Rare Soviet-era 4x4 goes where others can't in UAE

A fascination for off-road vehicles led Nave Lev Ran to make $12,000 UAZ Hunter his daily driver

My classic car: the man that owns one of the few UAE-based UAZ Hunters

My classic car: the man that owns one of the few UAE-based UAZ Hunters
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In terms of desirable vehicles to own, the Russian-made UAZ Hunter is unlikely to feature on many people’s wishlists. The 4x4 has been in production since the 1960s and has barely evolved since.

If you squint hard enough, you could mistake it for a 1990s Range Rover – all angular, like it’s been built with Lego bricks. Its interior hasn’t made the leap to the modern day, either.

You won’t find much in the way of in-car entertainment or the driving aids that make a lot of today’s vehicles so easy to manoeuvre. This is a throwback off-roader for purists.

Despite all of this, the UAZ Hunter still draws a crowd. Just ask Dubai car collector Nave Lev Ran.

“If I arrive in a Lamborghini, nobody would care,” notes Lev Ran, “but this gets attention everywhere I go.”

The business relationship developer is the proud owner of a 2017 UAZ Hunter, Lev Ran was given the car as a gift, and it has been a big part of his life since. Although the UAZ looks like a relic, people love taking photos and videos of it.

If I arrive in a Lamborghini, nobody would care, but this gets attention everywhere I go
Nave Lev Ran

There’s a certain degree of street cred that goes along with the vehicle. It even has Lev Ran’s son stamp of approval. “I dropped him off at school one day and there was a teacher stood outside who said: ‘What a cool car.’ Ever since, my son has asked me to take him in it.”

To the layperson, a UAZ Hunter might seem like an odd choice, but Lev Ran has long admired the car from afar. He never thought he’d get a chance to drive one, let alone own it.

Road less travelled

Growing up on a farm, Lev Ran has been around off-road vehicles his entire life. From World War-era Willys Jeeps to Suzuki motorbikes, he has a deep-seated attraction to the art of getting off-the-beaten-track motors.

“Learning to drive an off-road vehicle properly is a joy and this [UAZ Hunter] is fun,” Lev Ran says. “It takes me back to my teens and 20s.

“It’s not like the new cars with automatic transmissions with all the gadgets that can help; you really need to know what you are doing.”

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, though. This 2017 UAZ Hunter had been sat for a long time and a lot of the parts had seized up. It was rough around the edges and needed a lot of TLC to bring it back into working condition. It was only when Lev Ran got into kite surfing that he began to use it more to shift his equipment around. Since then, it’s become his everyday car.

Old-school charm

With a modest 130bhp under the hood, there’s little danger of setting off any speed cameras while driving from A to B. It struggles with the heat during the summer months, too, as the air conditioning isn’t built for the harsh UAE sun. But it really comes into its own when it goes off-road, which is remarkable considering how old-fashioned it seems.

The manufacturing process of the UAZ Hunter has remained largely the same since it was first made in the former Soviet Union. Only a fuel-injected engine and new front disc brake system separate the 2017 model from its archaic predecessors. It has the same five-speed gearbox, low-high gears, and no diff-lock set-up to help 4x4s get out of tricky situations. It’s what we can safely say is an old-school off-roader.

Present-day 4x4s are built for supreme comfort, like executive suites on wheels, and they share more characteristics with luxury yachts. They can, technically, hit the dunes if you want to, but you see more of them in the parking bays at your local mall than you would scrambling through the desert.

The UAZ Hunter, with its no-nonsense approach, thrives on and off the asphalt. “The school-run traffic can be hectic, so I use a route that takes me off-road sometimes,” explains Lev Ran. “I’ve seen other modern 4x4s get stuck in the sand when trying to follow the same path. Newer cars don’t have the same capabilities.”

Although only a handful of UAZ Hunters are in the country, finding parts is straightforward. Unlike many imported vehicles, it shares many components with big Japanese brands, so the car is easy to fix.

But is there anything that Lev Ran would change about his unfancied rarity? “I wouldn’t change the shape of it, but a stronger clutch and engine would be nice,” he says with a laugh.

Updated: November 27, 2023, 6:10 AM