By on November 26, 2013

01 - Lada Niva Down on the Reykjavik Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinWhen I went to Iceland to abuse some Subarus, I managed to visit a couple of Reykjavik junkyards and poke around a bit. In addition to the weird-to-American-eyes French cars and puzzling quantities of 1990s Chrysler products, I found this VAZ-2121 aka Lada Niva 3-door wedged nose-to-tail with a green Megane.
05 - Lada Niva Down on the Reykjavik Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinThe car’s doors were locked and the yard’s proprietor didn’t speak much English, so I couldn’t determine this Russian’s year of manufacture. The marker lights and some comments by Lada-admiring Icelanders later suggest that this car is from the early 1980s.
07 - Lada Niva Down on the Reykjavik Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinThere’s no way this car could have competed in the United States market, what with all the cheap Subarus, reliable Toyota Tercel 4WDs, and the perception that Ladas were just Fiats built by enslaved Stakhonovites in dirt-floored tents in the Gulag. Elsewhere, however, the Niva built up a reputation for T-34-grade toughness.
02 - Lada Niva Down on the Reykjavik Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinThese days, the Niva’s appeal in Iceland has waned, and so this car will likely end up getting crushed soon.

Not many products benefit from association with the Soviet Union. The AK-47 and the Niva, that’s about it.

That’s how you treat a Lada.

In Iceland, they’re a little rougher on their Ladas.

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34 Comments on “Junkyard Find: Lada Niva...”

  • avatar

    The first compact SUV?

    • 0 avatar

      Most Ladas were reworked Fiats – I’d look at what they were offering in the 70s.

      • 0 avatar

        Niva had a GAZ-developed suspension and powertrain with full-time 4WD (and obviously bodywork) so it’s not just a Fiat 124 on stilts. Still, parts-bin usage was maximized so especially the interior is full of Fiat/Lada sedan bits.

        • 0 avatar

          Yes the Niva was infact autonomously designed, and caused quite a stir when it first came out. Yes a lot of shared parts with other rwd Ladas (and therefor Fiat) but the concept and execution is home grown Russian.

  • avatar

    Well ;

    I rather like tiny little cars and if it’s really a tough one , it sounds good to me ! .


  • avatar

    I spent 6 months in Caen, France, as an exchange student in the early 80s. My host family had a Niva, which they used primarily to get out to their “maison a la campagne” – house in the country. The Niva, like the house, was primitive but indeed seemed tough as nails. The gruff, grunty diesel engine was the perfect prime motivator, too. I was surprised at how much it didn’t suck, considering its origins…

  • avatar

    I remember seeing a couple of these on my first trip to Montreal in 1997. Been back several times, but haven’t seen any of them again.

    • 0 avatar

      You didn’t see any Nivas on return trips to Montreal? Reason? If you babied them,and saturated them with anti rust products,you MIGHT get 6 years out of the POS that they were.

      The only one I know of, {if its still there} is sitting in about 60 feet of water on a frozen Northern lake.

      At the time the owner was more concerned with the case of beer in the back. As I recall the owner was quite relieved. Nobody got hurt, and he got rid of his piece of garbage.

      • 0 avatar

        You could buy a new Niva, in Canada, for a short time during the late 1990s. IIRC, they even came with fuel injection (a GM/Rochester TBI setup, I think) and a rust-through warranty (10 years, perhaps) so long as you got the thing the full spray treatment at Rust Check once a year. In the end, the warranty period was moot because the importer went out of business after only a few years.

        I also saw a few Nivas in Colombia when I was there about five years ago.

        They are indeed unsophisticated vehicles and their simplicity has an attractiveness much like a very very old Jeep.

    • 0 avatar

      Saw several of them rusting away in Quebec about 15 years ago – at the time I wasn’t such an esoteric car nerd at the age of 12, so i had NO IDEA what they were or how rare they were. Later searching i found out they were Russian, which blew my mind. Found a white Niva in a field with some “sporty” vinyl and weeds up to the doors.

      VERY cool cars, in a Laforza fashion.

  • avatar

    Vertical tail lights vs the earlier 2106-derived horizontal ones below the hatch indicate that this is a post-1995 car, the late-90s style steering wheel confirms this.

    Friends of my parents owned a long wheelbase version of one of these, the “2131.” It got them to their year-round dacha (summer home) on unplowed jeep trails during Siberian winters. The drivetrain howl while riding in one of these is incredible, and the 3 shifters poking out between the seats look gnarly (one for the 5spd transmission, 1 for high/low, 1 for center differential lock). I think it put their later 1st gen ML320 to shame offroad.

    The Classic Niva continues to be refined, currently called the “Lada 4×4,” it has fuel injection, and some improvements to suspension geometry and drivetrain (CV joints instead of u joints to cut down on the terrible NVH).

    James May was quite smitten with it!

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for getting in before i did that they got the model year messed up.

      Too bad cv joints are still optional, and windshield sprayer (really?, did i translate that right )

      I wondered about that but you joints are easier to repair in the field with just a hammer.

      • 0 avatar

        The u-joints being replaced are on the driveshaft, the front end is independent and has had cv axles from the get-go (maybe?). I wonder if the cv joint on the driveshaft can be rebuilt easily and whether rebalancing is necessary after the fact. I think I’ve recounted my travails with a staked in u-joint on the driveshaft of my old MPV here on TTAC before. Much cursing, BFH application, and a vice resulted in relative success. I rebalanced the driveshaft in the most Russian way possible: lifting the car on jackstands and putting it in gear, adjusting two hoseclamps opposite each other as balancing weights. Worked out great but I was pretty nervous doing it.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m sure the cv could be rebuilt but its got to be much harder than changing ujoints.

          Never heard of having to balance the shaft when replacing u joints, sounds like a PITA.

          I know what you mean. For my truck i carry 10+ huge wooden blocks. They work for cribbing, and tire chocks when needed, and various other uses that come up from time to time. You can never carry too much junk!

          The cv’s work good though u joints tend to side load when at an angle. You can demonstrate this with a socket u joint where it feels like it turn easier at certain parts of the rotation.

  • avatar

    Wow, huge greenhouse and ride height like a 2CV.
    What’s not to like?

  • avatar

    In the 1980’s, Niva (not “Nida”) was a preferred mode of transportation among countryside cops and well-to-do residents of collective agricaltural farms. Whether or not Niva will remain popular in Russia depends of competition’s pricing. Today, Niva is twice as cheap as the Grand Vitara, but if Subaru or Toyota start building SUVs inside of the country to avoid import taxes, it will be tough for Niva to survive.

    • 0 avatar

      Seeing as they build both the Original Niva, and the new one the Chevrolet Niva I’m sure they have room to move around in. The cost is sunk on both and the sales numbers aren’t bad at all.

      Also Russian have respect for Niva’s which is more than they have for normal Russian cars.

      Toyota is already building the RAV 4 iirc Locally, and there are many other SUVs available cheap. The problem is most SUVs have huge engines with high horsepower. Road tax increases exponentially as horsepower increases so big suvs are really only for the rich.

  • avatar

    There are a few references in this article to this car as the “Niva” and then there are some with it refered to as a “Nida”. It’s a Niva, right?

  • avatar

    Nice burnout. Are we sure that it was a volcano in Iceland that caused those flight cancellations a few years back?

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    “The car’s doors were locked and the yard’s proprietor didn’t speak much English, so I couldn’t determine this Russian’s year of manufacture. ”

    Umm…no offense, but it looks from the photo that the driver’s side window was rolled down.

  • avatar

    I first saw (lots of) these when I was in the Republic of Georgia a few years ago and fell in love with em. I never got to drive one, but they have the tin can utility look I am a fan of.

  • avatar

    Lada was one of the first makes that took the opportunity of an open Brazilian market in the 90s and sold their wares here. Unfortunatley, the did so with a Brazilian import company that lost interest when the government did a flip flop on that totally open policy and increased tariffs again.

    Nowadays, there are still many of these running around, most in various states of disrepair. Fact is, original parts are unavailable, but there are alternatives to be found. For example, most of the interior fit trims can be lifted off a Fiat 147 and snapped into place in the Niva and they work.

    I always liked the look of the Niva and the sedan. Throwbacks to be sure, but somehow refreshing. I think Lada had a difficult transitioning to more modern cars and the more modern cars look bad in comparison. Oh well, Russia was going through a lot at the time and I guess cars were not a priority.

    The worst thing about driving the Niva was how heavy everything was. In Brazil, in the early 90s, most cars came with power nothing, but there was some engineering to add in lightness. Fiats were specially good at this. To drive a Niva you needed strong arms and legs. A strong left leg to depress the clutch, a strong left arm to open the window. Though the right side of your body was not as taxed, moving the gear stick or even pressing the accelerator took a determined effort. In lots of ways fun, but yes, quite a chore in daily traffic.

    The sure don’t make anything like this anymore.

  • avatar

    at first I thought it was the new Honda fit – except this is better looking.

  • avatar

    For many years, I was around a lot of Nivas in a lot of countries and can testify to the fact that it was/is a very successful car. The main reason for that success is simple economics. The Niva is a cheap-to-buy, easy-and-cheap-to-maintain 4wd vehicle, and that is a rare thing. Although I was lucky enough to have Land Cruisers myself most of the time, the ubiquity of Nivas was one of many constant reminders that MOST people in the world have to put money absolutely first when buying/owning a vehicle or any luxury– even if I don’t.

    My best personal Niva story was from Sharjah, UAE in 1994. I was driving a friend’s Niva in (thankfully) slow traffic and got rear ended. The car behind me– a taxi– had been “Patrolled” (hit by a Nissan Patrol– something so common for a variety of sociological reasons at that time that “Patrolled” became a verb) and crunched into me. The poor taxi looked like an accordion between the Patrol and the Niva. Getting out to inspect the Niva revealed only small dents/scratches on its heavy steel bumper. After a few hours in the Sharjah police station, the owner of the Patrol (a wealthy UAE citizen) breezed in and quickly signed a bunch of papers accepting responsibility for the accident. (Read that last sentence again; it was a stunning thing to witness.) The owner of the Niva (not me) did, in fact, eventually get a more than generous check to cover the minimal damage.

    Anyway, cheap to buy, cheap to run, and fairly impervious to cosmetic insult. Driving in it or riding it often beats walking in mud, sand, or snow for hours and hours. That’s the story of the Niva.

  • avatar

    I had one of these for six weeks. I bought it, new, because a) you could buy these in Canada, b) it was the cheapest car I could get reasonably new c) I had a friend of the family who had the only reliable Samara ever made d) I could fit in it (this was the era of ass-on-the-floor compacts) and, e) it was kind of cool and I was kind of a sucker.

    I’m sure it’s reliable in that special sense of the word reserved for cars you could run on vodka and repair with a sledgehammer, some twine and two baulks of Siberian timber, but day to day it was a pain. Leaked oil, didn’t like to start and was deeply unpleasant to actually drive.

    They’re still kind of cool, if you’re into the post-modern, I’m-a-hipster/artist/underemployed thing (which I was). You still see the occasional Niva (haven’t seen a Samara in, like, ever) on Canadian roads.

  • avatar

    I seem to recall the Lemon Aid write-up on these cars. The “cons” column was quite lengthy. The “pros” column had but one entry: “not likely to be stolen.”

  • avatar
    big al

    I know a couple guys up here in northern Vancouver Island who use these hunting as in reality,they’re not a lot bigger then most quads,especially side by side quads, a lot of people use for hunting& fishing…..And they are street legal and can be driven to the area..And not too beastly to fix.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    If Malcolm Bricklin was to add a SUV to the Yugo franchise back in the 80’s. This would have been the vehicle.

  • avatar

    I remember driving one of these new in 2007, it looked exactly like this one. The taillights and interior make this a post-1995 model at least, and I think the streering wheel is 1999 or later. Most likely this vehicle is from the 2000s.

    They are truly awful machines, with subpar reliability in every way. We’re talking about major diff and exhaust manifold repairs every 10000 km.

  • avatar

    Second place in Paris Dakar 1981


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