor to the Model AA was the GAZ M1, which was based largely on the Ford V8
. Experience with the A and the M1 allowed the GAZ engineers to develop their own model independently of Ford - the GAZ M2. This more upscale model entered production in 1942 and remained in limited wartime production until 1946. The M2’s bodyshell entered limited production in 1941, mounted on a four-wheel drive chassis and sold in small quantities as the GAZ-61 (arguably the world’s first all-wheel drive passenger car).
During World War 2 the GAZ engineers worked to develop an all-new model to enter production once hostilities ended. Dubbed the GAZ-M20 Pobeda (Victory), this affordably-priced sedan featured streamlined, fastback styling, entering production in 1946 and remaining in manufacture until 1958
The company is best known today for the manufacture of the Volga series first developed in the early 1950's. These large luxury vehicles were built to last in the harsh climate and rough roads of the Soviet Union, with high ground clearance, rugged suspension, a strong and forgiving engine, and rustproofing on a scale unheard of in the 1950's.