Of all the weird automotive encounters Tokyo has engineered over this eventful year, this was quite an unexpected pleasure, Mr Bond. Here is a true Brezhnev-era relic, painted in Radium green and probably able to run on straight vodka – shaken, not stirred. Good thing I had my gloves on.
Why was I wearing gloves? It’s not that cold in Tokyo, compared to many places; just a little nippy (har har). December’s funny like that. I’m still getting adjusted to winter temperatures, after having spent the better part of a decade in balmy Southeast Asia. The UAZ though, being a Russian native, can handle a winter offensive better than anyone.
This Cold Warrior was not easy to photograph, despite my best intentions and spy tactics. There was just no way to get a rear shot of the beast, for instance. Which is a pity, as that was probably the angle that had most changes made over the years. That taillight, for instance, doesn’t look like it belongs in that housing.
Quick history of the UAZ-469, just to get our bearings strait. UAZ (a.k.a the Ulyanovsk Automobile Factory, located about 700km east of Moscow, on the west bank of the Volga) was established in 1941 when truckmaker ZIS were forced to relocate away from the advancing German armies. UAZ initially only assembled other designs (ZIS and GAZ), but eventually developed their own design, the famous UAZ-450/451/452 transporter, by the mid-‘50s.
The need for a Land Rover-like vehicle to replace the GAZ-69 was then addressed. Regular production of the UAZ-469 only got going in 1972, but the design was gestating since 1960 at least, under the worknumber 460, hence why the finished product looked dated even back in the ‘70s.
The UAZ-469 and its civilian hardtop variant 469B filled a very real need for a sturdy and affordable car-sized 4×4 made for COMECON countries – a veritable Soviet Utility Vehicle, if you will. A myriad of versions, both for military and civilian use, were made. It seems the folks at UAZ were aware that their latest creation seemed a bit behind the times. They proposed a number of modernized designs for the 469, but as was usual in the Soviet automotive world, this came to naught.
A fashionably angular re-bodied version, the UAZ-3171 (above), was also created, but never attained the original design’s enduring popularity. Even after the Iron Curtain came down, the nimble UAZ-469 (renumbered as the UAZ-3151 in 1985) stayed on its wheels. The old UMZ 71hp 2.5 litre 4-cyl. was soon replaced by a Peugeot Diesel, though some even got Italian stallions in the form of a 100hp VM turbodiesel, or even a 2-litre Fiat mill.
Is the sun is setting on the 469? It’s not entirely clear yet. Branded as the “XAHTEP” (that’s “Hunter” in Cyrillic) since 2003, the old warrior is still currently available with a choice of a 135hp 2.7 litre petrol 4-cyl. or a 114hp 2.2 litre Diesel mated to a 5-speed. Now that’s what I call giving power to the people! The power rating for the petrol engine seems higher in the 2020 brochure than it used to be in previous years, but it’s unclear why exactly.
Early model Hunters were saddled with sad plastic bumpers, but UAZ went back to the metal kind after a while, thankfully restoring that classic look. Fuel consumption (according to that 2020 brochure again) is 13.2 l/100km (17.8mpg), so one needs to have the means to quench this Cossack’s thirst. It takes quite a lot of money to drive this cheap.
I was not able to access the far side of the vehicle to take a photo of this tank’s commander’s chair, sorry to say. I was a bit distracted by the fact that there was a sticker on the window in Russian with a toll-free (or just a few rubles, surely) hotline number for any “assistance” required from UAZ. Maybe if you dial it you get a coded message, like a numbers station.
It was possible to photograph the rest of the cabin, though. The rear seat looks about as inviting as a Lubyanka basement room – and some of those had better padding than UAZ bothered with here, even. Luxury is definitely not the name of the game.
Here’s the dash that I never managed to capture, be it on microfilm or otherwise, from the 2017 brochure. Now that has changed a bit since 1972, though not fundamentally. The exterior of the 469 might look relatively untouched, but everything else has been updated – or taken over by capitalist fifth columnists, depending on your point of view.
What’s even more symbolic of the 469’s descent into bourgeois decadence is the presence of disc brakes on the front wheels. But not even that can stop the UAZ in its revolutionary zeal (ZIL?) to climb every mountain, ford every stream and conquer every Tokyo garage.
I guess UAZ probably didn’t figure the 469 would make it to the end of its fifth decade, hence the “45th anniverdary” jubilee edition. Because really, who would celebrate that? A recent press release signaled that a Czech company was developing an all-electric version of the Hunter for release in 2021, so the UAZ-469 might actually celebrate its 50th birthday, in an ionic twist.
It looks like the peculiar green, paired with the white roof, that this 469 sports is part of the Jubilee Edition’s overall package. Aside from that and the badges, it’s unclear what else said package includes, if anything. A thermos full of borscht?
These are apparently still assembled in Azerbaijan, Cuba, Sudan, Ukraine and Vietnam, though the main source is still Russia. I’m very happy to have chanced upon this comradely contraption from the city of Lenin; it makes for a nice cap on this otherwise peculiar year. I hope to continue writing many more posts in 2021 (I certainly have a lot of goodies in store), but I might have to slow things down over the holidays. Ah, 2020 in Tokyo – what a very strange and occasionally wonderful experience that UAZ…