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Yuri Gagarin's cars: from a personalized Rolls-Royce to an official "cosmobus" LAZ-695B Lviv

Photo: author's archive

Photo: author's archive

Yuri Gagarin's cars: from Rolls-Royce to service "cosmobus" LAZ-695B Lviv

"He said: "Off we go!": 5 most striking cars of the first cosmonaut.

Yuri Gagarin was the first to make the dream of all mankind come true, flying around the globe. The return made him the most famous person in 1961. Everyone wanted to see the first cosmonaut everywhere, despite the height of the Cold War. Having taken a ride on the best cars of that time—Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Buick, Lincoln, and Citroen, he got even more "sick" with cars. And although at the time of the flight he did not have a driving license, Gagarin soon got one (it would be more difficult to pilot a spacecraft) and became a passionate motorist.


LAZ-695B Lviv

After the establishment of the Cosmonaut Training Center on January 1, 1960, the question of... the cosmonauts logistics became critical. For the procedure for putting on the spacesuits and checking their performance, a special laboratory was required that could not be located near pad No 1, where the launch facilities for the launch vehicle were located. And not a single Soviet car was suitable for transferring the astronauts dressed in bulky and sweaty spacesuits.

To solve this problem, the Air Force CTC appealed to the Lviv Bus Plant—at that time the Lviv bus industry was the most advanced in the entire USSR. And, which is important in a planned economy, it was much more flexible than other enterprises in that field. In May 1961, after acceptance by a special state commission, the "cosmobus" was delivered to Baikonur.


It looked like an ordinary LAZ-695B, but with a thoroughly redesigned interior, a pair of powerful fans and a double circuit of the on-board electrical network. All standard seats on the left side were replaced by luxury chairs for accompanying persons. On the right, within the base, at some quite a distance from each other, two special cradles for astronauts were installed. An additional electrical network was intended for sockets through which ventilation for spacesuits was connected, plus special equipment: facilities for radio communications, filming, and medical diagnostics. Since the bus was intended for operation in the Kazakh steppe, Lviv residents paid special attention to the tightness of the cabin.

It was this LAZ-695B Lviv that brought Yuri Gagarin to the launch pad of the Vostok launch vehicle on April 12, 1961, and for the first time got into the newsreel footage. In this newsreel it would regularly appear until 1968, when LAZ built a special transport for the three-seater Soyuz spacecraft, designed for 6 cosmonauts at once.



After a 108-minute flight, Gagarin landed in the Saratov region and was taken by plane to Vnukovo airport. One of the three assembled ceremonial convertibles ZIL-111V was waiting for him in the government terminal. And accompanied by the former mayor of Kyiv Nikita Khrushchev and an escort of motorcyclists on the KMZ-750 Dnepr, the first cosmonaut set off on his unprecedented test drive of the best cars in the world. Over the next two years, Gagarin had to fly around the globe many times, but not in a spaceship.



Less than a month after the flight, he managed to visit Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Finland, and Great Britain. However, in the latter case, it was not an official invitation, but a "friendly visit"—the astronaut was called to the homeland of Shakespeare... by the foundry union. This put the official London, which was in very cold relations with the USSR, in a very delicate position. Nevertheless, the proletarians accepted Gagarin on the highest level—took him for a ride on the newest Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II convertible with "personalized" numbers YG1 (Yuri Gagarin 1). And despite the typically English weather, the astronaut never asked to raise the tent. The point is, three days before the visit, the Daily Mirror had published the schedule of his arrival. And the British lined up in a 20-kilometer living corridor from the airport to London.

Subsequently, it turned out that Rolls-Royce was assembled by an individual order for the American businessman J. Franklin, who hated the USSR, and the numbers were borrowed from the local singer Yana Gard.


In 2000, a fit old man with a cardboard folder full of most fascinating photographs came to the editorial office of the Kyiv magazine Signal, where I began my journalistic career. In one of these photos he was driving Gagarin in GAZ-69. It turned out that, being the Head of the traffic police of the Chernihiv region, Serhii Koniushkover ensured order during the cosmonaut's visit to the "partisan land".

The program of the visit involved driving in an open car along the stadium's treadmills, but Gagarin arrived in a closed Volga. Koniushkover was given 15 minutes to solve the problem. Fortunately, a suitable car was parked outside the stadium. The doors were open, the keys from the service bus fitted, but the tent did not want to be removed in any way ... It turned out that it was the transport of the Chairman of the regional radio committee, Kateryna Sokolova, who never found the catch until the "car thief in the position of the Head of the traffic police" himself told her how he had driven Gagarin in a car stolen from her.


GAZ-21 Volga

The first personal car of the cosmonaut was the black GAZ-21 (license plate 78-78 MOD), on which he spent his "space" salary—15,000 rubles. When the Gorky automakers found out who the car was intended for, they chromed all the details of the exterior decor (up to the edging of the windows), and the interior was finished with materials of the sky-blue range that were intended for export versions for the capitalist countries markets. But during Gagarin's official visit to GAZ, they literally had to blush—when, after the speech, one of the workers asked how Volga was doing, Gagarin admitted about frequent breakdowns. It turned out that, in addition to flaws in the engine assembly, the rear axle of the sedan was incorrectly fixed.


Matra-Bonnet Jet VS

There were five cars in Gagarin's garage in total. After the space flight, he was first allocated a service GAZ-69 with a driver, then the nomenclature GAZ-13 Chaika. Then, taking turns, there were personal GAZ-21 Volga.

When on trips abroad, the cosmonaut was keenly interested in the cars he was driven in. And sometimes he managed to have a ride—who can refuse the astronaut? Thus, he was delighted with the front-wheel drive Citroen DS with hydropneumatic suspension. But American cars—Buick, Chevroletб and Lincoln (he rode them in Cuba)—only impressed him with their "wingspan". It became clear that technical solutions interested him much more than style and dimensions.

In Paris, at the aerospace show, his attention was drawn to the compact coupe Matra-Bonnet Jet VS—a by-product of the aerospace concern Mechanique-Aviation-Traction. Pictures with the "celestial pioneer", carefully examining the sports car, immediately scattered around the world. And the French—the main allies of the USSR among the capitalist countries of Europe—made the only right decision. After consulting with Soviet diplomats, after the end of the exhibition, they sent the car to Moscow.


When Gagarin returned home, he was invited to the French Embassy and, accompanied by ovation from journalists and diplomatic officials, was given the keys to the platinum-gray pearlescent coupe. Gagarin was happy. Firstly, all previous attempts to present him a car (there were at least four of them) ended in nothing; secondly, the Matra-Bonnet Jet VS was the most unique gift possible. How outstanding was the manufacturer, and the design was completely authentic. Due to aerospace technologies for processing steel, baking fiberglass panels and blowing in a wind tunnel, the coupe weighed only 600 kg, and the modest 1.1-liter 95-horsepower motor accelerated it to 200 km/h.

And everything would be fine if not for the Ыecretary of the CPSU Central Committee Mikhail Suslov. The main ideologist of the Communist Party was enraged by the photo of the cosmonaut in the Yugoslav magazine, signed "At the aerospace exhibition, Gagarin was more interested in cars." "I replied to Suslov that I was familiar with the content of the article, and the article was libelous," wrote Nikolai Kamanin, Head of the first cosmonaut corps, in his memoirs. "The French presented Gagarin a racing car, knowing that he is fond of fast driving. Ministers Dementyev and Smirnov and our Ambassador to Paris Zorin advised to accept the gift from the French." As a result, the cosmonaut was seen driving a sports car only twice.


LAZ-695B Lviv

One Lviv bus brought Gagarin to his first space flight, the other—to his very last. However, it was not a unique "cosmobus", but an ordinary "crew bus" serving the staff of Star City. On March 27, 1968, when the bus was approaching the airfield, the first cosmonaut discovered that he had forgotten his pass at home. He had to, in spite of the omen, return. Three hours later, the plane MIG-15, piloted by Hero of the Soviet Union Yuri Gagarin, crashed under unexplained circumstances.

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