The Fiat-company was one of the first to take the risk of going into the east during the cold war, admittedly, the ulterior motive was to profitably palm off their, in the meantime, amortised production facilities. Thus, the gigantic AwtoWas-factory was created, approx. 1000 km south-east of Moscow on the Volga river, whereafter, in the beginning this was simply known as 'WAS'. Their brand-emblem, by the way, represents the sail of a riverboat.
What did they produce? The Fiat 124, from which they utilised the entire visible coachwork. Underneath the bodywork however, it was a very different story. Neither the engine, the remaining drive-train nor the suspension or the braking-system, were taken over. Because of the optical similarity, people in the west could hardly distinguish between older Fiats and exported Ladas.
In the eastern states, the Lada was considered to be an upper-middle class car. While in the GDR, one could wait up to 15 years to get a Trabant, the Lada (also called Shiguli), was practically inaccessible for the average citizen. In the west, it stood for very reasonably priced technology and in countries with a high new-car tax, e.g., the Netherlands, it was actually quite well liked.
From 1971 to 1973, the production was run up to its maximum capacity of 750.000 cars per year, the highest in eastern Europe. The company stated that the total production up to 2003, was 22 million units. In this, there were another 18 assembly plants involved, not only in the USSR. It's very well known how the contribution of the Fiat company was reimbursed, namely, with poor quality steel. Now, the Fiat at that time was very prone to rusting, indeed, one could almost watch the Alfasud, which was built with this metal as it rusted away.
|The name 'Lada' was actually only used for the export models.|
Modifications only changed the cubic capacity of the engines, the amount of chrome and the number of headlights. In 1974 the Niva was introduced, a genuine off-road vehicle with its own outfit and a cut above anything they had produced until then, it harvested quite an amount of praise due to its reasonable price and it's usability on really difficult terrain. So much so, that it is still today in their programme.
|The name Lada actually means 'Goddess or Sweetheart'.|
The modernity of the assembly plants was absolutely recognised by the experts. What was standing in the way of fast progress, was on the one hand, the thinking in terms of five-year plans and on the other hand, the suppliers, who operated very far away in satellite-states like, e.g., the GDR (headlamps). Perhaps this explains the long start-up times before they reached their full production capacity.
What they urgently needed, particularly for the western markets, was a modern, front-wheel drive car. This however, was only introduced in 1984, bearing the name Samara, after the town/province. Already in 1994, a further version, with the description 2110, was shown at the international trade-fairs, however, this model found it difficult to find its way into the western export markets. One can easily imagine, that this name caused some critics to wonder, when finally the standard production would actually start.
After six years, they were finally ready to go ahead. The car came out as the 110 (Hatchback), the 111 (Estate car) and the 112 (Fastback). Perhaps because of the long period before it was exported, it's design gave the impression of being somewhat outdated. 10/13
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