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LADA NIVA: 45 years on roads and off the roads

LADA NIVA: 45 years on roads and off the roads

The 5th of April is the birthday of the VAZ-2121 “Niva” off-roader, which is now called LADA NIVA Legend. The car has been manufactured already for 45 years, has conquered all the continents of the Earth, and considered as a symbol of the LADA brand. Around 2.5 million of the off-roaders have been produced over the years since the serial production was started. During its glorious history, the NIVA has overseen some changes and improvements without ever diverging from its unique DNA. 45 years old, and so many more years to go.History of the LADA NIVAThe original ideaNIVA is the first series car independently developed by the Volga automobile plant specialists. The group of engineers (the chief engineer Vladimir Soloviyov, the leading egineer Pyotr Prusov, the chief designer Valeriy Syomushkin, the engineer Lev Vikhko, the leading test driver Vadim Kotlyarov, etc) created a unique model that opened a new page in the global history of the all-wheel drive cars. NIVA is one of the modern SUVs class founders. The integrated body, independent front suspension, front disc brakes – it was the first time, when these “passenger cars” attributes were applied to this class of off-roaders. While the off-roaders all over the world were equipped with low-speed engines of large volume, AVTOVAZ used high-speed engine. The full-time 4WD was a novelty as well. The off-roaders of that times usually had the rear-driving axle, and the front one was involved when driving on the off-road. But the NIVA’s 4WD is active full time and the car is always ready to overcome difficult road conditions.The name that sounds great in all languages Where the NIVA name came from is told in the “Pyotr Prusov” book from “AVTOVAZ’s creators” series: “The history of this name goes to 1974 year when the chief designer Valeriy Syomushkin suggested the “Niva” to apply for the international trademark registration. This version was criticized either, as then in the USSR the domestic harvester also had the “Niva” name. “Everyone will forget the harvester, but the car will remain”, Syomushkin objected. The main his arguments in the defense of a new name were as follows: “Niva” is a short melodious word of the Russian language with positive associations; there are similar-sounding words in English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Czech and Polish languages; these similar-sounding words mean in other languages the most peaceful things such like garden, field, horizon. The choice was approved. The trademark was approved as well. Thus, the car VAZ-2121 has got the “Niva” name.It is known that in 1973, one of the off-roaders showcased in the Kremlin had a “Niva” name – on the board of the car was the corresponding inscription in large font.At the turn of centuries, the ''Niva'' name, or rather, NIVA, was assigned to the model of the ''GM-AVTOVAZ'' JV. Since then, the classic model was called LADA 4x4. For 18 years, only the model of the joint venture had been sold under the NIVA name. In 2020, the name along with the car was bought out by AVTOVAZ. And soon, in January 2021, the NIVA name was officially returned to the cult off-roader - already with the Legend prefix.ExportNIVA has soon become popular both in the USSR and abroad. The car had become the basis of the VAZ exports for many years. There were periods when up to 70% of the NIVA cars were exported abroad. The car was sold in Japan, England and other countries with left-hand traffic (to do this, in the 80-s, the right-hand drive modification was produced). Over 700 thousand of NIVA cars were exported in hundreds of different countries of the world on 5 continents, and in some countries (Ecuador, Greece, Ukraine, Kazakhstan) the car was assembled from SKD kits.Records on the off-roadNIVA is well-known on all continents. Even in Antarctica at the Russian station Bellingshausen, the standard off-roader’s version had been successfully operated for 11 years, showing reliability and adaptability to work in the extreme conditions. The NIVA (or rather, a snow and swamp-going vehicle on its base) has visited the North Pole as well. In 1999 on the Tibetan plateau in the Himalayas, the expedition on NIVA took an altitude of 5726 m above the sea level.MotorsportIn the 80-s the NIVA confidently entered the world sports arena – it participated in the most prestigious “Paris-Dakar” rally-raid. Making in the 1980 the so called “checking”, NIVA has got the bronze in this the most difficult marathon already in 1981. Then there were new prizes and victories: “gold” of the “Paris-Tunisia” and “Algeria” rally-raids (1981), “silver” of “Dakar”, first places in the “Algeria” rally and “Pharaoh’s rally” (1983-1984), in 1985 on it were won the “Cameroon” rally, “Monteblanco” off-road bajas, “Algeria” rally, the most difficult trial of New Zealand “Valley”, “Macway-1000” Australian rally-raid. And in the following years NIVA successfully participated in “Paris-Bejing”, “Paris-Dakar”, “Sydney – Darwin”, “Moscow – Lagos”, “Wynn-Safari”, “Roof of Africa” and many other rally-raids. In 2022, the LADA NIVA started in the “Dakar” rally, but already in a new Dakar Classic retro-nomination. 4 teams driving NIVA took part in this rally, one of the teams under the RED Legend Team was supported by the LADA brand. The crew on the car of 1984 production year successfully passed all 12 stages and 7800 km.Modifications The LADA NIVA Legend has become the basis for a lot of modifications, some of them were produced in little batches. They have withstood the tests of time and expended the pool of NIVA fans. The most known version is the long-base 5-door LADA NIVA Legend. The vehicle is distinguished by the wheelbase increased by half a meter and the availability of 5 doors. A lot of pickup versions, armored cars, floaty swamp buggies, minivans, special vehicles for police, medical workers and rescuers were produced on the NIVA basis. There were unique projects in the history of car as well - from an army amphibian vehicle to a circus car, in which trained bears drive around the arena.Modernization Throughout the production time, the NIVA has been constantly updated and the today’s car is markedly different from the first “Nivas”. Two significant modernization stages were made in 1993 and 2009. Cherishing the classic style, AVTOVAZ engineers have fully updated the “filling” of the SUV. The car has become more dynamic, comfort and safer. The drivability improved as well – both on the highway and on the off-road.The car was again updated in 2019 – the NIVA has got modernized, more comfort interior. The panel was fully updated: it has got a new climate control unit. Three rotating handles and electric actuators of the heater and recirculation dampers, as well as new air ducts, increase the efficiency of the system and the convenience of its use. The dashboard received a more convenient white illumination of the speedometer, tachometer, and on-board computer, which shows an expanded list of functions, including fuel consumption data. Special attention during the modernization of the off-roader was paid to improving the vibro-acoustic comfort of the car. It has got new powertrain supports, reducing the level of vibrations, and an improved package of noise and vibration insulation on the body panels.New production Production processes are updated along with the NIVA design. The most significant step in this direction was made in 2017-2018, when welding, painting and assembly of the car were moved to more modern workshops. At the same time, production processes have changed significantly - this ensures the up-to-date quality level.If in the former workshop welding was mainly manual, then today the body manufacturing technology is 54% automated. The quality and stable geometry of the body are provided by 80 robots. The painting technology is also significantly automated (4 robotic complexes work in the workshop). The assembly is carried out on a 650-meter long conveyor. The process is built according to modern methods: for example, a kit set for the car assembly is formed in advance. On a separate suspension, the kit moves along to the assembly line: this allows the operator not to waste time searching for the right part, checking with the assembly map, unpacking the part. The process of filling with fluids is also automated. Antifreeze, freon for air conditioning, power steering oil, brake fluid are pumped on special installations that pre-vacuum the system. This allows to check its leak-tightness and eliminates the occurrence of air jams. The equipment controls both the tightening torques of the joints, and the light beam of the headlights, and the angles of the wheels.LADA NIVA Legend todayLADA NIVA Legend fans are offered a whole range of the off-roader’s modifications. The classic LADA NIVA Legend is represented in the Classic, Luxe, Black and Urban trim levels. Depending on the configuration, cars are equipped with air conditioning, alloy wheels, plastic, or aluminum bumpers. All cars are equipped with a permanent all-wheel drive system with the possibility to plug-in a downshift and an axle differential lock. The five-door LADA NIVA Legend - a car with increased capacity of the cabin and trunk - is also equipped with similar systems. Those who prefer an even higher level of cross-country ability, LADA offers an off-roader in the Bronto modification. Self-locking inter-wheel differentials, reinforced chassis, tires with developed lugs are installed on the car. LADA NIVA Bronto has an increased ground clearance and a brutal off-road design.A range of pickups based on the LADA NIVA is provided for small and mid-size businesses. A semi-frame car with a spring-loaded rear suspension is designed for a load of 440-490 kg. The cargo ad-on can be carried out both as the on-board platform and as a van (cargo, insulated or refrigerated).