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Your car vs the Russian Army by Alan Judd

Blog | By Alan Judd | Aug 23, 2023


Richard Lofthouse, formerly an Oxford don and cultural historian, now an editor and motor-industry guru, is off to Ukraine. Again. This time he’s delivering a Cherokee Jeep.

Last time, it was a 2005 109,000-mile Ford Ranger Wildtrak, one of hundreds of thousands of usable vehicles about to become a victim of the Mayor of London’s controversial ULEZ extension.

Having just sold his year-old Toyota Yaris hybrid for almost what he’d paid for it new, Richard decided to do his bit for Ukraine and stumped up £3,500 for the Ranger.

After a flurry of WhatsApps with Harry Leighton of Yorkshire-based car dealers SUV Prestige, a regular contact point with car4ukraine.com, he drove to Calais. He was part of a convoy with a team from SUV Prestige and four other trucks and their donors: an Irish farmer, an English farmer, a Scot and a property developer.

It was snowing when they set off on their long journey through Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland. The only mishap was a steering-column seizure on one of the trucks, causing a two-hour delay in Poland. By the time they approached the border with Ukraine, it was dark and snowing heavily.

Other traffic evaporated, leaving them the only vehicles on the motorway. Crossing formalities were efficiently conducted and they soon found themselves engaging four-wheel drive on compacted snow and ice along a lonely road running through snow-laden trees.

Ukraine is about three times the size of the UK. So they were far from the front line, though still within rocket range – and once past the border, they were not insured.

There was a midnight curfew and they were running it close when they reached a military checkpoint. But the soldiers had been warned of their approach and waved them through to their hotel.

The next morning, they were met by one of the founders of car4ukraine.com. He led them to a secret workshop, where volunteer Ukrainian mechanics work 24/7, fitting 10mm armour plating to donor vehicles. A second workshop paints them army green and modifies them to take mounted guns or rockets.

Then they go off to the front line. Once in service, a vehicle’s average life is reckoned to be about three weeks.

Favoured pick-ups are the almost unbreakable Toyota Hilux, followed by the Mitsubishi L200, Nissan Navarra, Isuzu D-Max and Ford Ranger. One Yorkshire gentleman recently donated his almost-new £50,000 Ford Raptor. These trucks are designed for one-tonne loads and can therefore take the extra weight of armour and armament.

SUVs are acceptable for ‘fast extraction’, provided they’re 4x4 and diesel, with Jeeps particularly rated for their strong parts supply. They don’t want any Land Rover models. About 80 per cent of all military movements are conducted in such vehicles with, surprisingly, a premium on British right-hand-drive trucks because they are thought to confuse Russian snipers aiming for the driver.

Richard Lofthouse has been sent a photo of his donated Ranger, now fully armoured and on active service in Bakhmut within a month of delivery. His contribution this time is a 2004 Jeep CRD, 170,000 miles and £2,200.

He leaves with a message for Sadiq Khan, London’s embattled mayor: why not take vehicles from the scrappage scheme aimed at softening the impact of widening ULEZ and send them to Ukraine? Well, why not?

Meanwhile, if you have an old pick-up or SUV you can do without, go to car4ukraine.com.

They’ll be pleased to hear from you.