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The GAZ M-72 Was An SUV for the Soviet Soccer Mom Set

It’s pretty unlikely you’re going to see a GAZ M-72 on your local car dealer’s lot. The sensible dealer would probably do better flipping a Toyota Tercel or a Pontiac Aztek, but there’s no doubt the thoughtful suburbanite could get lots of eyeballs and conversation fodder from driving this interesting SUV.
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Soviet automaker GAZ is just about unknown outside of Russia, but that didn’t stop them from making quite a roster of interesting cars and trucks. One of them, the M-72, was an off-road model of the company’s best-seller, the M-20. And the M-20 could only be described as one of the earliest SUVs ever built.

At the time of its launch in 1955, the M-72 was notable for sporting a four-wheel-drive system that had been adapted from a Russian military truck. It was fully capable of carrying five passengers across some exceptional rough terrain. And it’s rare as well, as just 4,677 units of the truck were built. No one seems to know how many of them are still on the road.

The GAZ-M20 “Pobeda” (Russian for ‘Victory’) was produced in the Soviet Union by GAZ from 1946 until 1958, and from 1955 to 1957, a few thousand of them were built with the aforementioned four-wheel-drive system.

References to the trucks by Russian sources say it likely represents “the first ‘comfortable’ off-road vehicle with a closed unitized body.”

And in the looks department, it strikes all the right chords as well. It looks like a cross between a stubby proletarian Chrysler Airflow and an angry Volkswagen Beetle on steroids, but it was most certainly tougher than any Beetle.

But the M-72 motor could generate 55 hp and was later upgraded to 65 horsepower. It also featured a 12-volt electrical system and a brawny 1.7 hp starter for those icy mornings. Traffic tests of the prototype M-72 resulted in more than satisfactory performance for the time, and the car could easily negotiate bad roads, crawl across the sand move confidently through snow-covered terrain.

Due to the ‘streamlined’ body, it’s said the M-72 could reach highway speeds in excess of 62mph (100 kph) and that’s more than fast enough for grocery-getting and trips back and forth to the State University of Physical Culture, Sport, Youth and Tourism...

 
 
 
 
 

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