In praise of….the UAZ

26 Aug

During my time in Mongolia recently, I kept spotting these old Soviet vans dotted around the place. They looked ancient, such as you’d see in a documentary of 1960s Berlin, and yet this was the go-to vehicle for the police, the ambulance service and, of course, the tourists being constantly ferried to and from The Mongolian Wilderness.

Well, it turns out this van is called a UAZ-452. I imagine that its proliferation around Mongolia is a result of the Soviet ideal of everyone owning the same thing, which is why places like Budapest are still littered with those horrible Trabants. But, in an age that has given us the new Beetle, the new Mini, the Toyota FJ Cruiser, the Plymouth Prowler, the new Fiat 500 (shall I go on?), I think that the UAZ should be rehabilitated for the modern age. And more importantly, should be allowed the travel through Checkpoint Charlie and into the glorious West, filled as it is with that sense of liberty, equality and fraternity so often seen in place like the U.S…..

My idea, which I was kind enough to share with some Australians on a trip into The Mongolian Wilderness, and who looked most interested, was to ship one back to the UK, rip out its engine, which will doubtless be of a 1970s Soviet design (and therefore total crap) and put in something small and diesely, maybe the longstanding 1.9 diesel from the Volkswagen Audi Group (I thought that was better than writing VAG). Then, lo and bloody behold, you have an amazing looking van, which is significantly cooler than a Volkswagen Camper, not least because it won’t be driven by people trying to creat some sort of hippy parody, which will be built like the proverbial shithouse and it won’t break down. As much. Basically, a winner then. Get your orders in now.

(Addendum: my friend in Mongolia reliably informs me that the UAZ-452 is known colloquially as the Forgon, to differentiate it from the UAZ jeep, which looks very similar to the Jeep Wrangler or equivalent. Presumably it is called this as it’s a “Forgon” conclusion that the thing will break down somewhere in the middle of the aforementioned Mongolian Wilderness and you’ll be mauled to death by angry sheep intent on their revenge against the Mongolian people, who have been slaughtering them for centuries and serving them up in bowls of milk. This actually happens.)

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2 Responses to “In praise of….the UAZ”

  1. Adam October 10, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    I fell in love with them too, on a recent trip to Russia. Despite the incredible numbers of Porsches, Ferraris and Range Rover Sports littering St Petersburg, it was these things I was fascinated by. And better still, you can buy one brand new!
    http://www.uaz.ru/eng/models/commercial/

  2. Tanya November 21, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    It’s fascinating how much soviet there is in Mongolia and especially in UB – from cars they drive (somewhat understandably) to candy they offer in the temple (somewhat more bizarre). Another area where the soviets had a big influence was language. And so this name “forgon”, or actually “furgon” is just a russian word for a van.

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