Why the Soviets Built a Knockoff Packard Limo With Train Wheels

Nothing says traveling in style like fitting the finest of 1950s Soviet luxury cars with train wheels. Does it get any better than this?

byJames Gilboy| PUBLISHED Dec 23, 2022 4:00 PM
Why the Soviets Built a Knockoff Packard Limo With Train Wheels
John Cosford, used with permission
Share

The USSR was a strange place where people built strange things, like a diesel locomotive on mud tires. That train of thought—pun intended—apparently went both ways, as one Soviet state turned one of the USSR's rare domestic luxury cars into what has to be one of the least practical (but most stylish) rail vehicles of all time.

This strange, one-off train car was based on a GAZ-13 Chaika, or seagull; a luxury sedan that Russian outlet Quto says was inspired by midcentury American luxo-barges. Its styling echoes late-1950s Packards, while its drivetrain reportedly took inspiration from Chrysler, with a push-button three-speed automatic and a 5.5-liter V8. Though it was all aluminum, it wasn't exactly cutting-edge—output was reportedly just 195 horsepower and 302 pound-feet of torque. Not bad for a '50s motor engineered behind the Iron Curtain, but nothing groundbreaking.

GAZ-13 Chaika in a museum. János Tamás, CC BY 2.0

The rest of the car was similarly quaint, and less derivative of American cars to boot. It measured nearly as long as a 2022 Chevy Suburban, allowing it to seat seven in three rows of bench seats. It was built on an unusual, X-shaped chassis, and is noted for being the first Soviet car to use tubeless tires. As you can imagine, a car this opulent wasn't accessible to most Soviet citizens, and only 3,179 were built. Many were reserved for state use, though Chaikas were reportedly popular to rent for weddings.

One beneficiary of this exclusivity was Soviet Hungary's prime minister, Jenő Fock, who used a Chaika as his official car until 1972 according to Europabahnen. After its retirement, it was sold in 1973 to the Hungarian state railway, MÁV, which removed its steering wheel and fit it with train axles. While it may have been the ideal short-distance VIP shuttle, its actual use was more pedestrian—Flickr photographer John Cosford indicates it was used for track inspection, which might make it the coolest rail survey vehicle of all time. (No hard feelings, Fiat 500 Motocarrello.)

How long the Chaika Chaika Choo Choo served MÁV isn't clear, but we know for certain what fate it met. Instead of being scrapped like some historically important rail vehicles, it was preserved in Budapest at the Hungarian Railway Museum, where guests are sometimes offered rides in it. It's only a 15-minute drive from where Hungary hosts its Formula 1 race, too, so it's a worthwhile detour if you visit for the Grand Prix. It might even be the most exciting part of your weekend if Max Verstappen is still dominating next year.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com