Still Rollin' Down the Vietnamese Road: !

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
still rollin down the vietnamese road

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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  • Panzerfaust Panzerfaust on Apr 13, 2012

    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).

  • Safe as milk Safe as milk on Apr 14, 2012

    "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.

  • Art Vandelay Best? PCH from Ventura to somewhere near Lompoc. Most Famous? Route Irish
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  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers. 
  • ToolGuy 2019 had better comments than 2023 😉
  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down.