Rafik Ordyan’s Enduring Odyssey

Minas Kojayan

AZG Armenian Daily


The GT-77 Race Car

Every time I reminisce about blooming Hollywood stars of the past, such
as James Dean, I come face to face with the highly talented artist and
clown who passed away before his prime, circus star of Armenia and the
former Soviet Union, the late Leonid Yengibarian. I also remember an
extraordinary and uniquely gifted young man from my university years
in Armenia, automotive pioneer, inventor and designer Rafik Ordyan.

Rafik would have turned 61 years old this year had the medical
world taken his heart condition more seriously. Having departed from
this world at the tender age of 30, Rafik’s love, determination and
creative talents in the field of automotive design could have earned
him a well-deserved place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

In the 18th century, Rafik’s forefathers emigrated from the city of
Ordubad in the Nakhijevan region to Armenia’s northeastern province
of Tavush and the village of Aygedzor. Young Rafik’s keen interest
in the sciences and creative arts became a driving force in his
persistent efforts to gain knowledge of mechanical engineering in
both the Armenian and Russian languages. In the eighth grade, with
the use of objects found at home, Rafik had already created an FM
radio transmitter in the compact size of a cigarette box.

At the age of 14, upon reading about a hand-crafted model truck in
the Russian-language monthly journal Young Designer, Rafik vows to
create his own model vehicle. Upon graduation from high school, Rafik
is accepted by the cybernetics department of Yerevan’s Polytechnic
University. Prior to his enrollment exams, however, Rafik had already
designed and built his first automobile, and Armenia’s first ever
convertible car.

Rafik was a special student. During his university years, Rafik’s
interest in the field of physics propelled him to dream of defending
his Master of Science thesis in the physics "capital" of the Soviet
Union, the city of Dubna. During his graduating year at the university,
he devotes himself to the initial preparation of a blueprint for his
dream car. Rafik’s hard work and tenacity in building his dream car
comes to fruition six years later.

Rafik the inventor had to start everything from scratch. During the
process of building his famous GT-77 race car, Rafik’s hands as well as
personal connections were put to good use in his quest to find accurate
automotive parts. Despite working for the Transportation Ministry of
the USSR, Rafik spent his non-working hours at the ministry by going
through great lengths to find, inspect, modify, and incorporate correct
and dependable automotive parts for his GT-77. When interviewed,
Rafik stated that he had "one purpose… to create a contemporary and
unique automobile, which would be distinctly different than any other
automobile." Specifically, Rafik incorporated a Skoda 1202 47HP engine
manufactured in Czechoslovakia, and a Moskvich 412 gearbox. In June
1977, all of Yerevan was raving about Rafik Ordyan’s orange GT-77
race car.

August 6, 1977 was a special day in the life of Rafik Ordyan. The
USSR’s Grand Prix was set to begin in Moscow. Over 2000 automobiles
and their drivers, including Rafik and his GT-77, participated in this
event. A number of scholarly journals and publications throughout
the Soviet Union, in addition to prominent scientific institutions,
the Zaporozhets factory in Ukraine and the YERAZ factory (Yerevan
Automotive Factory) in the Kanaker district of Yerevan all expressed
serious interest in Rafik’s creative prowess. The Grand Prix commenced
in Moscow’s Gorky Park, en route 2500 miles to the Black Sea port
of Sevastopol in the Crimea. Among 2000 participants, Rafik Ordyan
became the champion of the Grand Prix, earning several accolades and
worthy attention throughout the Soviet Union, and bringing pride to
his native Armenia. Thanks to Soviet newspapers and television, over
250 million people familiarized themselves with the young Armenian
inventor and his "baby", the GT-77.

Rafik was a rising star with a promising future ahead of him, who would
have brought pride to any nation. Sadly, his life was cut short at
the age of 30, due to a heart condition which could have been properly
treated had he undergone the correct medical procedures. Rafik Ordyan
passed away on May 31, 1979 in Moscow.

The Armenian nation never forgot her native son. Due to the efforts of
Rafik’s friends and admirers, the annual Ordyan Prize was established
in recognition of an inventor who has built the best automobile by
hand. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Rafik’s passing, a
decision was made by the Ordyan family to restore the GT-77 race car,
in addition to publicly exhibiting a collection of Rafik’s photographs,
trophies and medals, letters, and the designs of his automobiles.