During the Cold War, though there were no direct confrontations, the Soviet Union and the United States competed with each other even in science and technology. The secret reports of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) revealing war preparations of Russia are now declassified and available in the public domain.
A report of 1982 focused on trucks of the Soviet Union. A prominent name mentioned in the report was ZiL. ZiL or Zavod Imeni Likhachyova was the Soviet equivalent of Rolls-Royce that made luxury cars. The ZiL cars were used by prominent government functionaries of Russia. Featuring seats with electric controls, cassette player and other features, those cars were produced low in numbers. The main product of ZiL was trucks; they were built for both the public and the military.
The six-wheel off-road trucks have gradually disappeared from the market. But one such truck was found in Kerala. The Tamil Nadu registered ZiL 131 truck was spotted during an earlier journey.
With 'made in USSR' stamp seen even on tyres, the truck is 2.97 metres tall; at least a metre taller than an average human being. It sits on huge 20-inch tyres. Since it is a six-wheel drive, it can negotiate any surface. Other features include small, round headlights, side mirror that juts out like the horns of some animal, and a spare tyre between the passenger cabin and carrier. ZiL is written in Russian letters on the bonnet which resembles a big nose.
Engine & specifications
The trucks belonging to this series are powered by 7.0-litre petrol engines; they generate 150 bhp of power. The vehicles are capable of off-roading with 3.5 tonnes of load and road trips with 5 tonnes of load. However, the maximum speed has been limited at 80 kmph. The engine is mated to a five-speed gearbox and delivers a mileage of less than 4 kmpl.
The high ground clearance of 315 mm and the grip provided by the six-wheel drive system provide the truck with the capability to tackle any terrain. It is said that the truck can climb 41-degree inclines. It is seven metres long and weighs seven tonnes with a fuel capacity of 340 litres in two tanks.
You literally need a ladder to climb on to the driving seat. The truck is a left-hand drive and has a light three-spoke steering wheel. There are several meters on the body which could be confusing. The cabin can accommodate three people. 'Engine start' is written in English, but everything else is in Russian letters. It is estimated that around 10 lakh ZiL trucks have been sold in 23 years.
The ZiL truck that was spotted at the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border was a used Indian Army vehicle. Models such as 131 and 157 are still used by the Indian Army. The truck is a 1967 model that was auctioned off in 1982. It was no ordinary military truck - it was a mobile rocket launcher.
The truck is owned by Walayar native Doraiswamy Naveen, an auto enthusiast. He got the truck in a very bad condition from a vehicle dealer who had acquired it through an Army auction. It does not need much maintenance, claims Naveen.
The truck has a double axle single leaf spring suspension setup. It even has a flat tyre alter system, which is usually seen in super luxury cars. Naveen claims that behind the wheels it is much easier than modern day cars.