GAZ-51 AF-51 “Sour Cream”

By John-William Greenbaum

The GAZ-51 AF-51 Furgon was used to haul sour cream! Presumably, something had to be used for it in the mid sixties Soviet Union, and this was as good a truck as any. But we really don’t know much about the AF-51, though the GAZ-51 itself is extremely well-documented. We know that there were probably eight of them made, that they all went to the dairy industry, that the roof could be raised on four poles, that the rear doors opened somewhat uniquely, and that’s about it. Why did what amount to a drop-side van go exclusively to the Soviet dairy industry? We don’t know.

The result of mixing a Dodge, an Opel Blitz or perhaps a Borgward B3000, and a Studebaker, the GAZ-51A was the Soviet Union’s first post-WWII truck design, if one doesn’t count the very similar, original GAZ-51. Perhaps because it mixed all those western designs, it’s generally looked back as the USSR’s most successful truck design as well. The successor GAZ-51A somehow managed to remain in production until 1975. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The original GAZ-51 was actually designed in 1944 with numerous Studebaker parts, although a prototype with domestic parts wasn’t assembled until 1945 due to World War II going on (and probably because the Soviets wanted to figure out how to copy Studebaker). It’s a true shame no one has modeled the second prototype of the original GAZ-51, in particular, which somehow used Dodge components that I can’t completely identify, a Studebaker cab and grille and probably more, and what seem to be engine components from the Opel Blitz or Borgward B3000.

This 1/43 model is a rather peculiar modification from 1964 called the AF-51, built in Leningrad. The wooden cargo bed has been built up into a box and repainted, featuring a removable top and two side-swinging rear doors for quick loading. For reasons unknown to me, it only seems to have been used in the transportation of dairy products, with this one being known from several photographs and oddly transporting sour cream. Given that it wasn’t insulated, one wonders why. Very little seems to be known about the AF-51, in fact, other than the “AF” stands for “Avtofurgon” (“Van”) and the vehicle’s officially-issued description calls it a “panel van with horizontally-lifting roof”. Why this would be applied exclusively to dairy vehicles is unknown.

The GAZ-51A actually handled very well, with Studebaker-copied steering gear making the truck pretty easy to steer. The up-sized Dodge suspension also made the ride relatively comfortable, though the seats themselves felt “like park benches” according to a friend who actually sat in the cab of one of these trucks. Finally, the archaic engine design was at least pretty reliable if maintained properly, though below the reliability standards of the American trucks it was stylistically copied off of. The GAZ-51A’s main problems were basically lack of power and a very wide turn radius for its size, but considering how terrible some of the other Soviet vehicles of the time were, the GAZ-51A got few complaints.

Indeed, it became the gold standard for how a Soviet truck performed well into the 1970’s, despite having what amounted to a late ’30’s Chrysler Straight Six as an engine. In multiple polls taken by both Soviet and Russian automotive magazines alike, the GAZ-51 and GAZ-51A were usually named as both the most recognizable and most successful Soviet truck of the post-WWII era, with many polls even showing the GAZ-51-series surpassing the WWII GAZ-MM and ZIS-5V in popularity. It was far from a great truck, but at least it was solid and got the job done that was asked of it. As far as the AF-51 modification goes, none exist, and even littler information seems to exist about them. It seems likely that eight were ordered, but that’s about all we know.

GAZ-51 AF-51 Furgon “Sour Cream”, USSR
Model by DiP Models
Figure by Plasticville, painted by the author's Father
-Years Built: 1964-?
-Engine: 70 HP 6-cylinder four-stroke
-Fuel Type: Gasoline
-Top Speed: 56 mph

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