Lada 4×4 (“Niva”), which underwent an update in early 2020, has been produced at AvtoVAZ since 1977. “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” decided to collect the most amazing facts about the legendary VAZ SUV.
1.The prototype VAZ-E2121 was called “Crocodile” for its bright green color. The first 1971 prototype resembled the French Renault Rodeo (1970) and Citroen Mehari (1968). The Soviet experimental car also had an open tilt body and was not much like the look of the classic Niva. The final version of the exterior, drawn by designer Valery Semushkin, was ready by 1973. It’s no secret that Semushkin spied some design solutions from the Italian Fiat-127.
2.During the tests, nameplates with the Latin letter F were glued to the pre-production running samples of the Niva and free way signs were placed. The SUV also had a temporary name – Formika (“ant”). Semushkin even specially developed a new emblem for test cars in the form of a red and white Maltese cross, which fit into a circle.
3.Incidentally, an experimental prototype of the Niva was shown to Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev. When the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU personally took a ride in a car, he said the following: “Make a car!” Before Brezhnev, the car was appreciated by the general director of the Volga Automobile Plant, Viktor Polyakov, and the Minister of the Automotive Industry, Alexander Tarasov.
4.It is noteworthy that at first the Niva was more expensive than the VAZ-2103 (7300-7600 rubles) and the Moskvich-412 (7500-7800 rubles), but at the same time it was cheaper than the GAZ-24 Volga (9200-9600 rubles). The cost of the SUV was exactly 9 thousand rubles. In 1979, “Niva” rose in price to almost 11,000 rubles. In 1983, prices were as follows: VAZ-2121 – 10,300 rubles, GAZ-24 – 11,200 rubles.
5.As for exports, there were times when up to 70% of all VAZ-2121 were supplied abroad. For example, in 1979, an abnormally snowy winter in Europe contributed to the popularity.
The sales of the supersize SUV began to grow. “Niva” has always differed in equipment for the Russian market and export. The car was seriously modified by local dealers abroad. For example, the VAZ model received other bumpers, other radiator grilles, two-tone body paint, decorative moldings, original wheels and rubber, as well as a sunroof, a high roof, arch extensions, a redrawn interior, anatomical front seats, rear folding chairs.
6.Why is the Niva’s spare wheel located in the engine compartment? Everything is very simple. The short rear overhang of the car did not allow to accommodate a 16-inch “spare wheel”, in the luggage compartment the wheel “ate” a significant part of the usable space, and the fifth wheel would not look aesthetically pleasing behind or from the side. But due to the longitudinal position of the engine, the spare wheel easily fit into the engine compartment, like the aforementioned Fiat-127.
7.“Niva” is equipped with a permanent all-wheel drive, transfer case with a reduction gear and a center differential lock. This “arsenal” has not changed for 43 years. The car is distinguished by increased noise level and fuel consumption in all driving modes.
In the Soviet years, some owners of the VAZ-2121 managed to remove from the car the front gearbox with semi-axles, the “razdatka” with a cardan shaft. I had to install a shortened rear propeller shaft. Such a rear-wheel drive three-door really became quieter and consumed 1-2 liters of gasoline less, but at the same time the load on the rear axle increased and oversteer appeared. Today there are enthusiasts who turn the “Niva” into a front-wheel drive car.