- GAZ-69 - Credit: Wikipedia

Discovering the Soviet-era indestructible offroader

An army offroader for the civilian customers

This one was recently chasing Indiana Jones

Yes, a Soviet car made it into Hollywood in one of the worst CGI-heavy car chases in the cinema history. Yet it's not what GAZ-69 is famous for. The development process started in 1946 and the first prototypes known under the name "Truzhenik" (Toiler) were built in 1947. The chief designer Grigoriy Vasserman was intending to build a replacement for the GAZ-67B (a shameless Soviet copy of the Wyllis Jeep) to be mass produced and sold to regular customers. The priorities were lower fuel consumption and better behaviour on an actual surfaced road. But the Soviet state's objective was that the car should be built with full military specs and if a war erupted, the owners had to be able to provide support to the military.

The 2.1 L Dodge-based engine. Credit: Milweb

The 2.1 L Dodge-based engine. Credit: Milweb

A decadent capitalist engine inside

You would think that since it took 7 years to develop, the GAZ-69 would've used some state-of-the-art Soviet made engine . . and you'd be horribly wrong. The 2.1 L straight-four petrol enigne was based on a classic Dodge engine from 1935, of which the blueprints were purchased for $20 000. The same engine was used in the GAZ-M20 Pobeda saloon earlier. Two power options were available - one that wasn't capable of hitting 100 kph at all (55 hp) and another that was (65 hp) . . but only as a claimed top speed. Three speed manual gearbox with low-range was in charge of that power, driving all four wheels. Interestingly, even though it was a civilian version, it got two fuel tanks - one of 47 litres under the floor, one of 28 litres beneath the passenger's seat. Being an army vehicle for the road, the 69 was very capable off the road with great angles of approach and departure, making it an ideal vehicle for the avid hunters in the vast Soviet steppes. It was also utilised as a farm equipment, replacing the horses for pulling the plough in the field.

The interior of GAZ-69 - Credit: Milweb

The interior of GAZ-69 - Credit: Milweb

The first European indestructible

No, seriously, it is! It was built between 1953 and 1972 (in Romania as ARO - until 1975) with more than 600 000 vehicles produced, mostly by UAZ, who took over the production from GAZ in 1956. A lot of those 69s are still on and off the road, more than 50 years after the production started. Being a military-grade offroader, it was built to be reliable and require next to no maintenance. As for spare parts to keep it going, this is where UAZ shines. When they took over production, the engineers were so impressed with the qualities of the GAZ-69, they've used it as a platform for quite a lot of things - UAZ-450/452, UAZ-469, 2P26 tank destroyer, GAZ 46 MAV 4x4 amphibious vehicle, just to mention some. It was a proper influencer! As for where are the remaining GAZ-69 now, several examples are currently having a well-deserved rest at different museums around the world, including the Museum of Transportation in western St. Louis County, Missouri, United States, and the Fort aan den Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands. But a lot of them are still on the road! Confirmed sightings with photos as of 2020 were made in: Bulgaria, Czech Republic (or just Czechia these days), Germany, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Syria. They are starting to finally get rare though. If you spot one on the road, don't forget to snap a photo and post it here.

Truck Garage GAZ-69 modification - Credit: Kolesa

Truck Garage GAZ-69 modification - Credit: Kolesa

Update: getting the 21st century Western treatment

A Soviet-era army offroader getting Americanised in present-day Russia. Sounds ridiculous, right?! Well, that's not what the Russian tuning company "Truck Garage" thinks. Around 5 years ago they've bought 12 examples of GAZ-69 and started extensive tuning program. Replacing the feeble 2.1 L engine with a HEMI V8 was their very first step, either 5.7, 6.1 or 6.4 litre American muscle, the most powerful one pumping 465 hp. The 3-speed manuals were replaced with the appropriate automatic, the brakes are now disks on all four corners, but it's not a soft-roader in any sense of the word. TeraFlex offroad parts and special purpose coilovers were also installed, along with 17 inch alloy wheels and 35 inch offroad tyres. So the potential to drive it into the vast Russian wilderness is still there. The interior was also completely overhauled and the 60s looking basic radio can now sync over Bluetooth with your smartphone to play your favourite tunes. Prices in 2015 were around $53 500 which is around 4 times more than a GAZ-69 today that haven't been restored.

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Comments (2)

  • Great article! Back in late 70's/early 80's their later version, UAZ-469 and Volga M-24 were sold in Europe with a degree of success. Although, they were different to Soviet cars. They were shipped to Belgium, half-built and without engine and transmission. There final assembly took place and 2.5 litre Peugeot diesel and 4-speed transmission was installed.

      13 days ago
    • Indeed, they were using Western engines in their export models. But they were doing it for the wrong reasons. Not because they were better (duh, obviously), but because it was cheaper. Which reminded me - I don't know what was the engine in...

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        13 days ago
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