VAZ: Diplomacy, Politics, and Urban Legends (Part One)

Investigating the overlooked and unexplored history of VAZ.

Image: lada.ru

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.

Astonishingly, these behind-the-scenes details seem to Continue reading “VAZ: Diplomacy, Politics, and Urban Legends (Part One)”

All The VZX 450.3-CN-90 (b) You Can Get Your Hands On

Our good friends at Automotive News reported that after 40 years in production the dear old Lada Niva 4×4 is being radically revised.

The new Lada Niva: source

If I had not seen one of the originals lately I’d possibly have ignored this news. And if I was not a fan of Suzuki’s gradualist approach to their re-working of the Jimny, I might not have thought too hard about this new design from Mr Steve Mattin’s team at Lada.

However I have thought about gradualism in the evolution of niche products like off-roaders, sports cars and luxury cars. And I have seen the current decades old Lada Niva. That means I think the decision to Continue reading “All The VZX 450.3-CN-90 (b) You Can Get Your Hands On”

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
Continue reading “The Desert Has No Summit”

Sunset and Evening Star And One Clear Call For Me!

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. 

2018 Lada Granta Sports: source

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!”

The Fellow Traveller

We’re looking at the Fiat 124 at 50. Or are we?

Fiat 124 Berlina - You call that snow. You should see what they have in Russia.
Fiat 124 Berlina as lifestyle transport – You call that snow? Wait until you see what they have in Russia.

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”

And News From 2015

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.

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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”