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Diecast Delights: VAZ 2121 Niva

Jay Ramey June 19, 2013 Diecast Delights 12 Comments

niva 1

I don’t think anyone will dispute that the VAZ 2121 Niva is everyone’s favorite Russian 4×4 hatchback (ignoring for a moment the fact that it is the only Russian 4×4 hatchback). But unlike VAZ’s previous efforts, it wasn’t based on anything that FIAT designed or manufactured, withthe Niva using a minimal number of FIAT parts-bin bits.

The Niva first appeared on the market depressingly long waiting list in 1977, with a 10,000 ruble price tag. To put that into perspective, an average annual salary of a high-earning Soviet citizen at the time was 2000 rubles. So for around 5 annual salaries you could get on a waiting list to get one, umm, at some point in the future. Maybe. I’m going to let you decide for yourself what a combined 5 annual salaries buys a person today, but for some reason these weren’t as a rare on Russian roads as you would think with a price tag like that. Luckily, there’s no need to spend five years’ worth of income on this die-cast version, as it typically retails for just 12 bucks. Let’s take a closer look at this 1:43 scale model.

niva 2

IXO, the manufacturer of this 1:43 scale model, pulled this one off perfectly. The angles are crisp, the details are nice and shiny (but not too shiny) and the bumpers and tires are well matched. It’s more or less rare for a modern manufacturer to nail a scale model that is designed to retail for the equivalent of $8.00 in Eastern Europe, but IXO appears to have really hit a home run here. 

The real Niva came with a range of smallish engines, with a 1.5 liter carbed inline four being standard, mated to a 4-speed manual transmission with a blocking rear diff. All of this goodness gave out 75bhp, until a 1.6 liter version came out, which bumped the power up to 80bhp. You’d think if you were paying almost 5 years’ worth of income for a car you’d be owed at least a hundred bhp, but then again this car wasn’t built for speed or highway cruising, even though the interior was quite luxurious for the time. Instead, this was the car for the collective farm directors, even though most were too skittish to really get them dirty out in the fields.

niva 3

Unbeknownst to most 4×4 enthusiasts or Chevrolet fans in the west, the Niva later became the Chevrolet Niva as the product of a GM-AvtoVAZ joint venture. So yes, Chevy ran deeper than you thought, and in the most unexpected places apparently. The restyled Niva looked rather fashionable on the outside, though underneath the updated skin it retained a lot of the basic structure of the 1977 model. The Chevy Niva is now on its first facelift, and is reportedly an okay seller over there.

niva 4

This 1:43 model by IXO typically retails for around $12.00 on The eBays, but prices vary. Either way, you shouldn’t pay more than $15.00 for one, and watch out for exorbitant shipping costs. Cause nobody likes the shipping eclipsing the price of the goods shipped. Especially if the goods are tiny car that weighs as much as a mouse.

Scale: 1:43
Manufacturer: DeAgostini, IXO, IST
On sale since: 2010
Typical price: $8.00 – $15.00 + shipping
Easy to find: yes
Colors: yellow, dark green

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Jay Ramey]


  • CherokeeOwner

    I'm squeeing on the inside so hard right now. That is sweet.

  • That is delicious. If only they'd make one in 1/18.

  • Vavon

    I don't speak Russian, but it doesn't matter when you watch this video about the Niva.
    [youtube TZKGI4YHtT4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZKGI4YHtT4 youtube]

  • Sjalabais

    Was yellow a common colour?

    • Manic_King

      Not really. Yellow was police car's main color, with blue stripe and blue doors, so civilian versions were painted differently, usually seemingly randomly in ugly colors factory managed to procure/mix. White, beige, mustard, green were most used colors IIRC.

  • Synchromesh

    This car is good for the money but doesn't hold a candle to the original Soviet casting of Niva. That one was a beauty with all doors fully openable, steerable wheels and rear mudflaps along with a pretty impressive sense of detail for an 80s Russian scale model. Some of them even came with a small trailer in tow – a Skif. I had one of these in red and it was one of my favorite cars. Sadly it was stolen a few years back with the rest of my collection.

    Check them out on eBay, they go for quite a bit more than newer cars but in some cases are well worth it, imho.

  • racer139

    I had a 80's real deal Canadian model niva and I miss it for its off roadability. On road the nive would just break 100 km/h downhill with a tailwind. but in to woods not much could get where a niva could. Mine was beige with a brown stripe and black vynal guts. The only reason I got rid of it five or so years ago was my uncle borrowed it and it broke about 500 feet from my drive way so he decided to bump the starter to get it home in the process he stripped for or five teeth from the flywheel and rounded the top of the gear on the starter. After three or four months of hunting for parts with no sucess I gave up and sold it. I was tired of parking it on a hill and bump starting it and leaving it running everywhere. I shoukd have kept it as Im sure I could find parts from russia easilly now.

    • citroen67

      I have a really reliable parts source for my Niva from a fella in Slovakia. So far, I have been able to get every single part that I have ever needed for mine, and at rather great prices too! I recently bought all new inner/outer tie rod ends, a new master cylinder, brake booster, two rear wheel cylinders, two front caliper rebuild kits, rear brake shoes, and a front hub bearing assy., and two ball joints, all for the grand sum of $280USD, and fifty of that was shipping!

      So far, the only part that I have had a hard time finding is a windshield, but they are out there. I currenty have one on the way from Germany.

  • monkey_tennis

    All of this VAZ-love is all very well, but I'd raise the stakes on favourite Russian 4x4s with a UAZ-469.

    <img src="http://cars.minimodelshop.co.uk/picture/ISTModels-IST017/uaz-469-jeep-1975-diecast-model-car-ist-models-ist017-p.jpg&quot; width="600">

    VAZ vs. UAZ!

    A potential Hooniverse rivalry to match DAF vs. FAF?

    • Jay_Ramey

      A 2121 could probably whup the UAZ in a lot of tests, even some soft off-road courses.