Niva’s engineers, of course, could not have predicted that the car would find buyers even more than four decades after the start of production.
In 1977, when the serial production of the Niva VAZ-2121 started, it stunned consumers with an unprecedented combination of a comfortable interior, dynamics, very decent handling and at the same time, cross-country ability, quite comparable to the domestic SUVs UAZ and LuAZ known at that time. All this made an impression on foreign buyers as well. VAZ-2121 has become one of the most successful domestic cars in the history of the USSR, sold abroad, including on the markets of capitalist countries spoiled by a variety of markets.
The first two prototypes of the 1971 VAZ-E2121 were completely different: with an extremely simple body with an awning. The cars were equipped with an original transmission, allowing separate front, rear or four-wheel drive.
Outwardly, the first prototype of the VAZ-E2121 looked a little like the Fiat Campagnola SUV. But this version of Campagnola appeared in 1974! So who looked at whom is another question.
The complex transfer gearbox, which was on the first prototypes, was abandoned, since the condition set for the designers of the VAZ-2121 was the preservation of the serial four-speed gearbox – only with modified gear ratios (3.67 / 2.1 / 1.36 / 1.0 ). The transfer gearbox (low gear – 2.135) was connected to the gearbox with an intermediate shaft. It was not possible to defeat the associated vibrations and noise to the end.
An engine specifically for an all-wheel drive car began to be made in 1971. At the same time, three prototypes were made with a working volume of 1.605 liters (80 × 80 mm). Such a motor, unified with serial ones in terms of block height, connecting rods, bearings and other parts, developed 84 hp. at 5500 rpm. However, at the request of the factory athletes, the cylinder diameter was reduced to 79 mm: in this version, the 80 hp engine. fit into the sports class of cars with engines up to 1.6 liters. Since the production of the VAZ-2121 was planned to be relatively small, the engine was also used for the experimental VAZ-21031, which later turned into the serial VAZ-2106.
The Niva suspension scheme repeated the one used on the Zhiguli. The first prototypes of the VAZ-E2121 had drum brakes on all wheels. The production car received front discs with original calipers.
The transmission of the serial Niva was atypical for those years: permanent all-wheel drive combined with a demultiplier and a center differential lock. In the USSR, there were no such designs before the VAZ-2121.
I will quote the leading designer of the VAZ-2121 Petr Prusov: “This scheme was not invented at the VAZ – it had already been used. For example, a Range Rover. But it was used for the first time in small class jeeps ”. By the way, the first generation Range Rover was purchased for study in the USSR and participated in comparative tests of the VAZ-2121, along with the Land Rover 88 and Soviet counterparts.
On the details of the cabin and indicators Niva unified with the most prestigious models then – VAZ-2103 and VAZ-2106. “Six” appeared a little earlier than Niva. Its serial production began in February 1976. And the official date for the start of serial production of the VAZ-2121 is April 5, 1977.
The Niva salon received a finish no worse than in the Zhiguli, a rich, for those times, set of indicators and even a regular radio receiver.
Niva VAZ-2121 is one of the most interesting Soviet cars in history. Structurally and stylistically original and combining qualities that no other compact model in the world had in this class in those years. Since 1977, more than 2 million cars have been produced, and the demand for the Niva is still there.