The Desert Has No Summit

Like our old friend the Suzuki Jimny, this little fellow seems to be a very long lived and stable design.

Lada Niva

To my eyes it looks like a vehicle derived in part from the basic architecture of the Fiat 127, launched in 1971. A bit of research reveals that its designers wanted to create something equivalent to a Renault 5 with four-wheel drive. Its inception is credited to a call from the USSR’s political leadership for a utility vehicle for rural areas. Readers may be surprised to

learn that the car is credited with being the first mass-production unibody, four-wheel-drive and independent front suspension. The fact it looks a bit like the package of the Fiat 127 and that Fiat had a link to AutoVaz, suggests that the car was derived from that start point.

So, perhaps the fact it is a unibody has something to do with expediency and practicality as much as engineering bravery. That practicality of outlook does not detract from the fact that the formula was a good one and a successful as this car is still in production.

The engines offered since 1977 have not been numerous: four. The current one is a Peugeot 1.9 XUD diesel and a 1.8 litre petrol four, designed by AutoVaz.

You might be wondering why there are not more photos. When I took the photos I had just cycled to the highest point in the Fichtegebirge mountains and was a little low on energy. Ideally there’d have been some interior photos – fatigue killed my work ethic and I went instread for a refreshing shandy.

I can report the interior is a spartan affair with those shiny, waxy plastics one found in Beetles and cars of the 1970s. That makes eminent sense as this is really a workhorse car and nice plastics don’t make any sense when mud and labour are involved.

A side bar to this is a link to the 1972 LZH-14 concept car:

1972 LZH 14

You can see it has a very different front end treatment and is lower to the ground than the Niva. It seems to have different proportions than the Niva, suggesting to me that after some intial efforts to prepare something from the wheels up, the engineers turned to some existing work to proceed.

The Niva has it indicators on the front of the bonnet, over the lamps while the LZH 14 adopts a more industrial-design aesthetic not far from Land Rovers Rangie of 1971. The LZH has a pleasing congruence of shutlines and grille and puts me in mind of Dacia’s current Duster:

2014 Dacia Duster. Just under £10,000 for this.

That would be convergent evolution in operation.

Now called the Lada 4×4, the vehicle has something of the same appeal as the Jimny, Pinin and Land Rover Defender, and if we widen the scope, the Renault 4 and Citroen CV. This crop of vehicles show that a focus on utility leads to very stable designs with a long product life.

Of course, all were updated to varying degrees, yet still retain their essence and essential rightness. This car is certainly Lada’s best product and they are themselves probably quite proud of its enduring competitiveness. They say “LADA 4х4 is a legendary vehicle which cannot live without strong emotions. It stormed the North Pole and Everest, participated in rally Paris-Dakar, domesticated the Antarctic. It is known and loved on all continents. It is strong, enterprising and low-maintenance.”

AutoCropley write: “The Niva was never the best of road cars, but off-road, with its minimal 1210kg weight, narrow tyres, low-ratio transfer gearbox and diff lock, it was formidable across the mucky stuff. And when you had got both it and yourself covered in mud and goo, you could fling open the doors and hose out the interior.” And this is not much different to what they say about the Jimny. Like Suzuki, Lada have spotted a good formula and will stick with it.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

11 thoughts on “The Desert Has No Summit”

  1. When you look at this car you see a lot of commonalities with the Lada/Shiguli/WAZ 210* that was based on the Fiat 124. You even get instruments that except for their cyrillic lettering looke like Veglias from a 124 coupé.

  2. Curious to know to what extent the engines used in Ladas were derived from the Fiat 124 Series engines or another Fiat-based design.

    There was also the VAZ E1101 “Cheburashka” prototype that appears to resemble a localized Soviet version of the Autobianchi A112 down to being powered by a 0.9-litre engine, which may or may not be the same Fiat 100 Series engine used in the Autobianchi A112. –

    Seems the 1972 LZH-14 concept car meanwhile was powered by the same engine used in the Moskvich 412.

    1. The Lada/Shiguli OHC engines have nothing in common with any Fiat design except the oil filler cap, which is a typical Sixties Fiat item.
      These engines aren’t particularly smooth but survive in extreme cold (there’s a part of the manual with recommendations for using the car at less than minus forty centigrade…) and have a knurled nut at their distributor to adjust for bad fuel quality – in turn, the tolerances are so high you can’t use a stroboscope to adjust the ignition.
      Old Ladas have a tool kit weighing at least 20 kilograms, including a grease gun, tyre levers and a foot operated air pump.

    2. The styling of the ‘evolved’ version of the Vaz E1101, not to mention that of the LZH-14 shown above puts me in mind of the 1964-74 Reliant Rebel, which in retrospect is a rather neat looking thing for its time, with shades of the Michelotti Triumphs about the nose treatment. I believe Ogle Design was responsible.

      The Niva to my eyes, contains elements of this as well…

  3. The LZH 14 looks, to my eyes, like an amalgam of Renult 4 and 5 design cues, and rather sweet. Regarding the Niva, I’ve always been a fan but wonder how they would cope in Euro NCAP crash tests, given how ancient the design is. I notice the photo of the Dacia Duster is the original model, not the new, and slightly chintzy, replacement model.

  4. Very interesting, especially the prototypes aspect. A small point – it’s ‘IZh’, (from Izhevsk); ‘I’ not ‘L’.

  5. A refreshing shandy over some interior pictures sounds like a good thing to me, Richard. The last Niva I saw was many years ago. A sandy yellow, never washed and looked for all the world like it could conquer it too, example.

  6. Pretty sure Subaru beat Lada to it – unitary body IFS etc – with the option of 4wd on the 1972 onward Leone.

  7. Speaking of Lada engines whilst accepting the fact they share nothing with Fiat, am bit confused by whether any differences exist between not only the Shiguli/Riva and Samara engines, but also the 50-55+ hp 900-1100cc (former specifically 897cc) engines used in the VAZ E1101 “Cheburashka” to the VAZ E1101 “Ladoga” (also under 3E1101 / 4E1101) series of prototypes since the latter formed the basis for what became the Samara yet had more potent units compared to what entered production .

    Also interested to know whether the 1.7-litre engine used in the Niva/Riva or even the 1.6-litre used in the Samara was capable of being further enlarged to 2-litres (notwithstanding the unviable rotary engined prototypes)?

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