UAZ-469 (31512)

The Communist Tonka. Known in the Russian-speaking world as "Kozel", meaning Goat, primarily because it'll go anywhere, but also because it's a stubborn bitch and "kozel" is not a particularly pleasant word in Russian. And the UAZ is very much a swear word of the vehicular world; insulting, uncouth, ill-mannered and certainly not for polite company.

You normally have to be on the receiving end of a Russian invasion to experience one of these vehicles, but seeing as I was strolling around the abandonned 19th century Bemowo Fort (one of a ring of defensive structures erected by the Tsarist overlords around Warsaw during that particular occupation) then I don't really deserve to be surprised by such a display of Russian might.

The UAZ-469 went EVERYWHERE, and still does. To use words like Jeep, Land Rover or SUV in its presence are to demean its very existence. This is not some prancing pretty-boy offroader with alloy wheels, Xenons and cup holders; this was the no-nonsense mule of the Warsaw Pact states, held back only by its need to drink up 24litres of fuel for every 100km it rattles along the road.

And rattle they do, along with roar, bellow, squeal and groan. And thats what they like, too. Unlike the current fad for shiny brightwork and spray-on mud, the UAZ is very much of the "treat em mean, keep 'em keen" school. Abused, mistreated, having their nuts revved off as they're thrown carelessly through fields of both farm and battle, the UAZ will lap it up and chortle for more. And even if you do bend, snap or ruin something, part of the design brief was that it should be repairable with a stout stick and a large hammer. With this sublime simplicity, it's even been known for Land Rover owners to try and pinch parts from UAZes to improve their own vehicles.

With this much power and capability at hand, it didn't take long for the public to clamour for their own model of the otherwise military-only UAZ, and year by year a few trickled their way into the hands of private owners. Eventually a UAZ-469B roared its throaty way out of the factory with reduced ground clearance and other differences, for the civilian market.

I only had a chance to poke my head around this dilapidated example for a few minutes as I didn't want to get bayonetted by a possessive security guard, but the one in the pic, despite being sat idle for a while, could no doubt be hurtling its way around the fortifications without too much work, a thought both thrilling and chilling in equal measures.

With its simple fearsome supremacy, the UAZ-469 is one of the last remaining diplomats of the Cold War mentality; the idea that brute force massively applied can crush opponents into submission. For that reason alone, its no wonder that this one has taken refuge in the weed-strewn car park of a military fort, as its active service in Poland was as one of the cars of choice of the loathed ZOMO, the equally brutal and suppressive Communist Riot Police force, whose atrocities have still so far gone unpunished. Painting it yellow still does not soften the fact that it has "Security Office" tattooed on its flanks, and I doubt that there is little love lost between this Soviet dominator and its host country.

For now then, this faded example of Ulyanovsky Automobilny Zavod's finest lies dormant in its fortress, awaiting its inevitable return to arduous, angry and enthusiastic service.