The Honker which is now over 35-year-old all-terrain vehicle, is still considered a backbone of the Polish army. It’s the only all-terrain vehicle that was developed and produced entirely in Poland. It is not a story about it’s success, however there are many enthusiasts here in Poland who will agree, that that is the best car they ever owned.
Is it Jeep that is Produced in Poland? No. It is not a Jeep brand. It is called this way for fun. The model of military vehicle produced in Poland is the Honker, or Tarpan Honker. It is no longer manufactured, but hundreds of units are still in use in the Polish Army or by private enthusiasts.
History of Honker – Vehicle Called „Polish Jeep”
The story of the Honker begins in the mid-80s, when the Polish army was in need of a replacement for the worn-out UAZ 469. The engineers at the Warsaw-based industrial institute of automotive engineering, called „PIMot” took on the project. The first prototype was born in 1979 and it was named PW-1 (Multipurpose Vehicle).
Over the next few years, the team continued to improve the design and in 1984, the PW-2 was ready for testing. It was a huge success. Four years later, after some modifications, it was ready for mass production. In 1988, it was officially presented to the public at the Poznań International Show. It’s official name was Tarpan Honker. And thus, the Honker officially entered production.
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Production Volume by Years
As You can probably imagine, throughout its production run, Honker models were produced in small numbers. With a peak they produced 589 units, which was in 1990. Here are more details:
- 1990: 589 units produced
- 1992: Approximately 450 units produced
- 1994: 314 units produced
- 1995: 288 units produced
- 1996: Production discontinued, rights to produce Tarpan models taken over by Daewoo Motor Polska Sp. z o.o., around 20 units built during test assembly in Lublin
- 1997: 155 units produced
- 1998: 232 units produced
- 1999: Approximately 350 units produced
- 2000: Approximately 200 units produced
- 2001: Approximately 30-40 units produced
- 2002: 140 units produced
- 2003: 278 units produced
- 2004: Approximately 490 units produced
- 2005: 177 units produced
- 2006: 245 units produced
- 2007: 35 units produced
- 2007-2009: Production suspended
- 2010: 60 units ordered by the Polish Armed Forces
Durability and Versatility
The Honker is a simple yet versatile vehicle. It features leaf spring suspension, a simple frame, a three-door body in the short version of the car, and a removable polyester laminate or polyamide roof. The design allows for quick and easy conversion by removing the laminate, the door caps, and placing the windshield on the hood.
I think the designers also kept safety in mind. They installed risers under the tarpaulin or laminate to prevent crushing when carrying passengers without the roof. The biggest benefit of such design is the low center of gravity, which enhances the vehicle’s stability and handling on side tilts.
Honker Combat Tasks in Other Countries
The Honker didn’t experience any major export success, despite great efforts to promote it. For instance we failed to attract the interest of the Czech army during their search for an off-road vehicle in the mid-1990s. I think the only minor success was the sale of 100 ambulances based on the Honker to Iraq.
Honker increasingly differed from other, similar class, models of passenger and off-road vehicles used by the army, such as the Mercedes G-Wagen or Land Rover Defender. It also received bad reviews during its deployment in Iraq. Unfortunately, the car itself often became the target of attacks, as well as the people responsible for sending unarmored cars on combat missions.
An armored version of the Honker was developed as a result of the experience gained by soldiers in Iraq.
Honker in Ukraine
You may find interesting, that in 2016, Ukrainian volunteers fighting in the defense of Donbass used Polish-made Honkers. They were withdrawn from the Polish army and distributed to volunteer battalions participating in the „anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine.
The vehicles from the Polish demobilization caught the attention of Ternopil residents. A group of them actually organized a fundraiser to buy Polish cars. They were bought for a total of three thousand dollars, and an additional thousand dollars was spent on refurbishing and adapting the car for new purposes. The Honker was also used as an ambulance on the front line of battles. It has been fitted with a stretcher for wounded soldiers and equipped with basic medical equipment.
Order from Nigeria
The Honker Car Factory has also prepared a batch of these heavy-duty vehicles for an order from Nigeria. It was in 2019. That was the second batch of Honkers sold to this country. As I found out, the specific variety of Honkers were built for Nigeria. They were a 4×6 with an engine that has a maximum of 150 horsepower.
With an enlarged utility compartment, the car could carry twenty people, with two more seats in the front cabin. The batch of these cars were built in Lublin and wasd used by soldiers in training centers in Nigeria. Previously, ten such vehicles were purchased and used in operations against the terrorist organization Boko Haram in that country.
Features and Performance
The Honker is one of those vehicles that you fix with a hammer, screwdriver, and pliers. By design, it’s a very spacious and roomy car, with an interior that’s larger than a Land Rover 110. It can easily carry 10 people without breaking a sweat. I know, because I’ve been in one, and let me tell you, it was spacious but not a very comfortable ride.
But this car is not about comfort. The Honker was built to perform. It can overcome 68% of elevation, has a 42% side tilt, and a 44’/42′ angle of attack/descent. It can even wade through 80 cm of water. I’ve seen one in a training center and was shocked what it can do on 31″ Russian Tires. It’s a beast off-road.
The best part, it’s not expensive to maintain. A Honker with a 2.5D IVECO engine will consume around 11l ON/100km on the road at speeds of 80-90km/h.
By the way – many Honkers need restoration. You may probaly be interested in reading the other article I wrote about car restoration business in Poland. You will learn what it takes to get such car to its original condition.
Honker Prices Today
The military agency (Agencja Mienia Wojskowego) has a variety of military equipment and periodically organizes tenders where you can buy unneeded military equipment.
It’s a great opportunity for all military enthusiasts. It’s not just a chance to own a piece of military history, but also to get your hands on some unique and rare Honker model.
The military has always been a source of interesting and unique vehicles. After wars, off-roaders, trucks, and motorcycles were put into the hands of drivers, and over time, they gained character and value. Today, the military has a lot of modern equipment, and older and partially used vehicles find their way onto the tender lists.
You can buy it through the military property agency’s tenders. Of course, the price will vary depending on the condition, but it’s definitely worth checking out from time to time. You can also look for Honkers in the second hand market places. The price start from 1000 USD and go as high as 10,000 USD. Here is the portal where you can check listing:
The Honker faced many problems in its quite complicated history. The lack of continuity in production and the acquisition of licenses by successive companies have led to the fact that now we have a car, produced by several manufacturers, each of whom may have had their own idea for the machine.
The Polish government, by investing in local technology, tried to support the industry, giving it the opportunity to develop. But let’s face it, Poland is not a great vehicle developer or manufacturer.
Of course, Honkers should not be written off simply because they are old and feature a simple design. After all, the American HMMWV also had its origins in the 1980s. And let’s not forget that the military needs such, simple cars as well, but let’s be realistic – even simple designs need some upgrades and development.