By on April 12, 2012

During my visit to Vietnam last month, I saw about a million Honda Super Cubs, a Hummer H2, and lots of GM products, but I didn’t see something I thought would be commonplace: Soviet vehicles. Well, except for this lone UAZ-452, that is.
Ho Chi Minh played off the Soviets against the Chinese for decades, getting plenty of goodies from both countries, but the USSR was North Vietnam’s main ally by the time Mao went all spirally-eyed and dragged China into the Cultural Revolution. That means that there was a major Russian presence in Vietnam from the 1960s through the collapse of the USSR, and certain aspects of that presence remain. For example, the Vietnamese developed a taste for vodka, which is especially popular in the north of the country (this bottle of “Say Green” vodka cost me $1.20 in a Hanoi supermarket and tastes pretty good). The Soviets also brought their cars and trucks with them, and I was expecting to see Zaporozhets and GAZ-24s all over the place. Sadly, that wasn’t the case; I met a guy who’s a big off-roader, and he and his friends play in the mud with old US military Jeeps and their Soviet counterparts, but most of the old Soviet machinery has long since rusted to oblivion. Such a disappointment!
I’d given up on seeing any Russian-made vehicles by about a week into my trip, but then I glanced out the window of a Hanoi-to-Danang train and spotted this UAZ-452 cruising along a country road south of Dong Hoi. Quick— grab the camera! Yes, a running example of the beloved “Bukhanka” (named for the loaf of bread it resembles), powered by the same engine used in the iconic GAZ-21 Volga. This one appears to have an aftermarket air-conditioner on the roof.

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12 Comments on “Still Rollin’ Down the Vietnamese Road: УАЗ буханка!...”

  • avatar

    Once a tank, always a tank. Looks like bus service. In my alternate life I’d love to drink a bottle of that vodka with you over a bowl of dac biet pho. I can only imagine the stories.

  • avatar

    Yep loaf of bread. Same thing the 70s VW vans are called here by VW enthusiasts like me. Our’s is a 78. Would love to see a comparison test between the two.

    Were Russian vehicles worse about rusting than 60s and 70s Fiats?

  • avatar

    I noticed that aftermarket AC too! And then noticed the open roof vents and lowered driver’s window. Oh well, the luxuries of technology seem to be out of reach yet again.

    speaking of luxuries of technology, how does this fine loaf of bread compare to your A-100? They appear to be about the same vintage.

  • avatar

    Note that Chrysler presented a Jeep-based vehicle that was similarly re-profiled for cab-over-engine at this year’s Jeep Safari. It kinda looked like Unimog. But most likelye the days of these things have long since passed, like the days of your A100. The safety is just not there.

  • avatar

    the vodka label look very familiar, here’a a bottle of polish “Żubrówka”

  • avatar

    Considering that the UAZ van is still in production, the vehicle in the picture could easily be from the 2000s.

    Anyway, in my experience the UAZ does not rust as badly as other Russians, mostly due to the thick sheet metal. The engine and transmission seem to die before that.

  • avatar

    I first saw this photo and my thought was, that rear looks awfully similar in shape to the VW bus of the 70’s.

    Nice find, even from a train at a distance!

  • avatar

    Oh, the stories I could tell about some of the things I knew about during the war over there!

    Thankfully, I stayed out of Vietnam – I did have orders to Saigon in 1972, but surgery kept me stateside – our operating location for the SR-71 was Kadena AFB, Okinawa – I did go there, twice.

    Yes, the Russians were there. That’s all I’ll say. I saw certain photos…it was amazing, given the technology at the time, things that could be photographed clearly from 80,000+ feet at mach 3.15!

    I wonder how many Jeeps and Mutts are still over there still running?

  • avatar

    I’ll bet this thing came down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1968, probably loaded with 500 82 MM mortar shells.

  • avatar

    Even the Russians would rather not drive those sorry things, so why should the Vietnamese, just because their communists doesn’t necessarily mean they’re stupid. Up until the fall of Saigon, and the exit of the United States the predominant forms of transportation in the North were walking, oxcarts, bicycles, motorcycles and military vehicles (I suspect in some provinces this is still close to the truth).

  • avatar

    “For example, the Vietnamese developed a taste for vodka, which is especially popular in the north of the country (this bottle of “Say Green” vodka cost me $1.20 in a Hanoi supermarket and tastes pretty good).”

    i like your strategy, murilee. if you are going to sample sketchy food in the developing world, make sure it has a high alcohol content to kill the local stomach bugs.

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