This post, like my earlier write up on the fantastic line up from Grell, will introduce you to another series of interesting diecasts from the former Eastern Bloc. This time we’re visiting Russia with Autogrand Russian Series and the sister line from Welly of the same name.
This Autogrand series is one I stumbled upon in Budapest, Hungary a couple of years ago. When I am abroad my diecast hunting doesn’t stop, it just takes on another dimension. I try and fish out anything diecast made in the country I am visiting, or a model that represents my trip. Or it could be a vehicle that is quintessentially of the area, for example a Trabant in Berlin, a VAZ Zhiguli in Kiev, a Toyota pick up on a Greek island.
In Budapest I was a little bit in heaven. One of the first vehicles I saw stepping off the bus near to our hotel was a battered khaki green UAZ-469, canvas roof folded down, cutting through traffic. On the 2 minute walk to the hotel I stopped to admire a Lada Kombi, an old Suzuki Alto and a Daweoo Tico, a tiny box city car that is very popular in Central Europe. The traffic was a wonderful blend of modern and old, east and west. 90s Alfa Romeos shared streets with Ikarus trolley buses. I took lots of photos and filled an album of my car spotting on Facebook. And yes, my partner is a very patient woman and I love her dearly.
I found a few local toy and model stores to visit and in the basement section of one found a small stand tucked away in a corner full of unfamiliar boxes. Funny that in the first box I saw was an UAZ Hunter, the updated and almost identical version of the 469, in Khaki. Yep that’s coming home with me. Oh and there’s a Lada Niva?! Yeah that too. Oh it comes in another livery? What’s our baggage allowance? What’s this line of treasure I have discovered? Autogrand? Auto who?
Autogrand. A Russian manufacturer with a bright website (featuring a busy collectors forum) and a catalogue of everything from Soviet era trucks to US Muscle cars, covering a number of scales. The smaller scale Russian collection (from what I can tell using Google Translate) appears to have been released in two batches. The cars in this post are from the first batch, covering an array of modern and Soviet era vehicles in a mix of civilian and working liveries; taxis, fire service, Ministry of Emergencies etc. The second batch released last year introduced current era Russian vehicles like the UAZ Patriot and Lada Vesta. The quality of Autogrand diecast can vary from decent diecasts to rather basic and garish toys aimed squarely at children. But the Russian Series is nicely finished and the subjects are so unique that they’re definitely worth a look.
There’s also a crossover, as it appears Welly have been sharing the tooling on a few of these models and subsequently some of the Autogrand vehicles can be found (albeit with a few slight differences) stamped and packaged with the Welly logo as part of their own Russian Series. Given that both lines are pretty much one and the same, it seems only right to cover them both here.
We’ll start where I did back in Budapest with Autogrand’s take on the UAZ Hunter, the latest version of the 469. The 469 family has been in almost continual production in one form or another since 1971 and has been exported to over 80 countries, serving with the armies of over 50 of those nations. The versions I have in my collection are both civilian versions and are nicely detailed. Even the underside and chassis detail has been well done with driveshafts, differentials and exhaust replicated. The khaki one is the very car I first picked up in Budapest and I am still very glad I found it. Finding the Autogrand brand allowed me to further indulge my love of obscure vehicles and diecast.
And then we get to the Lada 4×4, better known under it’s former name Niva. This rugged and simple off roader has been modernised a few times but it’s basically the same vehicle that was released back in 1977. The Niva was designed for the villagers and farmers of the Soviet Union but thanks to a combination of brilliant off road ability and mechanical reliability, became an export success. It was the first Soviet car ever sold in Japan (where it is said it inspired Suzuki’s Samurai) and took 40% of Europe’s 4WD market when the export version was launched in 1978. Over 2 million have been made with well over 500,000 exports.
The Autogrand versions I have in my collection are the brilliant Russian Police variant and a slightly implausible SPETSNAZ paratroop military livery. There are Welly versions that have started appearing recently with different wheels and liveries and I’m keen to get my hands on one.
Another Soviet legend to feature in this line is the VAZ 2106 Zhiguli, known in the West as a Lada 2106. The 2106 was one of the most popular Lada vehicles and was in production for 30 years from 1976 to 2006. The 2106 was hugely popular in the Soviet Union thanks to it’s comfort and simple functionality. Export models found favour with cost conscious motorists and sales were truly global, with cars appearing everywhere from South America via Africa, Europe and the Far East to New Zealand.
The 2106 I have is slightly altered with a wheel swap, and was slighty worried about putting it in this feature incase my alterations divert attention away from the original casting. But I feel as the only thing I have changed is the wheels, the clean lines and detail of the casting are still clear. It’s furnished with detail; headlights, chrome trim and door handles. Even the Cyrillic Zhiguli badge is faithfully reproduced. And yes that’s a real Zhiguli badge in the background.
Another Autogrand car in my collection is the GAZ-13 Chaika (English: ‘Gull’). An extraordinary looking vehicle built for heads of state, party dignitaries and the KGB (although normal citizens could hire them for weddings), the Chaika debuted in 1958 and is powered by a 195bhp 5.5 litre V8. Several variants were made: an open topped version for special parades, a folding electrohydraulic hard top variant and an estate wagon for use as a hearse or indeed conversion to an ambulance. Famous Chaika users included Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev. Their looks are often compared to equivalent era US cars Packards and Chryslers etc but whether you believe there is plagiarism or not there is no doubt the Chaika is a brilliant looking car.
The Chaika as modelled by Autogrand is very nicely done. They’re large vehicles in the flesh so this one is shrunk down a tad to fit in the series; the scale is listed on the box as 1/72. To cut costs wheels have been shared with larger vehicles so they’re a little out of proportion to the casting but it’s still such a unique and well finished vehicle to have in your collection. There’s a surprising level of intricacy in it; the lettering across the bootlid, the head and tail lights. Autogrand have even chose to put a dab of red paint on the front and rear to replicate the distinctive GAZ stag logo.
The Chaika is also available with Welly branding which transitions us on nicely to the 2 Welly branded Russian Series cars I own: the GAZ Volga 31105 and the Lada 110.
The GAZ Volga is almost a permanent fixture on the roads of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries and the 31105 was the last version to be made, on sale from 2004 to 2009. The Welly version is simple and unfussy, a bit like the real thing. White is perhaps not the best colour for this casting, and mine came with factory paint errors on the roof but like the rest of Welly’s cars it was so low cost I couldn’t say no. Cars in both brands Russian Series can be found for as little as €3 – €5. I can’t put my finger on why, but the 31105 is one of my favourite Welly cars.
And so is this, the Lada 110. This I bought back from Ukraine after most of my trip was awash with these things.
Incredibly the 110 was originally designed with some help from Porsche engineers, and was in production for nearly 20 years. It’s a cool diecast and a great way to end this post. While they may not produce the most desirable of subjects with these lines, both Welly and Autogrand have produced neat and unique castings of some real bread and butter Eastern European vechicles. There’s no supercars or, Chaika aside perhaps, glitz and glamour. Just normal vehicles that can be seen in the streets in Kiev, Moscow, Sofia, Bucharest etc. They’re different, a welcome break from the JDM, US Muscle and supercar crowds. Nobody else produces cars like the Chaika and Hunter in this size and that’s got to be worth something. A solid line to add variety to your collection, and one that I’ll continue to visit myself.