Mad Titan - 2004 Dragon Uran
In oligarchy, giant SUV drives you!
For the Western world, the early 1990s were a time of recession, washing away the materialistic excesses of the 1980s. Greed was no longer any good. However, on the other side of the former Iron Curtain, the exact opposite was taking place. At least, for a very small amount of people.
As the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent forced transition to capitalism took down a vast number of former Soviet citizens into poverty and despair, the privatization of state assets saw a few industry insiders accumulate vast amounts of wealth.
And with immense capital, comes the desire for exclusivity, luxury and supreme comfort. Traits which were hard to come by in the ruins of the planned economy, especially in domestically-made vehicles. But one man was willing to provide just that for the newly risen oligarchy. The ultimate in New Russian transportation.
Gennady Hainov (right) with Dmitri Parfenov and their prototype "Laura" sportscars.
Back in the dark days of the early 1980s, it had become a popular pastime for Soviet denizens to construct more aspirational cars based on communist vehicles. As domestic manufacturers were forced to build utilitarian boxes for the proletariat, and imports were blocked, modifying a Lada into something vaguely interesting was the only way to approach a flashy sportscar.
This hobby gained such a following, festivals were held to display these home grown hot rods to the public. Attending such a convention were one Gennady Hainov and his friend Dmitri Parfenov. Inspired, the young students set about creating their own dream cars out of an old abandoned garage, unhindered by any sort of mechanical experience.
In 1982, their dreams rolled out the door and into a mystified world. Using old water pipes, a ZAZ gearbox, Lada 2105 engine and Lada Niva wheels, the pair had created the futuristic "Laura" prototypes. The cars looked like a fusion of a DeLorean and a Renault Fuego, and were apparently built solidly enough to reach 170 kph.
Additionally, they included a sunroof, and multiple buttons on the dashboard, an outrageous feature in any planned economy car. Using these buttons, the driver was even able to calculate basic parameters such as fuel economy and range. The Lauras made their rounds through the Soviet Union's exposition circuit, eventually ending up at the EXPO-85 in Bulgaria.
There, they managed to impress renowned designer Nuccio Bertone, and drew attention from General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev after TV-appearances. Hainov and Parfenov were promptly enlisted in the state vehicle design bureau NAMI, joining a project to create a car for the year 2000.
Ohkta, the car for the year 2000.
The end result, 1987's "Okhta", was decidedly less attractive, appearing as a strange, bulbous seven-seat minivan. After the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, Gennady and Dmitri both left NAMI to start their own companies, with Hainov creating Dragon Motors.
Under the Dragon-banner, he began to create a series of modern-looking SUVs based on the common UAZ-469 military jeep. While prospecting for more surplus 469's to use as donors, he inadvertently bought a damaged UTD-20 multi-fuel diesel engine.
The mighty UTD-20.
This enormous unit had come out of the back of a BMP-1, a common tracked infantry fighting vehicle. Somehow, the 16-liter 120-degree V6 had suffered a cracked block, making for a cheap and easy purchase.
The BMP-1, Uran's engine donor.
After repairing the crankcase, Hainov began to consider what to actually do with it. Considering his burgeoning boutique SUV business, he drew up plans for the ultimate offroader, a true halo car for Dragon Motors. In essence, he would attempt to mold one of his cars around the massive V6.
Design work started in the mid-1990s, with designer Leonid Kononov joining the project in 1998. A year later, a mysterious, yet unnamed, but reportedly extremely wealthy businessman from Moscow learned of the project, and decided to bankroll production of the insane vehicle.
Concept drawing for Uran.
Even with all the money in the world however, building the car was easier said than done. Though naturally aspirated, the UTD-20 produced some 300 horsepower at 2600 rpm, and a titanic 1003 Nm (740 ft lbs) of torque at 1500 rpm.
Besides the grunt, the cast-iron colossus weighed in at 665 kg (1466 lbs). With these parameters set, the vehicle encompassing it had to be both gigantic and extremely tough.
A BTR-60 APC was stripped for its drivetrain.
First order of business was attempting to contain the sheer force produced by the giant V6. To this end, Gennady Hainov sourced a five-speed manual transmission from a ZiL-131 military truck, which was then mated to axles and differentials from the eight-wheeled BTR-60 armored personnel carrier. A custom reduction gear was fitted between the engine and transmission to avoid overwhelming it with torque.
The wheels and transmission were taken from a ZiL-131.
Pneumatic struts from a LiAZ bus were needed to support the vehicle.
In order to support the massive steel ladder chassis necessary to contain all this, pneumatic suspension from a LiAZ city bus was incorporated, supporting a specially designed set of dual wishbones. Power was ultimately transferred to the road by 20" wheels also taken from the ZiL-131.
Further challenges were presented by the wide Vee-angle of the UTD-20, necessitating a very wide engine bay. Furthermore, the inclusion of a large winch at the front left no room for a radiator large enough to cool the multi-fuel behemoth.
Hainov and Kononov drew up an ingenious solution however, mounting four GAZ Volga radiators horizontally beside the engine. Two 120 liter (31 gallon) fuel tanks were fitted to keep the V6's thirst quenched.
With the technical challenges solved for the time being, the focus turned to the car's aesthetics. A superstructure was bolted on top of the ladder frame, providing mounting points for large fiberglass body panels.
The Uran (Russian for Uranus) took the form of an incredibly wide and large station wagon, reminiscent of the long-roofed Hummer H1. Up front, the large bulges on the hood emulated the Lamborghini LM002, but were absolutely necessary to provide space for the UTD-20. Likewise, the big vents in the hood and front fenders were entirely functional, helping release hot air emanating from the oddly-mounted radiators.
The winch took up the space normally reserved for a traditional grille, while large running boards with six integrated sidepipes per side graced the sills of the uber-SUV. The rear reserved space for a full-size spare tire mounted to one of the rear doors. Though good at their job, the rather industrial-looking wheels were dressed up as well, gaining sizable plastic hubcaps simulating six spoke wheels.
Inside, the extravagance continued. The middle of the vehicle was dominated by a large transmission tunnel, with two seats on either side. Further back, a three-person bench seat was installed, bringing total capacity to seven.
The seats and other large pieces of trim like the floor mats and door handles were lifted straight from the W140-generation Mercedes S-Class. The big Merc also donated its sunroof, mounted above the front passengers. A custom-made electric sliding sunroof was provided for the four people in the back.
Cream colored leather, thick carpet and elegant wood trim stretched as far as the eye could see, and blue dials in the dash evoked shades of Maserati. The lavish interior was built around ergonomics tester Wujek Jura, specifically chosen for his large stature at over 2 meters (6'7") tall. If he could be comfortable, anyone could be. A shop in St. Petersburg was commissioned to finish the interior, to the tune of 7000 dollars.
However, the center console quickly reminded the occupants of the agricultural nature of the Uran. A second lever protruding from the center console would look very odd to the average luxury car buyer, but in the Uran it was absolutely necessary to control the weapons-grade four wheel drive system.
Work on Uran was very slow.
Progress on Uran was slow, as disagreements with the owner of the shop where the car was being built forced Hainov's mechanics to tow it to a new location near St. Petersburg. Along with this delay, many elements of its design had to be reworked several times.
At one point, the team fitted extremely powerful lights taken from a light aircraft. Unfortunately, the lights proved rather dangerous. Being airplane lights, they had been designed with air-cooling in mind.
However, since Uran spent too much time at low speeds, they were in danger of overheating and setting the fiberglass bodywork alight. A set of readily available Hella lights was then fitted instead.
Uran was finally completed in 2004, but the elusive businessman from Moscow refused to take delivery of the hulking mini-tank. Reportedly, he had become a prominent politician, serving in the State Duma. Given his new status as a public servant, he feared rocking up to a meeting in a small peninsula would raise more than a few eyebrows.
As a result of his fears, the Uran was left dormant in Gennady Hainov's shop for over a decade. In 2015, the mysterious customer finally took delivery of the ostentatious machine. Having retired from office, he felt comfortable enough to take ownership of it.
But in a cruel twist of fate, Russia's motoring law had apparently changed so much over time, it had become impossible to register Uran for road use. As a result, the car was confined to a dusty garage on the outskirts of Moscow.
Gennady Hainov next to Uran.
Uran has supposedly been restored to working condition, but remains illegal to use on public roads. The big bruiser has not been seen since, making it likely it's sitting idle in the same storage facility.
Unfortunately, Gennady Chainov was never able to see his life's work fulfilling its purpose, as he passed away in September of 2019, aged just 59. One can only hope his pride and joy will be rescued from its isolation, gain registration, and humble the motoring world with its dramatic presence.