The Lada, more famous in Russia as VAZ (Volzhsky Automobilny Zavod), is the most famous Russian automotive plant, and also the factory with the biggest production (600-700.000 cars per year). It's also the most solded brand in Russia, because the low price of the base-models and for the quality, slightly better (slightly...) than others Russian cars: the production lines and large part of the technology are of Fiat derivation.
The Lada-VAZ was founded in 1966, by decision of the URSS Ministries Council, that decides the construction of a new automotive plant (in the first pic above, the cover of an old magazine of that period, that shows the agreement between the Minister of the Soviet Automotive Industry, A.M. Tarasov, and the managing director of FIAT, Vittorio Valletta). The VAZ plant (second pic above) is one of the greatest Soviet works: the production lines takes up 270 km, and the factory gives the work to 180.000 persons! After only two years, 100.000 cars were assembled (third pic), because the production was started during the construction of the plant!
In 1970 starts the production, with the russian version of the Fiat 124: the "Zhiguli" (above, to the left, the first version, called "2101"). This car was, for the Russians, the "car of the people", like the Citroen 2CV in France, or the VW Beetle in Germany. Still today, with some modification (second, third and fourth pics; the third and fourth pics shows the "2107" 1.7 injection, the best equipped version), it remains the best-seller in Russia, because of the essentiality, the low price and the facility of reparation. It is produced with a range of engines from 1200 (60 hp) to 1700 cc. (80 hp).
From this car, the Russians have obtained also a pick-up version (first pic above), never realized in Italy! Recently, also a diesel version has been realized, with a 1500 cc (53 hp) inspired to the engine of the first VW "Golf Diesel"...this is the first Russian medium-displacement diesel, 20 years after the German realization! In the second pic, an exemplar in use to the Bulgarian police, in the city of Plovdiv (the man in the pic is my cousin...he realized this pic because he know that i have this strange passion -see the expression on the face!). In the third and fourth pics, a rally version and a road-racing version of the 1975 (the power for the 1300 cc. engines was of 135 hp; for the 1600 cc. engines, near to 150 hp). Even a rally version with a 1800 cc. engine (turbocharged, 16V) was realized: the "2105 T-16", with 240 hp (!)...unfortunately i don't own pics of that car, sorry! Indeed, the "Zhighuli" in all its versions remains the base of the automotive culture in Russia, although over 30 years of age.
The "Niva": the Range Rover of the Russians
However, the Lada is famous in Europe for the "2121", better known as "Niva" (first and second pics above), that means "field" in Russian, a cross-country vehicle introduced in the 1976, and characterized by original technical solutions for the age, as the 4x4 permanent traction (in use, during the '70s, only on the Rover Range and few others), and the frameless structure (like a normal on-road vehicle). The Niva can be defined, for the displacement and for the body of "street" type, one of the firsts "Sport-Utility", but with the characteristics of a "true" cross-country vehicle (5+5 speed gearbox, and blocking of the rear gears). The "Niva" has conquered a place of respect in the world-wide automotive scene, thanks to the optimal off-road abilities. The firsts projects of the "Niva" were realized in the 1971-72, when two prototypes (third pic above) with canvas top, quite traditional and with the Fiat/Lada 1.3 engine, were realized. But, after some time, a new and modern closed coachwork was realized (fourth and fifth pics), and the 1600 cc. engine was adopted. During the summer 1973, test rides in the Uzbekistan, with the help of the UAZ engineers, were realized. The chief of the project of the "Niva" was Vladimir Sergeevich Solovev (sixth pic above), and the chief-designer was Valery Pavlovich Semushkine.
Of the "Niva", also a very interesting amphibian military version (called "2122" or also "Reka", that means "river") was realized, in the three pics above. The "Reka" had a strenghtened structure, and -enough strangely- a 1300 cc. engine derived from the "2101" sedan (60 hp, 115 km/h), instead of the original 1.6 with 76 hp; moreover, it can "dive" in the rivers until a max speed of 9 km/h. The prototypes, realized since the late years '70s till the 1988 in several configurations, passed with success the military tests, but the Red Army -the main buyer for this type of vehicle- was already in crisis, therefore the "Reka", unfortunately, never entered in production.
In the first pic above, the cabrio version of the "Niva", realized in Europe. In the 1993, the "Niva" received some modification to the engine, increased to 1700 cc and equipped with single-point injection, and was modified with new dashboard, new rear door and lights (second pic). In the third pic, the current GLX version sold in Italy (my country), still with the original engine. The alternative is a 1.9 turbodiesel Peugeot, more modern and...more economic! In the fourth pic, the "Fora", a recent Niva's three-door version with long-wheel base, and, in the fifth pic, the "Project", another Jeep Renegade-style prototype, without doors and roof, presented in the 1998.
In the 1994, also a long-wheel base version was launched, called "Niva 2131" (in the beautiful four pics above). It is available also with an engine increased to 2000 cc, for 100 hp of max power. Although the age, the "Niva" is still an aggressive 4x4!
Above, some special version of the "Niva": in the first and second pics, the double-cab pick-up and the ambulance. In the third and fourth pics, instead, the incredible "Niva March", intended for the hard operations in the Siberian zones. It was produced also with a Wankel engine (200 hp)! In the fifth and sixth pics, instead, a prototype of the early '90s, always based on the "Niva": the "Bora", with an essential coachwork realized in aluminium, without doors.
The "Niva", during the '80s, obtained several success in the international competitions. Especially the French importer, the Lada-Poch, prepared a powerful "Niva Proto" for the terrible Paris-Dakar (first and second pics above; click here to see a clip of that period), although the car was very different in comparison with the normal "Niva": the engine was a six-cylinders Porsche, placed rear! This car was close to the victory for several times: the team Briavoine/Deliaire came third in the 1981 (the target was failed because of the broken radiator!), second in the 1982 and 1983, and the team Lartigue/Giroux came fourth in the 1986. Moreover, during the years, several private "Niva", almost all equipped with the normal engine, taken honourable placements...and all the people knows that the simple arrival to Dakar is similar to a victory! Recently, the "Niva" has won the Italian Speed Off-Road Championship... but the car was a prototype (third picture) equipped with a Ferrari V8 engine (300 hp!) and with an incredible chain transmission (one chain for each wheel, fourth pic)!
The years '80
In 1984 the Lada introduces the "Samara", first front-wheel drive car of the factory: for the production of this car, were introduced the first automatic lines of assembly. The engine (1100, 1300 or 1500 cc.) has a new SOHC distribution, driven by a more modern rubber belt, and not by the classic chain; the combustion chambers are developed in collaboration with the Porsche. In the two photos above, a prototype and a drawing of the Samara, and, in the third and fourth pic, the first version of the '84.
Up, others versione of "Samara": the new "Samara" sedan (also called "Forma"), the last hatchback version, a truck version. The aerodynamic (Cx=0,36) was sufficient, the stability was good (the vote was "five stars"- the maximum- on the italian review "Quattroruote"!), but the suspension, for this, were terribly hard, and the rumble of the engine -good about the performance- very high. The construction, usually for the Eastern cars, was of poor quality, but better than other Eastern cars.
The car was realized also in several interesting rally versions: in the first image above (drawing), the "Samara-EVA" of the 1987, with a 1860 cc. engine (16V, turbocharger, electronic injection, 300 hp!), placed centrally, derived from the "Zhiguli-2106"...although the only part remained from the "Zhiguli" engine is the cylinder block, and of the "Samara" there are only the shape of the coachwork -realized in fiberglass- and the headlights!! It was realized also in other versions without supercharger (160 hp). In the second and third pics, instead, the "Samara S-Proto" of the 1989, with a layout similar to the "Samara-EVA" (turbocharged central engine, tubular frame, fiberglass body), and declared for a max power of 350 hp (!!). In the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh pics, the "Samara 4x4" realized for the "Soyuz Rally" in the 1985: the transmission was 4WD of permanent type, and the engine, directly derived from the "Zhighuli" and boosted to 150 hp, was placed above the rear axle, on the left side (see the seventh image). It's a pity that the "Samara" was not produced in a serial 4x4 version!
Another very powerful version was the "Samara T3" (four pics above), that also won a Pharons Rally in Africa...but this version, indeed, hasn't Lada parts: it had a Porsche six-cylinders engine, 3600 cc, 300 hp, 220 km/h! The coachwork was in plastic panels fixed on a spatial frame; the triangular lever of the suspensions were even realized by Tupolev, the well-known aeronautical industry. The "Samara-T3" also came seventh to the Paris-Dakar of the 1990, driven by the legendary Jacky Ickx, and fifth in the same race of the 1991, with Didier Auriol. Moreover, it obtained the second, third and fourth place in the Rally of Tunisia 1990, respectively with Patrick Tambay, Jacky Ickx and the Russian driver Tumapyavichus. A Porsche disguised as Lada...wow!
The rally car in the four pics above was not realized by Lada, but it has a Lada engine. Made in the 1989 by the Russian "NAMI" Research Institute (the author was M. Menzulov), it was called NAMI "0290-Appelsin" ("appelsin" stands for "orange" in Russian); it had the engine of the "Zhiguli", 1600 cc, equipped with a Mitsubishi turbocharger, for 180 hp and 210 km/h. The transmission was permanent 4WD with viscous joints, with a torque ripartition of 50:50% between the axles. The side doors were taken from the ZAZ "Tavria", the rear lights from the "Samara". The total weight was 960 kg. Curious feature in this enough modern technical layout, the 13-inches wheels (not alloy), exactly the same of the normal "Samara" (not very good for a rally car)! Note also the red stars painted on the coachwork: one of the last signs of the "Soviet pride"...A following version of this car (called "0300 Appelsin"; the author, A. Antonov), realized in the 1991, was equipped with a 2300 cc. engine, four cylinders, 16 valves (180 hp). This engine, produced by ZMZ, was mounted, some years after, on the new GAZ models. Also this car, like the Lada "Samara T3", was made to compete in the Pharaon's Rally; for its time, it wasn't bad, it can stands with dignity near a Lancia Delta Integrale!
Above, some special versions of the "Samara": the "Bohemia" cabrio (first pic), and another strange "open-roof" version, realized by Bohse, a German atelier: a sort of hybrid between a cabrio and a pick-up. The design is not the best feature of this car...but this can be a good summer car!
In the 1987, the Lada launchs the "Oka-1111", a little citycar (first, second and third pics above). This car, realized in collaboration with Fiat, was introduced in production some time after, by another plant, the truck's factory KamAZ. Initially was decided the construction in a new plant near the Oka river (the name of the car derives from it), with forecasts of a enormous production: the "perestrojka" was source of several illusions, regarding the expectations of the Western factories in the new Russia. The "Oka" has a look very similar to the Fiat "Cinquecento", but it has a totally different engine, always two-cylinder (650 or 750 cc.), but obtained, in this case, from the half of the SOHC "Samara" engine (fourth pic). Always from the "Samara", was obtained also new three-cylinders engine (820 cc, 40 hp, 140 km/h), mounted on the prototype "1121" of the 1988 (fifth pic) and on the little off-road prototype in the sixth pic; however, this new engine never went into production.
The "Oka" never obtained a real success, because too little and essential even for the Russian people, that prefers the traditional "Zhiguli/124". Recently, also a new version with a four-cylinders 1100 cc.engine with 50 hp (derived from the ZAZ "Tavria") was introduced. Above, the truck version (with a diesel engine, two cylinders, 500 cc. with only 25 hp), two prototypes with a slightly modified front part, and another prototype of the future version (called "Oka-2", fourth and fifth pics). The "Oka" was realized also with a Wankel single-rotor engine with 45 hp (sixth pic; click here to know more about the Lada Wankel engines) and with electric engine.
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