The Lada Niva 4×4 from Russia has received considerable coverage on this site, including of rare variants such as the pickup truck and cabriolet. Never sold in the U.S., the Niva has been highly popular in its native Russia and even achieved considerable export sales, the result of its low price and widely respected off-road capability. Already knowing this background did not reduce the shock of actually seeing a Niva for sale by the side of a rural road in Brazil, apparently well used but also well kept.
The presence of this and thousands of other Nivas in Brazil came about from a coincidence of Soviet economics and Brazilian trade policies. The Soviet auto industry introduced the Niva in 1977 as a simple and cheap but highly capable off-road vehicle, with the engine of the Fiat 124-based Lada sedan and a new two door wagon unit body, four wheel drive system with high/low range gears and center differential lock, and coil spring suspension front and rear, independent in front and with a solid axle in the rear. Brazil up to 1990 protected its domestic auto industry by keeping out all foreign cars, but that year it began to allow imports, still with heavy tariff protection.
Lada jumped into this opening quickly and became the first foreign auto manufacturer to enter the Brazilian market. The Niva had off-road capability superior to Brazilian equivalents and undersold them even with import taxes added, so it immediately became a sales success. Lada sold the Niva in Brazil until it left the Brazilian market in 1997.
Already equipped with a bull bar, driving lights, roof rack, and plenty of sponsor decals, this Niva is a tiny yet still rugged looking vehicle. With the earliest 1990 imports approaching the 25 year threshold that makes foreign vehicles exempt from most Department of Transportation regulations and easier to import into the United States, it may be a tempting relic of the Cold War to import into the U.S. as a useful and characterful antique SUV.
If you are interested, here is the telephone number of the seller. With claims of only 77,000 kilometers and all proper title and registration documents — the latter apparently not always present for vehicles in rural Brazil — it appears to be a far better than average survivor.
Anyone excited by the idea of buying a Niva and bringing it to the U.S. may want to wait a few years, though, because the Niva story has not ended yet. It took a new form unimaginable when the Niva was new in 1977 with the introduction in 1998 of the Chevrolet Niva, a further development of the basic Niva design by a joint venture between GM and AvtoVAZ. It took the Niva’s original engine, transmission and chassis and put a new four door body and interior over them. It has continued in production into 2014 for the domestic market in Russia, modernized with ABS, dual airbags and other features. So in 2023, you should be able to import an antique Niva made by General Motors and wearing a Chevrolet bowtie. Whether you prefer the Soviet original or its Russian-American successor as your modest yet exotic Eastern European import is up to you.