First Soviet SUV Sports Lots Of Utility, Enormous Tires

This weathered survivor of the former USSR's park ranger service might just be the former Soviet Union's first SUV... or Monster Car... or both! Designed to handle Russia's worst roads (and that's saying something), the rare GAZ M72 allowed Russians to drive where no Russian had driven before.

The pure outrageousness of this vehicle is remarkable on a number of levels. From all indications, the muscular conveyance is the ultimate expression of the GAZ M20 Pobeda (“Victory”) passenger sedan.

Produced from 1949 through 1958 by GAZ (Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) in the Soviet Union and by FSO Warszawa in Poland, both factories produced a limited number of M72's beginning in 1955. Some variance in bodywork due to special orders resulted in some M72's, such as the one featured here, appearing even more brutish and bloated than their brethren.

The M72's monster car or funny car looks are due directly to its construction: in a nutshell, a customized M20 car body was made to fit over the leaf spring suspension and all-wheel drive powertrain used in the GAZ69 military jeep. An additional 150mm (6 inches) of ground clearance was realized by mounting the leaf springs OVER the rear axle instead of underneath.

Besides strengthening and reinforcing the M72's body and chassis to the tune of 300 kg (about 665 lbs), the body was phosphate-coated to prevent rust. This was a first for Russian cars, as was the M72's foot-operated windshield washer.

To make up for the M72's increased weight, the engine's compression ratio was boosted from 6.2:1 to 6.5:1 resulting in a maximum of 55HP via a “three on the tree” column-shift manual transmission.

GAZ produced just 4,677 M72's between 1955 and 1957, and tough as they were it's not often one comes across one in decent condition after almost 60 years of use and abuse.

The M72 featured here was noted twice by the website English Russia: first in September of 2007 and again in August of 2014 - it's even wearing the same license plate. Amusingly, the writer of the more recent article doesn't seem to realize ER has covered this exact vehicle twice. Hmm, you'd think such a ruggedly distinctive road beast would be more memorable.