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Winter Beater: 1992 Lada Niva 4X4

1992 Lada Niva

I had the weirdest thought this morning, as I was scraping the ice off of my windshield. I thought, I need a small, cheap, terribly unreliable 4×4 for the impending winter. It just so happened as I was digging through the internet that I came across the perfect vehicle to fulfill my winter needs! This Lada Niva, found here on eBay, is not only a barn find, but a compact 4×4 with endless off road ability. The addition of a Fiat derived overhead cam interference engine adds just enough unreliability and self destructive potential to keep you on your toes! If this vehicle were just a bit closer to Boise, I would truly be on my way to have a look at it. Sadly for me, it’s located in Plainfield, New Jersey.

1992 Lada Niva Interior

The Niva was introduced in 1977 by Russian brand VAZ to help Russians traverse the icy tundra that is Russia. Given their short, narrow wheelbase and full time 4 wheel drive, the truck offered impressive amounts of traction. When it debuted at the 1978 Paris Auto Salon it instantly became a hit for much of Europe. Vaz sold so many abroad that they were almost impossible to find in Russia.

1992 Lada Niva Engine

The Niva was VAZ’s first non-Fiat based car, although most of the mechanical systems are still derived from the Fiat 124. This means a later 1.8 or 2.0 Fiat 124 engine will bolt right in, giving you some much needed power. In the case of this one, the engine has already been upgraded to a Fiat engine from a ’73 124. It clearly has a fuel injected engine, so I’m guessing just the engine block was swapped out? Personally, I would want to install a carbureted 1.8 or 2.0 liter, as a matter of fact I already have a 1.8l block that would bolt right in this Lada! If you decide to keep the 1.6, I would recommend doing a full tuneup with a fresh timing belt for some added peace of mind.

Lada Niva 4x4

While this Russian built 4×4 is a bit newer than most cars we feature, you just don’t see these often in the States. I seriously would enjoy having this as a winter beater, the problem would be getting it titled and licensed. The last time it was licensed for road use, it was titled as a Fiat, which might be frowned upon by most states. As soon as it hits the 25 year mark, it shouldn’t be an issue to get it correctly licensed as a Lada in most states. For the next two years, I guess it will just have to be an off road play toy. So do any of you know of any way around the titling issue, that isn’t questionable or illegal?


  1. Avatar photo jim s

    if you wanted something for off road this might be interesting if the reserve is not to high. for an on road winter 4X4 i would look at a stock suzuki samurai.

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  2. Avatar photo John F

    Used all across Europe; a very popular off-roader (: I think they still make these things too.

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  3. Avatar photo James

    we got these in the UK they were great off roaders. much better than a land rover if you ask me.

    I fitted a Peugeot turbo diesel lump into mine it was super reliable and would go anywhere

    trying to find one now is the hardest task.. and when you do see them they demand a fair bit of cash

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  4. Avatar photo wynkin

    If you are mad enough you can still buy them new in France for 10,000 euros. Not at all fuel efficient but good off road.

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  5. Avatar photo Dolphin Member

    From Canada….makes sense. They sold a lot of Ladas there for years when none were sold officially in the US. They rusted out in the rust belt even quicker than the Hyundai Pony. The only way these got bought was because they were very cheap, so you could get into a new car for something affordable and it would get you around for a while. But it sure wouldn’t impress anybody. But, hey, it’s got “Channel iron”…”welded to the sides”, so how can you go wrong with this baby?

    I apologize in advance if this comment offended any Lada or Hyundai Pony fans who might read this. Also, any fans of channel iron out there.

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  6. Avatar photo Wendell

    Had one of these when I lived in Iceland, once running they are indestructible, trust me we tried to kill mine!

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  7. Avatar photo jimbosidecar

    Living in China these were not uncommon. They were rated way above the Chinese Jeep 2020 4X4, but that ain’t saying much.

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  8. Avatar photo bcavileer

    love the angle iron mod. geez.

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  9. Avatar photo Bobsmyuncle

    I nearly bought one new in about ’94 or’ 95 their sedan was $5000 Canadian NEW! The Cossack was maybe 8000 or 8500.

    Keep in mind that my summer car was a ’63 VW bus when I tell you the build quality and interior and ride was starkly utilitarian LOL. The strongest memory was of a laughingly flimsy turn signal stalk.

    I had a buddy that drove these for years on and off road and despite my impressions they were darned reliable. To say they are good off road is…perhaps generous.

    You can’t mount tires big enough to manage the ruts that any ‘real’ wheelers make with their 44″ and larger tires. And if you could you couldn’t manage the torque needed to spin them. Maybe for dry climates and Slick Rock but not the wet rocky and root strewn trails of the North East. CAVEATE you and a couple buddies can lift it up and out/over most any obstacles that stop it LOL.

    Oh and the angle iron is to protect the rocker panels and door bottoms off road. So the chances are this one has spent the some time out there, inspection should take that into consideration.

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  10. Avatar photo Pete Koehler

    I had one several years ago. It was a Canadian market car that was abandoned in Detroit. Got a clean Michigan title after the Sheriff’s Auction! It wasn’t a very good car or truck or 4WD or whatever. I got lucky and traded it to a guy for a 1974 Camaro former street racer that had some engine parts from Grumpy Jenkins. After I got the Camaro running again I sold it and used the $$$ to get my first Corvette repair/restoration project. After going down that road for several years perhaps I should have kept the Lada!!!!

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  11. Avatar photo boxdin

    I’ll bet that tow hook on there gets a lot of use.

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  12. Avatar photo Juan

    Believe me, they are a good deal for the right price, small outside, big and comfortable inside, very dependable and unbeatable offroad! (look on youtube) To make it almost perfect you have to change the bucket seats for a more comfortable set, the carburetor for a Weber and a bigger radiator or an electric fan (they tend to overheat); they have a very nice ride (you´ll be surprised), the ones made in 1995 have corrected these defects.
    The real problem with these (1994 and older) are the shift relations, they are too long and under heavy winds they get slower and slower but with permanent 4WD I don´t know (and I don´t think) if you can do something about without investing (or spanding) too much money.
    And Yes! They still make them!
    There´s a pictura of a 1992 I had, I put a diesel VW 1.6 in it and change from 16″ to 15″ wheels, they were a good choices.

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  13. Avatar photo Juan

    Here is a picture of the assembly line.

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  14. Avatar photo Ian

    I remember these as being a capable if not utilitarian vehicle and not exactly unattractive. At least not when compared to a Suzuki Samurai. But an ergonomic disaster of epic proportions. Practically had to get out of the seat to shift into 5th gear its position was so far away from me, that is when the seat was far enough back for my legs to be comfortable. Slide foreward enough to make 5th a bit of an easier reach and my knees hit the dashboard. Added to that the inside door latch was placed such that to open the door I had to reach across with my right arm cause my left just dont bend that way.

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