Debunking the persistent legend of Russo-Italian rust.
Fiat’s cooperation in the establishment of the VAZ factory, along with Alexei Kosygin’s new policies(1), helped mobilize the Soviet citizenry en masse. With the quite excellent Fiat 124 as a basis, the end-product was arguably a better car to own and drive than anything offered by ZAZ(2), AZLK(3) or GAZ(4) at the time.
The establishment of the VAZ factory was, as we now know, politically motivated(1). For the Soviet government at least, the project was a major success: they took a good initial design and successfully adapted it to their country’s conditions and needs. They even sold it successfully in export markets. For the Italians, though, things played out somewhat differently: Continue reading “VAZ: Diplomacy, Politics, and Urban Legends (Part Three)”
No one could ever accuse Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States from 1963 to 1969, of lacking confidence in his own power or in the power of his office and country. Quite the contrary, as Greece’s ambassador found out in 1964, when Johnson told him in no uncertain terms what he thought of the smaller nation’s sovereignty(1). Yet, a persistent feature in US and US-aligned political discourse proved to be a double-edged sword for him: the words ‘Russia’, ‘Soviet Union’, ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ were and remain veritable berserk buttons(2) for legions of politicians, pundits, and voters on the right of the political spectrum. This sort of sentiment, of course, is not unique to US political discourse, but it remained especially acute, even more than a decade after the McCarthyite purges of the late 1940s and early 1950s, which created near-hysteria at the time.
Investigating the overlooked and unexplored history of VAZ.
VAZ (in Russian: ВАЗ)(1) is well known in the automotive world. It was established in 1966 as a joint-venture between the Soviet Union and Fiat to mass-produce affordable, reliable, and technologically relevant family cars for the Soviet people(2). Its first product was the VAZ-2101 Zhiguli saloon(3), a more rugged version of the Fiat 124, adapted to cope with the adverse conditions of the USSR. The Zhiguli was so successful that VAZ/AvtoVAZ would become the country’s largest car manufacturer.
Much has already been written about both the Zhiguli, which was exported under the Lada (Russian: Лада) brand, and its maker. Here on DTW you can enjoy features on both the Zhiguli(4) and the factory in Tolyatti(5) where it was built, written by my fellow contributors Sean Patrick and Andrew Miles respectively. There are, however, unexplored and unreported details of the history of VAZ. This is precisely what we will attempt to bring to light in this three-part series, primarily by examining the US State Department’s historical archives. Specifically, we will examine the politics and the diplomacy behind the establishment of the Soviet automaker.
Situated a thousand kilometres South East from Moscow on the banks of the historically troubled river Volga, lies an enormous industrial plant. Up to 650,000 vehicles wearing a handful of badges are built per year, the area having become known locally as the Motown of the East. But to understand the Autovaz plant, we must first Continue reading “Le Pas d’Acier”
Hurry! You do still want that classic Lada Niva, don’t you?
The name stems from those areas the car was built to traverse, Niva being Russian for corn (field.) Also described as a “Renault 5 on a Land Rover” body by its designers, the Lada Niva will crisscross fields no more from 2024 so firm up that ushanka and take a trip back to the Soviet Union in the early 1970s.
Tasked by the Kremlin in 1971 with creating a rugged, capable vehicle, one which the many poor farmers cast far and wide along the Russian Steppes could easily use and repair, the loser of this particular design competition was the the AZLK Moskvitch. Yet the first Autovaz prototypes (led by Vladimir Solovyev) known as Krokodil, were deemed “too utilitarian.” A new, more civilised design garnered the internal type number 2121 consisting of a hard top roof and doors to keep the weather out, along with unibody construction, car-like looks, a 1600 cc petrol engine and permanent four wheel drive.
Three years of heavy testing and comparisons against vehicles such as the Land and Range Rover (under Vadim Kotlyarov), in the Ural Mountains, Siberia and the Kazakh desert wastelands brought about the Niva, the first Autovaz to Continue reading “Production Ends 31/12/2023”
DTW remembers the once fraught and risky business of buying a second-hand car and recalls an alternative course for the impecunious.
Before the introduction of effective consumer protection legislation and manufacturer-backed Approved Pre-Owned schemes, buying a used car was often a tricky and less than pleasant business. Even relatively new cars could harbour hidden problems beneath their highly polished paintwork. Franchised dealers seemed rather embarrassed to have to Continue reading “Economy Drive (Part One)”
Like our old friend the Suzuki Jimny, this little fellow seems to be a very long lived and stable design.
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 Continue reading “The Desert Has No Summit”
Automotive News reported a bit of an improvement at AvtoVAZ’s sales. The firm makes Lada cars. How about we find out what they sell right now, this minute. You won’t read this at Car&Track.
“AvtoVAZ said it made a net profit of 609 million rubles ($9.70 million) in the first three months, reversing losses of 2.81 billion rubles for the same period last year,” reported ANE. Which is not all that interesting. More absorbing is the question of what you find if you Continue reading “Sunset and Evening Star And One Clear Call For Me!”
Old Concept Cars is a fine resource for people looking back at forgotten designs. This one is the 1998 Lada Rapan.
Not a lot of information exists on this one. What I can gather is that it is under 4 metres long and is powered by a 25 kW electric motor. It´s a concept and no series production occurred. The car could manage 90 kmph and got to 60 kmph in 14 seconds. Presumably modern battery packs could dramatically improve those figures. AutoVaz showed the car at the 1998 Paris motor show. Continue reading “As Athos Confounded Xerxes”
For many eyes, the car above is, irredeemably, depending on their country, a VAZ or a Lada or a Zhiguli, a vehicle that citizens of the former Soviet Bloc view with a frustrating mixture of contempt and affection. To me it is (and in this example, correctly) a Fiat 124, the first car that I had free, unaccompanied access to the open roads in, with all that allowed, so anything that follows might have to be filtered by the reader to allow for the rosy glow of nostalgia, although actually it’s a frustrating mixture of contempt and affection. Continue reading “The Fellow Traveller”
Whatever happened to Steve Mattin? After a spell at Mercedes and then producing some unhappy-looking Volvo’s he went to work for Autovaz in Russia.
Lada showed this car two years ago and launched it last year. Despite a downturn in the Russian economy, the car is selling well. The wheel arch treatment is there to disguise the height of the bodyside. The car is 4.4 metres long, has a 1.6 litre petrol 4 (and that’s it) and is based on Renault-Nissan bits (that firm now controls Autovaz). Renault are making a name for themselves as the new Fiat: providers of cheap and cheery transport in developing countries. Continue reading “And News From 2015”
A much loved child has many names according to the saying.
Now that I come to think of it, I’ve never seen that phrase applied to anything very good though. What made me think of this was today’s picture, a Lada 2105 Classic. According to on-line sources this car also went under these names: Lada Riva, Lada 1500, Lada 1700, Lada Signet, Lada 2104, Lada 2105 and Lada 2107.
The 43rd Most Influential Briton in the Car Industry 2004 was Steve Mattin.
Formerly the senior design manager at Mercedes Benz until 2004, he moved to Volvo when it was under Ford’s management. I happen not to care a great deal for the Mercedes cars designed while Mattin was in Sindelfingen. And it surprises me very little that while at Volvo Mattin oversaw the creation of the Volvo S60, V60, and XC60 concept cars.