The GAZ-66 turned out to be a harmonious and versatile machine. The eight-cylinder engine provided a high power-to-weight ratio, self-locking differentials, coupled with ideal weight distribution and geometric cross-country ability, made it possible to storm the most insane obstacles, and the cabover layout provided excellent visibility. Actually, there were only three drawbacks: high fuel consumption, mocking placement of the gearshift lever for the driver and the location of the crew seats directly above the front wheels. And if the army was ready to put up with the first two drawbacks, the third drawback became almost fatal for "Shishiga". Realization of this came in Afghanistan, when the detonation of any mine under the wheels of a truck inevitably led to injuries and sometimes even fatal injuries to the driver. Therefore, the GAZ-66 was hastily withdrawn from the limited contingent of Soviet troops and since then they have been rather cool about the combat use of the vehicle.
Although, of course, no one was in a hurry to write off "Shishiga" from the combat service - there was simply nothing to replace the truck in the 80-90s. This, by the way, was used in the design bureau of the Gorky Automobile Plant and was in no hurry with deep modernization. With all due respect to the engineering headquarters of GAZ, look at the evolution of the German S-series Unimog (which was in many ways the prototype of the "shishigi"). In many respects, of course, this was due to the conservatism of the main customer in the person of the Ministry of Defense, but the GAZ-66 was widely used for civilian needs, and here just a regular modernization would be very appropriate. The first time the GAZ-66 truck was updated several years after it was put into production - in 1968.
This was the second generation, which lasted 17 years on the assembly line. Then there were indices consisting of two numbers, for example, the basic version was 66-01. Now "Shishiga" could take on board 2 tons at once (by the way, on the latest prototypes this figure was increased to 2.3 tons just due to new tires). Also, the "second series" of the 66th car received a centralized wheel inflation system, blackout headlights and, most importantly, the ground clearance increased to 315 mm. The GAZ-66 could now be exported - for this, the interior trim was improved, the instruments in the cockpit were improved, new carburetors, a transistor ignition system and even tubeless tires were installed. Fuel consumption dropped to 26 liters per 100 km. Of course, countries with hot climates were the main buyers of the car, so the engineers had to adapt the cab to the appropriate conditions. I must say that this was not an easy task. A huge, hot-blooming eight-cylinder engine was actually located between the passenger and the driver, which made it difficult to regulate thermoregulation. It is not known whether the designers managed to solve this problem on export modifications, but for Soviet drivers in the summer it was unbearably hot in the cab, and it remained.
GAZ-66 has always been an experimental platform for various innovations of GAZ engineers, a large part of which was to improve the vehicle's cross-country ability. So, in the 60s, on the airborne GAZ-66B, which was mentioned in the first part of the story, triangular tracked propellers were installed. However, this design did not lead to any breakthrough in the cross-country ability of an already all-terrain truck. If there was any competition between automakers in the USSR, it was only for state defense contracts. A typical example of such a phenomenon is the GAZ-34, an all-wheel drive three-axle truck that has much in common with the Shishiga. Then the army needed a new generation of medium trucks capable of towing artillery pieces and one of the promising projects was the Moscow ZIL-131.
The Gorky designers, in defiance, developed a new car, the most unified with the GAZ-66, which was already adopted at that time. If we compare the 34th car with the promising ZIL-131 at that time, it turns out that the gas truck is 1, 3 tons lighter with a similar payload, is shorter and has a more spacious body. Despite the fact that the clutch was taken from the ZIL-130, the gearbox was borrowed from the ZIL-131, the engine was left native to the "Shishiga". Of course, 115 hp. with. frankly not enough, and a more powerful gasoline engine simply did not fit. Perhaps a diesel engine would have saved the situation, but there were no such structures in the Soviet Union at all. Nevertheless, the three-axle "Shishiga" successfully passed the entire test cycle (including several vehicles passed from Moscow to Ashgabat and Ukhta) and was even recommended for adoption. However, the ZIL-131 arrived in time, which turned out to be more powerful and more convenient. Is it worth regretting that the Soviet Army did not have another cabover truck with a Jesuit gearshift lever arrangement?
Let's digress from the topic and mention another attempt by the Gorky Automobile Plant to enter the prestigious niche of large-format army trucks.
In the early 70s, a four-axle GAZ-44 "Universal-1" was developed, which is, in fact, a kind of hybrid between an ordinary truck and an armored personnel carrier. The car was run in at 21 Scientific Research Institute, but Universal-1 did not show any radical breakthroughs in comparison with analogues from Bryansk and Minsk and remained in the category of experimental ones. After that, GAZ began to strictly adhere to the main line of production of light trucks for the needs of the Ministry of Defense. Well, I didn't forget about armored vehicles either …
Let's talk about the numerous modifications of the GAZ-66, which had the status of experienced or were in service. Of course, the whole variety of options cannot be covered, and it will be boring. Therefore, we will touch on the most original ones. This, of course, is the van with the KSh-66 body integrated with the cab, in which the Shishiga can be identified only by its wheels and lighting equipment. This device was assembled to withstand the shock wave of a nuclear explosion and therefore had a streamlined shape - on average, the impact resistance increased three times. Continuing the theme of monocabs based on the GAZ-66, one cannot fail to mention the 38AC air transport bus, which was produced in a circulation of as many as 6,000 cars. The bus featured curved panoramic windows, 19 soft seats and foam insulation in the body panels. In the AMS-38 version, the bus could accommodate eight seated wounded and seven lying down. Later in 1975, another bus appeared - APP-66, which was a simplified version of the 38AS, was distinguished by its excessive weight, low maneuverability and was assembled in the amount of 800 pieces. It should be noted that all these vehicles were not assembled in Gorky. Buses were made in Moldovan Bendery, Voronezh and at plant # 38.
For many years, the nimble and passable GAZ-66 became the hallmark of the medical service of the army of the Soviet Union. The most widespread, of course, was the AC-66 ambulance bus with a K-66 body, capable of taking on board up to 18 wounded. A little later, the AP-2 dressing machine, which was assembled at the Medoborudovanie enterprise in Saransk, came to his pair. The set included frame tents, which, when deployed, could simultaneously bandage up to 14 people. At the end of the 80s, a whole medical complex PKMPP-1 appeared in the army, consisting of four GAZ-66 cars with K-66 kungs. Two of them were responsible for transporting the wounded and medical personnel, the rest were loaded with belongings and medical equipment.
The most exotic versions of the GAZ-66, of course, were cars with pontoon parks, collapsible bridges and multiple launch rocket systems. DPP-40 for the Airborne Forces became in many ways an absurd and very expensive embodiment of the idea of creating an airborne pontoon fleet with a carrying capacity of 40 tons. Firstly, to give the necessary lightness, the elements of the pontoons had to be made either of non-ferrous metals or using inflatable rubber sections. And secondly, the pontoon fleet itself was located on 32 GAZ-66 vehicles (originally on a lightweight version of the GAZ-66B). How much transport IL-76 was required for such an armada? They also considered the use of machines of the GAZ-66 series for the transportation of the CAPM medium road folding bridge. For this, a simple truck platform was not suitable, so they came up with the idea of making a truck tractor with the P index out of the "Shishiga". However, the light car could hardly cope with such a load and the bridge was given to the ZIL family.
In 1967, the BM-21V 12-barreled multiple launch rocket system appeared in the airborne troops based on the previously mentioned lightweight GAZ-66B. In fact, it was a shortened version of the BM-21 40-barrel system, which was installed on the Ural family. The fire-breathing baby could release the entire charged stock of high-explosive M-21OF to a distance of 20 km in 6 seconds and recharge again using the 9F37 machine, which was also based on the GAZ-66. And, of course, all this artillery could have been dropped with parachutes.
However, a gantruck with a ZU-23-2 in the back has become a real hallmark of the GAZ-66 with "arms in hand". Here the military perfectly combined the speed and maneuverability of the Shishiga with the lethality of a flurry of anti-aircraft cannon fire. The Middle East, Africa, the North Caucasus, Ukraine - none of the conflicts in these territories could do without gantrucks on the GAZ-66 platform.