The UAZ, perhaps, is not a legend like other Western "colleagues", but, for several fans of the off-road, is one of the most important 4x4 vehicles. The UAZ "469" was the only Russian car -with the Lada "Niva"- to obtain an enough good success in the Western market (although it has, like all the Russian cars, some defect), and it's worthy to have an important place in the 4x4 history, like the "rival" Jeep and the British Land Rover.

The beginnings

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The UAZ ("Ulyanovskiy Avtomobilnyi Zavod", that means "Automotive Factory of Ulyanovsk") was founded in the 1941. The first activity of the UAZ was the production of ZIS and GAZ lorries under license ("ZIS" was the first name of the ZIL, factory of trucks and limousines). The first 4x4 produced, the UAZ "69", is simply a clone of the GAZ "69", with a side-valves engine, 2200 cc. Above (first and second pics), a scheme of the UAZ "69", and a special anti-mine version , with a sensor under the coachwork and a light on the dashboard that shows the presence of a mine on the ground. The car in the third pic above, instead, is the last evolution of the UAZ "69", never entered in production. It was replaced, for the launch of a new model, by the following "469".

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In the 1958, the first UAZ-engineered vehicle was realized: the truck/minibus "450", which evolutions are produced still today. In the three pics above, the "451" pick-up, an armored version called "3963 Konalu", and a recent "2206" minibus, with a restyled grille (but the vehicle is substantially the same!). Still today, these vehicles are very good for the long travels on bad roads, and indeed they are used in several African and Asian countries. 


The UAZ "469": the jeep of the Red Army

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  In the early '60s, the project of a new 4x4 for the replacement of the old model "69" starts up. In the first pic above, one of the early drawings (1962) that shows the future Russian "soldier"! After ten years of trials and tests (as seen, the Russian industry is not a lightning...), in the 1972, the first "469" left the assembly line (this first exemplar is on a pedestal near the factory, in the second pic). The engine of the "469" is a 2500 cc. OHV, with side camshaft, 72 hp; but also other engines were mounted, as the Peugeot-Citroen 2500 TD (and, in a second time, the 2.1 12V TD taken from the Citroen "XM"), or the Italian VM with the same displacement. 

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Also the "469" had several special versions: in the four pics above, the anphibious version, called "3907", or "Jaguar" (nothing in common with the British luxury cars!). This car was realized in the early '80s (probably 1983), and was capable to reach a max speed of 10 km/h inb the water. Also Lada and LUAZ realized anphibious versions of their models; unfortunately, the UAZ "3907" never reached the production.

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The UAZ "469" was sold also in Europe, obtaining a good success especially during the '80s, with the explosion of the off-road market. It's a vehicle still very good in the off-road practice, with unique military features, as the double fuel tank (40+40 liters!) and the rear niche that contains the grilles for the headlights. The worst "enemy" of this Russian "soldier" is...the rust: but with a regular maintainance, the "469" offers to the owner the pleasure of the real off-road drive! Also several improved versions were realized by the importers: in the first and second pics above,  two version realized by the Italian importer "Martorelli", equipped with an Italian VM turbodiesel engine (or Peugeot 2.5 TD, 90 hp, and also Fiat 2.0 DOHC). In the third and fourth pics, instead, two images of the factory: of course, it doesn't looks like a Japanese factory...

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Between the late '80s an the early '90s, the UAZ factory realized a new military prototype to replace the legendary "469": the "3172" (first, second and third pics, above; the third pic shows a civil version with rectangular headlights; the fourth pic, instead, shows the short-wheel base version, called "3171"), with a look very similar to the Toyota Land Cruiser. The engine was the same of the "469", but with a displacement of 2900 cc, boosted to 103 hp. The suspensions were with helic springs, and not with the leaf springs of the old model. Intended for a massive production, this vehicle passed the last pre-production tests in 1993, but the crisis of the Red Army -main committent of the Ulyanovsk factory- stopped the new project. 


The Chinese "clone": the Beijing 4x4

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The UAZ "469" has also a Chinese "cousin", different in the coachwork, but very similar in the mechanical part, and produced by the Beijing Jeep Corporation (above, the brand). The Beijing "212" (second pic above), like the UAZ "469", was presented in the early '60s, and produced after some year. The base is the same of the "469" (same 2500 cc. engine, four cylinders), but even simpler than the UAZ: until the early '90s, the gearbox was still with only three speeds!  

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Produced only for the Chinese army until some year ago, the Beijing are now produced also for the civil market. Above, the new versions, called "2020" (first, second and third pics above; in the fourth pic, the beautiful "2020 Kuangcao ST"), with several improvements, as the alloy wheels, the front disk brakes, new shock-absorbers, colllapsable steering column, lighter clutch and...a gearbox with 4 speeds (at least, not three!). With 85 hp, the factory declares a "rapid" acceleration in 16, 5 seconds...but from 0 to 60 km/h! The Beijing produces also the Jeep Cherokee under license, and the "Heroic", a Jeep-based 4x4; therefore, curiously, Soviet and American production are still both present in the Beijing's range of models (see the page about the Chinese cars).


Recent models

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 The "469" is still in production (in Russia it's called "3151"), and it has been updated with new engines, as the new Russian ZMZ 2.5 16V, with 150 hp, mounted under the cowl of the new "Bars" version (first and second pics), equipped with a "real" dashboard (you can't say that the previous version had a real dashboard...) and more "civil" seats. In the third and fourth pics, the "Sport" version, with a shortened base and without doors (Jeep Renegade style)! In the fifth pic, the more recent version (launched at the Moscow Show 2002), with the grille painted in the same color of the coachwork and with other improvements: finally, the old soldier has civil dresses!

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But the future of the UAZ is the car in the four pics above (the fourth pic is a..."virtual" 3-doors version, realized by me with the Photoshop!). It's the "Simbir" (in Russian this means "leopard"; it's also named "3160" or "3162", according to the short and long wheelbase versions), launched in the far 1993, but produced only since 1998. This new 4x4, with a look not very original, but enough modern, is powered by the same 2.5 of the "469", but with electronic injection; also a 2.9 with carburettors is available for the Russian market. The power in the several versions, goes from 90 to 120 hp. There are also the ZMZ 2.5 16V engine (150 hp) and the italian VM turbodiesel (124 hp). Like the prototype "3172", the suspension are with helic springs, differently from the "469" that has the leaf springs.

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Recently, some new version of the "Simbir" has been realized: above, the "2362" pick-up (first and second pics, also with hard-top), and the "2760" with an high plastic roof (third pic). In the last three pics, instead, a newer version of the 5-door and pick-up versions, launched in the 2001, with a beautiful front grille and modern headlights: very better than the previous version (a bit outdated about the design),'s still in the pre-production stage. 

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On the base of the "evergreen" UAZ 469, a little Russian factory, the "Dragon Motor", produces two interesting 4x4 models in limited series, in two ex-military plants located in the cities of Aginskoje (Siberia) and S. Petersburg. The first model is the "Jump" (first and second pics), a sort of hybrid between a dune-buggy and a classic jeep: roof and doors can be removed, the coachwork is in no-painted fiberglass (the paint is incorporated in the plastic material). The "Astero" (third, fourth and fifth pics, above), instead, is a luxury off-road, with a rich equipment (air conditioning, leather interiors), intended also for the on-road use. Both are based on the UAZ's chassis; the engine can be the old UAZ, the GAZ V8 with 200 hp (the same of the "Tchaika" limousines) or the new ZMZ  2.5 16 valves, with 150 hp. If produced directly by the UAZ, these 4x4 could be a good opportunity for the Ulyanovsk factory.

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 And, above, the last UAZ novelty: the "3165-Simba" (six pics above, the fourth pic shows an ambulance version), 4WD van intended for the replacement of the old minibus series (born in the 1958!). The prototype was recently restyled (fifth and sixth pics above); the engine is the (very) old four-cylinder of the "469", but increased to 2700 cc, and boosted up to 128 hp. Currently, the UAZ are imported in few exemplars in Europe (the new laws about the safety makes the Russian 4x4 totally out of the market). Also the new model is still not imported in Italy, my country. But a joint-venture was signed by the UAZ and the De Tomaso (Italian factory of luxury sport cars), to produce the "Simbir" in a new plant located in the city of Gioia Tauro (South Italy)...a Russian car builted in the South Italy? It seems a joke...Anyway, i hope that these Russian 4x4 will return on our mountain tracks, to show to the owners of "SUV" (=fake 4x4) the true meaning of "off-road"...

...and to show that, when the road is hard, you needs the transfer gears (or reduced gears, i don't know the exact translation), not the on-board computer...a computer can only say that you are blocked in the mud!!!

Some pic taken from . ,