Lada Niva 4 Wheel Drive
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The Lada Samara
had a short stay in Australia, and few shed a tear when it left our shores. The brand name Samara originally was used only for exported models, being named after the city of Samara in Russia. On home soil the same model was called "Sputnik", although we are not sure what the Russian words are for "space junk", which would have been far more accurate.
The Samara was to build on the success of the traditional Riva range, by providing a car that combined a robust build and ease of maintenance with a modern style. Of course it fell well short of these expectations, but well get to that.
The Samara was produced in various three, four and five door designs with engine displacements of 1.1, 1.3 and 1.5 litre petrol engines. Lada had hoped that the Samara would enable it to compete for sales in the mainstream western car market - how wrong they were.
Typical of its sales in Western Europe, the car was sold in the UK from 1987 until all Ladas were withdrawn from the British market in 1997. Despite the involvement of Porsche engineers in tuning the engine, the Samara never achieved the same success as the Riva in Western Europe, even though it did prove to be a robust car with a modern style and a competitive price.
Even so, it suffered from variable and often doubtful build quality and some of the uglier handling
qualities that had always been associated with Lada. The car's plastic front grille was also a point of contention, as it was often seen to be ugly and cheap-looking; many were replaced with aftermarket grilles, even by Lada dealers themselves before the cars were sold.
In the UK, the Samara achieved only small market penetration. The market sector in which Lada had always served many buyers preferred to stay with the Riva. The whole idea behind the introduction of the Samara is that it would make sales to a wider clientele (those who wanted up-to-date technology), and this it failed to do.
One notorious feature of early Samaras was the 'disco-lights' problem caused by poor electricals. The Samara driver had to be aware that when the brakes
were applied, it was quite likely that the hazard and reversing lights would come on and not the brake lights. Some early pre-cat models also needed their poor Solex carburettors upgraded with a Weber carb, which noticeably improved it.
Later models could also suffer from poor electronic ignition modules. That said, for the motorist who could handle it, the Samara provided very cost effective mobility. The car was cheap, easy to maintain on a DIY basis, robust and some of its design features were distinctly up-market. For example, models made for sale in the UK market were fitted with an excellent German audio system and a useful sun roof. In its last year in the UK, by which time build quality had indeed become much better, a fuel injected Samara version was sold which gave very sporty performance.
After 1997 the Samara was mostly sold in its homeland only, although it was still sold in some foreign markets with less strict emissions regulations. The last Samara rolled off the production line in 2004, ending 20 years of production. An upmarket version for the European market, the Lada EuroSamara
, was assembled in Finland at the Valmet Automotive plant in Uusikaupunki.
The UK had to wait three years for the Samara to go on sale after its launch in the USSR, but sales were reasonably strong when the first versions of the car left forecourts in November 1987. It was a major step forward compared to other Lada models at the time, with a modern hatchback bodystyle and front-wheel drive as well as new engines featuring on the car. But the low-rent plasticky interior, sub-standard finish and lack of dynamic qualities were a big let-down for those who had been hoping for a car that was comparable with Western contemporaries. Many buyers stuck with the old Riva, though the Samara was still on sale in the UK right up to May 1997, when the decision was made to withdraw from the UK and most other export markets.
It was similar in size to British market favourites such as the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Astra, but by the time of the Samara's launch, the small family car market was effectively split into two segments. The "mainstream" market had the largest market share, and was dominated by mass market manufacturers such as Ford, Vauxhall, Rover, Peugeot and Volkswagen.
The "budget" market consisted of Eastern European and Far Eastern brands such as Skoda, FSO, Zastava, Hyundai and Proton. The Lada Samara was very much in the budget sector, and during its years on sale in Britain it competed alongside the likes of theSkoda Favorit, Yugo Sana, Hyundai Pony and Proton "Aeroback". It initially sold very well considering the fact that such cars tended to sell in much lower volumes than the products of market leaders, but a lack of development as rival designs moved on meant that sales had slumped dramatically by the time the end was in sight.