Wes Siler has a great article about the sidecars on the motorcycles used in the Opening Ceremonies. But what of the cars? All Ladas? Hardly!
So what were they?
Well, the first should be obvious.
It's the GAZ-M13 Chaika limousine, reserved for party officials, KGB, VIPs, etc. Your average Soviet citizen would never, ever find themselves in a Chaika, ever.
Quite a beauty, isn't it? It featured a 5.5L 195hp V8, a fully automatic transmission, and managed 100 mph. They built it from 1959 until 1981. 1981!
The next cars are harder to identify, and I apologize for my screen shots — I was watching online from many thousands of miles away.
The black car is a GAZ-21 Volga, which is often called Russia's Most Beloved Car. And it is. These things are treated with a deep reverence by people with even a passing interest in cars.
They were built from 1956 until 1970, featured a 2.4L 4-cyl, and topped out at about 130 km/h (81mph). They were easily the nicest cars the average Soviet citizen could own.
The car on the right of the terrible screen grab above is, I believe, a Moskvich 407.
It's hard to tell, but if it is, well, it had a wheezy little 1.4L 4-cyl churning out a Beetle-besting 45hp, making it good for 115 km/h. They built these little buggers for a relatively short period as far as Soviet models go, 1958 to 1964 (1956 if you include the very closely related Moskvich 402, which had a smaller, less powerful engine).
Our third set of cars comes in with two recognizable models:
On the left, the updated GAZ-24 Volga. I haven't seen a shot of the front of this car, but I'm willing to bet money that it's a 1st or 2nd series (not the 3rd series) car, built before 1985.
This was an extremely popular car and pretty robust — you still see a lot of them on Russia's roads. They were very nice and pretty comparable in comfort to nice Western cars of the day. They'd probably hold their own against some of the less powerful offerings from Western Europe, but they couldn't hold a candle to American gas guzzlers, since it had a little 2.4L making 95hp. There was a V8 model with the same 5.5L from the Chaika, but only the KGB got their hands on those.
The other car is what I'd call "Russia's Buick Century." Based on the Fiat 124 (like all of the other small Russian sedans from 1970-ish to, well, you can still buy a new car based on the 124), the VAZ-2103 and VAZ-2106 "Zhiguli" had a 1.5L or 1.6L, making either 78 or 75hp, good for getting this chromed beauty up to 15o+ km/h (almost hitting 100mph).
They featured more chrome and nicer interiors (Buick Century), but were still based on the Fiat 124 (Chevy Celebrity). You could, if you were lucky, get one from 1972 to 2001.
The next shot showed several models.
The VAZ-2103/6 is on the lower left, and the GAZ-24 Volga is on the upper right. That leaves the little black car and larger grey car.
The little black (edit: it's green) car is definitely the VAZ-2101, the classic 124-based Lada that we all know and love. This was also the only car last night that carried the Lada name.
It was built from 1970 until 1988 and featured either a 1.2L or a 1.3L, with 58hp or 63hp, respectively. They were good for 140 km/h, but took their sweet time getting there. These are not terribly abundant these days, but I'm starting to see people really take care of them and some attempts at restoration and preservation. I'm pleased, too, because as far as Soviet cars go, this one is one of my favorites.
The grey car, I think, is another GAZ-21 Volga. It's more obvious in this last screen grab.
Unfortunately, in this shot, there's a guy walking in front of the bumper so I can't be entirely sure. So I'll go with my gut and focus instead on the big yellow car.
This is a GAZ-M20 Pobeda (Victory), built from 1946 to 1958.
They had 2.1L 4-cyl engines putting out over 50hp. That kind of power got them to 105 km/h, which isn't too shabby. Over 14,000 of the nearly 236k they built were cabrios.
The two little cars are ZAZ-965 "Zaporozhets" — or at least the shells of some Zaps. They were tiny, tiny little cars built in the Ukraine. They featured a 0.7L, later a 0.9L engine, with 26-30hp. Good for about 80 km/h, which probably felt a lot faster than 50 mph.
You may remember this little car from its big screen role in Goldeneye. They were produced from 1960-1969.
So there we have it. There was only one true Lada — the VAZ-2101 — in the Opening Ceremony, despite what NBC's commentary implied. The other cars were other examples of the Soviet Union's rather rich automotive heritage.
And if anyone has clearer screenshots or better ideas of what these cars may be, please let me know. As I said, I didn't get very clear screenshots, but I did my best.
Edit: You guys are EAGLE-EYED. I was way off on the "Zhiguli" — it is definitely a Moskvich 408/412. I'm not aware of any differences between the two externally, and I think they both made the same power. But it most definitely had fins, and the
Buick Zhiguli did not. Thank you Moskvitchfan, Towman, and TF04 for spotting those tail fins.
For more information on the automobile in Russian and Soviet culture, I recommend Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile by Lewis Siegelbaum, a professor at Michigan State.