"With the style of a thoroughbred and the strength of a shire horse the Niva 4WD is one of the toughest and most versatile vehicles available."
The English brochure from 1987 cuts right to the chase. The Lada Niva, introduced in 1977 and still built today, is a veritable off-road diehard, and one of the few internationally successful Russian passenger cars. Because Cuba was nursed by Russia, many Nivas found the way to the island. The majority of them are the regular three door version, but occasionally you'll come across a long-wheelbase 5-door Niva, too.
Originally developed as an undemanding workhorse for rural use (hence the name Niva — meaning "cornfield“ in Russian), the car quickly became known for its ruggedness and gathered a loyal fan base in many western countries. For years, the Niva had practically no rivals. It was built unlike any other 4x4 car of its time, but that only added up to the Niva's appeal. The modern unibody structure and mechanicals taken from the Fiat-based Lada sedans made the Niva a versatile alternative to any regular econobox and thus a precursor to the now popular compact SUV's that emerged on the market much later.
Perhaps best of all, the Niva didn't look like your average car from Eastern Europe. Its fortunate proportions and the somewhat timeless design made it an interesting choice even for motorists beyond the Iron Curtain. The Niva was marketed under many different names, such as Cossac in England and Canada, Taiga in Germany or Bushman in Australia. It was a crude ride, though: the missing power steering and the four wheel-drive gearbox with its three separate shifter sticks in the center tunnel (commanding gears, differential lock and transfer case, respectively) meant a lot of muscling around when driving a Niva.
Over its almost four decades long production run, the Niva didn't change much, which speaks for it's reassuring technical qualities. The pictured 5-door version VAZ 2131 was added to the lineup in 1993, featuring a 500mm (19.7-inch) longer wheelbase and a modified trunk lid with vertical taillights which the regular 3-door Nivas also received two years later with a facelift in 1995.