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Lada Niva. The Immortal Russian

ER Classics Desktop 2022

It belongs to a special category of cars, which basically were built in an almost unchanged form for several decades. Rather, Togliatti is still building it. The cuddly terrain Russian has become a legend, and much loved as a classic. We are talking about the immortal Lada Niva. It will not be a technical story. It's an ode.

The Lada Niva officially came into the world as VAZ 2121 after a development period of seven years. Naturally, the car was developed for the domestic market, where it could be used on the road, in the countryside and in the impassable areas. It debuted as a three-door car with a 4 x 4 drive and a 1570 cc engine with one double Weber carburettor. The engine came from the Lada 1600 GL (VAZ 2106). The Russians managed to design an off-road vehicle that seemed much larger than its actual 3 meter 72. The Niva had the necessary Fiat features in appearance, and could also have gone through life as Campagnola, for example. However, the Lada didn't need the Fiat badge to be in high demand from the get-go. Its off-road capability and everyday usability were reason enough for many inside and outside the Soviet Union to buy the Lada. For business use, for public use, or just private.


Estate car with all-terrain capabilities

The press described the Niva as a station wagon with all-terrain capabilities. Today we call it a very modern Sport Utility Vehicle, but then - in the 2121s - happiness was still very common. The Niva (VAZ 1600) created its own niche within the off-road vehicle spectrum. After his introduction, he had something cuddly at the same time thanks to his size and his rounded shapes. Technically, the car was equipped for driving in off-road conditions. For example, it had a transfer case with a locking function, an option to engage the high and low gearing, and a double braking system. The finish was utilitarian, without being spartan. For example, the Niva not only received the aforementioned engine from the Lada 10,5 GL, but also a number of accessories. But still, Lada kept a lot of functionality with the Niva. The furniture was given imitation leather, the floor was fitted with rubber mats. According to good Russian custom, there was a whopper of a cooling system (XNUMX liters) and a ditto heater. Lada also supplied standard and special complete tool bag. The large off-road wheels made the Lada extra irresistible and useful for people who often wanted to get off the highway.

Deployed everywhere

A Niva came across as basic after its introduction, with a friendly wink. It was an affordable alternative within the 4 x 4 car segment. And an alternative, that didn't turn its back on tough terrain and impressive slopes. The Russian surprised many, and made it extremely difficult everywhere and nowhere for the much more expensive competition within the off-road market. Meanwhile, the Lada was deployed everywhere. In rallies, as a means of transport during large-scale construction projects, you name it. This was not a salon socialist or communist. If you like. De Niva rolled up its sleeves and appealed to an increasingly wider audience.

Expansion and trade name change

Lada quickly realized that the Niva was a bull's eye. And Lada expanded the program. The 1300 version was released, and additional body styles and applications were added over the years. In the 1700s, Lada made external changes to the original concept and also introduced the 21215 engines with carburetor and injection. There were extended versions with three and five doors. A version (1.9) with the 2020 diesel engine from PSA was available. And so on. The Niva was versatile, but was not sold as a Niva for years. A collaboration between Lada and GM not only resulted in a completely differently constructed Chevrolet Niva. From the second half of the 4s, the Russian was market-dependent in the showroom under several names in the showroom: as Niva, as Niva 4 x 4 or as 4 x XNUMX.

Accent shift while preserving identity

Over the years, Lada has performed cosmetic and technical procedures. And anyone who sees a Niva from the last years of construction cannot ignore it: the emphasis has shifted to a combination of tough and luxurious. He kept what he already had: the primordial form. In the Netherlands, by the way, he was swept off the table in 2010, because the Co2 tax made the Russian in the Netherlands an unaffordable object. But Lada happily continued to build the 4x4. That still happens. Under the name Niva Legend, the Russian appeared from 2019 in beautiful and well-equipped or increasingly practical trims. And recently the Russian manufacturer presented another new shoot to the Niva tribe: the Legend Bronto. The fact that the Niva is still new from the production line and that is a major achievement in this time of heavy environmental and safety requirements.

After disappearing Defender longest built 4 x 4

For years, the Land Rover Defender, together with its predecessors, was the longest built car, certainly within this segment. But when the Briton retired a few years ago, the Niva suddenly became the longest-built off-roader. The Lada is still extending that term, because it happily rolls off the production line. Meanwhile, the Lada Niva's status as a classic is on the rise. Who is now in the market for a classic Niva: be quick, because the expectation is justified that you will see considerably rising prices for the original model. A slightly handsome copy just disappears, as we now know first hand.

Daily deployable cult car

Its increasing (classical) popularity is not really surprising. His classic archetypes, his primal power and his possibilities to go anywhere make the 45-year-old a functional terrain evergreen. And in addition, a Lada Niva is easier to drive than expected. He has shown for almost 45 years that he does what he has to do. Yes, he is now a bit more promenading mister than he used to be, especially for the late versions. But he remains cult. Because he is the ultimate combination of fearless, immortal and likeable. And what also applies: you can bet every Niva daily, provided you are not in too much of a hurry. You want to work, enjoy, experience and drive in such a car. вы останетесь с нами надолго, Нива! May you stay with us for a long time, Niva!

- Oldtimers in Auto Motor Klassiek -
In the middle of the development period. This photo is from 1973
- Oldtimers in Auto Motor Klassiek -
The Lada Niva didn't turn around for a solid ramp from the start
- Oldtimers in Auto Motor Klassiek -
From Siberia to the desert. The Lada Niva can be used anywhere
- Oldtimers in Auto Motor Klassiek -
Technical view of the Niva
- Oldtimers in Auto Motor Klassiek -
During the 1.7s, the Niva was cosmetically modified, including XNUMX carbureted and injection engines
Lada Niva - Oldtimers in Auto Motor Klassiek -
The 2131 version of the Niva, in other words: the five-door version with a long wheelbase
- Oldtimers in Auto Motor Klassiek -
Niva Legend from a very recent year of construction.
- Oldtimers in Auto Motor Klassiek -
The most recent issue extends the Niva saga. This is the Lada Niva Legend Bronto, which has recently been released

16 Comments

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  1. Here are a few pictures of the much-discussed Lada tool set.
    It will probably not be completely complete anymore, I once scored this one at a flea market.
    Tire levers were also included, tire pump and even a pressure gauge to check the tire pressure.

    Lada Niva - Oldtimers in Auto Motor Klassiek -

  2. I remember so well when they were just new on the market. As a little boy already impressed by his chunky appearance. A few years ago I couldn't resist and bought a 1 mk1600 1983. It was shortly after our government introduced the transitional arrangement for classics from 25 to 40 years old. The previous owner had just converted the Niva to LPG and then had no energy left when he had to pay full tax again. It is now in the garage of my holiday address.
    Little by little I patch up the Niva if I feel like it. Parts are very easy to get and very affordable. Everything can be repaired, even if you want a loose spring from a pressure valve from the gas pump. The body does have quite a bit of rust damage to the bottom, but that can be welded straight away. The body now has the same color as the fence of the garden: from the large pot of Hammerite Grey. Cylinder head 1,5 mm flattened, front axle, front axle and rear axle now restored to 0 km, electronic ignition, etc

  3. Peter's story is very familiar to me. I have the same experience and thought the Lada 1500s was a super car. Driven in for 5 years without any problems and later also drove a Lada 1200 station wagon. In a word, a top car. It is indeed a pity that the Lada Niva is a petrol slupper and certainly no longer attractive with the current petrol prices and emissions. A blue Lada 1500 is for sale on the BVA auction site. Got a little homesick.

  4. In Northern France on the wooded and grazed land they often drove and drive. Cheap, strong, manoeuvrable, the Niva also holds its own as a tractor.
    On the other hand, especially on the white Niva's you will see the oxidation (rust) on all parts after some time. That is the result of cheap and strong.
    Plastic is used very limited. That is also logical. Which plastic is still flex below 0 degrees?
    The Niva has little to do with a modern SUV, it is a smart car in the spirit of the 2CV, first Beetles, R4 with winter tires and the Willy's Jeep.

  5. During many 'off-road events', a Lada Niva simply 'takes the pants off' its competitors. They're just really good. In everyday life, on tight asphalt roads, it is, as far as I know, thirstier than comparable competitors. That's a pity. With a Niva you make a statement, and rightly so! I still think it's a special car.

    • When I look back at my Lada 1500S, it had a very short ratio box.
      3000 rpm in 4 at 80 km/h and that went on until + 160 km/h
      Not surprising that the consumption on the highway was higher than normal, it was a rev beater.
      I would have liked long gearbox ratios or a 5th gear, but you can't have everything for little, new they were also ridiculously cheap if you compare it with the prices of today (in relation to your income)
      and yes, the Lada (or Zighuli) 2103 (or 1500S) also had a tachometer on board as standard, red safety lighting in the front doors when opened, headrests, wood veneer dashboard, lighting in the trunk and under the hood and a very extensive tooling, including tire pump, running lamp, crank, etc…

  6. In the winter of 1983 I drove this Lada 1500S (2103). At a temperature of -22C, my colleagues were no longer able to start with their small new cars. Despite the purchase price of (converted) Euro 200 and 150.000 km, this cheap second-hand car started immediately and without a hitch at -22
    The 1500 cc was quite spicy with its double carburettor. I have driven 60.000 km with it myself without any problems.
    The 1500S had the same technology as the Niva, (only no 4×4) and built super-dimensionally strong. I have good memories of it.
    The 1500S was white when I bought it. A pot of paint was cheaper than a new one, so I quickly gave it a nicer color.

    Lada Niva - Oldtimers in Auto Motor Klassiek -

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