The origin of NIVA
The birth of the 1st LADA offroad car was decided in early 60's in a very important document of that time. The Ministry of the Automotive industry of the USSR on the base of scientific predictions developed the prospective type of new car models for forthcoming 1971-1980.
All the car factories, NAMI (Academic Automotive Institute) and some Soviet-wide Ministries were involved in the developing of the new type of car. The project was also discussed on the plenum of scientific-technical comitee of the Ministry of Automotive industry. As it is expected with the plan type economic, the new type was agreed. Exactly that document assumed the production of a four-wheel drive car on the base of Category 2 cars of the small class (which meant the base of Moskvich according to the classification of that years).
Originally the idea was to create an all terrain vehicle based on LADA. But during the modifying of the technical thoughts about the upcoming project, it became obvious that the existed LADA engines were not enough powerful. In the summer of 1970 the Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers Alexey Kosygin set the task to VAZ (LADA), AZLK (Moskvich) and Izhmash (IZH) to create an all-terrain vehicle which should be as comfortable as passenger vehicles of that time. In the process of "brainstorming" the developers, headed by chief designer of VAZ Vladimir Solovyov tried to take into consideration the basic requirements for the developing vehicle. Disputes and doubts have expressed in a highly original car with a constant differential all-wheel drive, which had no precedents in any other car.
The rival factories were designing AZLK 415, -416 and IZH 14, but for some reason these cars were not ready for serial production, but their developing did not stop. Same time the designers of VAZ factory certainly made the right strategic decision — they used several parts and assemblies which were already produced to build LADA. In April 1972 the engineer-designer of Chassis Design Department, Petr Prusov was appointed as the head designer of this project.
The first prototype released in the spring of 1972 - VAZ E2121 was nicknamed "the Crocodile" due to its appearance - it had a tented body of a very simple form. The car was designed for conducting off-road tests and did not require any special design solutions. At the stage of the "Crocodile" project "Niva" was covered by a dense veil of secrecy. On the cars there were even installed some fake badges of the defunct company "Formika" (translated as "Ant"), some "particularly interested" people were told a legend of the tests of the new Romanian Fiat.
The view of "Niva" which is known by millions of people appeared only in 1973 by the efforts of VAZ's designer Valery Semushkin. "NIVA" sample 1973: front day lights and turn signal lights are separate, the rear lights are round, no usual door handles and air vents in the back side. Bumpers look more like "sham" ones. Niva of the sample of 1974: rear lights from the famous VAZ 2103, the standard VAZ door handles and chrome bumpers. Small changes were also made to the geometry of the exact parts of the body. Front turn signal lights and day lights are still separate and have circle form. The first pre-production samples were released in 1975. Well-known "face": bumpers are made of aluminum and the blinkers and the day lights are combined as well as the rear lights.