Left behind after Soviet occupation, this military truck in Estonia now serves as a sauna

Inspired by the creative pop-up saunas around the world, an Estonian couple is driving their ZiL-131 Soviet military truck to Tallinn, the country’s capital, so they can open it up to visitors as a sauna.

One of Estonia’s most unusual saunas has been discovered inside the back of a ZiL-131 Soviet military truck in the country’s Lääne-Viru County.

Anni Oviir and Adam Rang, an Estonian couple who regularly blog about Estonian saunas, posted a video to YouTube this weekend showing themselves trying the sauna for themselves. They even take the vehicle for a test drive while waiting for it to heat up.

“It’s a great sauna, but we especially love the way that it subverts the original purpose of the vehicle,” Rang told Estonian World. “The exterior has been well preserved as a brutal reminder of its era, but the interior provides a warm welcome for anyone who wishes to celebrate our freedom and cultural identity, the very things that this truck was sent here to destroy.”

Soviet Union’s iconic vehicle maker

ZiL was an automotive factory near Moscow that produced the Soviet Union’s most iconic military, industrial and luxury vehicles (the ZiL limousines were the official cars that carried the Soviet heads of state). The ZiL-131 was first produced in 1966 as a general purpose six-wheel drive military truck for the Soviet military, some of which were used in Estonia during the occupation.

The ZiL-131 sauna truck.

“When Estonia regained independence in 1991, some abandoned ZiL-131s were seized by the Estonian state and then remained in service with the Estonian Defence Forces until 2008,” Rang said. “After that, some of the vehicles were auctioned to the public and this particular ZiL-131 was then converted into a sauna by its new owner in Virumaa.”

Oviir and Rang have now bought the vehicle and plan to renovate it inside with Estonian design before opening it up to visitors in Tallinn. To support this, they are launching a crowdfunding campaign through the Estonian platform, Hooandja.

Adam Rang inside his ZiL-131 sauna truck.

Encouraging sauna tourism

“We have to keep finding creative new ways to introduce the world to Estonia,” Rang, who previously worked as Chief Evangelist for Estonia’s e-Residency programme and occasionally contributes to Estonian World, said. “There’s increased interest in sauna culture so Estonia has the potential to benefit much more from both sauna exports and sauna tourism. This truck will help contribute to both those aims, as it will also showcase Estonian sauna design.”

Rang added that it can often be difficult for visitors to find interesting and authentic saunas in Estonia precisely because the sauna culture is a normal part of home lives here. “We’ve been inspired though by creative and quirky pop-up saunas in cities around the world that bring together both locals and visitors to keep traditions alive in an unusual way. There’s even an Estonian sauna built inside an old fire rescue truck in New York,” he said.

Anni Oviir and Adam Rang at an old Estonian smoke sauna.

Before driving the ZiL-131 sauna to Tallinn, they will first take it to Otepää next month for the European Sauna Marathon where it will host around 600 sauna enthusiasts competing in Estonia’s most bizarre annual “sporting” event.

Cover: Adam Rang inside his ZiL-131 sauna truck.

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