When Porsche helped the USSR make a cool hatchback

The year is 1979 and the wind of change is beginning to blow in the USSR and even in its automobile industry.

At the very end of the year – on December 31 – the prototype of the VAZ-2108, a hatchback, was presented, which will prove to be unique in many respects. The first hint that the model was successful was that the prototype very quickly went into series production, which was an absolute rarity for the Soviet Union.

The VAZ-2108 is the Soviet answer to competitors such as Fiat Ritmo and SEAT Ronda.

It is from Fiat that the inspiration for the front-wheel drive hatchback comes, but the engineers at the Togliatti plant this time are determined not to copy the Western equivalents too much.

And here comes the second unique moment of the VAZ-2108 – engineers from Porsche are actively involved in its development, working on everything from the engine to the braking system.

At that time, it was believed that the car of the future should have a 1.3-liter engine, and that is what was put into the Soviet car. The power is 65 horsepower, which makes the car one of the most powerful in its class. By comparison, the Fiat Ritmo is very slightly more powerful, boasting 68 horsepower.

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Porsche is also heavily involved in the design of the new gearbox. The initial idea is to take the gearbox from the Zhiguli, but the Italians are categorically against it.

Instead, a more compact box with four gears was created. Originally there were five, but the solution was rejected as impractical.

Since its inception, the car has acquired several nicknames due to its design, including the “Chisel”.

The official name that the factory in Togliatti gives to the model is “Sputnik”. It should suggest a reliable, comfortable car that is not inferior to the Western equivalents.

In Bulgaria, and not only, however, the VAZ-2108 will remain best known as the “eight” and especially as the “Samara”, and Moscow also thinks it is more melodious.

The car also gets a number of convertible modifications that are relatively successful. In the Czech Republic, for example, they get a version called “Bohemia” with a retractable roof.

In Belgium, the “San Remo” appeared on the basis of the “Samara”, and the engineer from Toliati – Vladimir Yartsev, was also involved in the design of the body.

Photo: iStock

About 600 Samara cars were made in East Germany at the Deutsche Lada plant, but they featured a more pickup-like rear end. In the times around Perestroika, it was a symbol of real prestige to have the German modification of the VAZ-2108.

In Russia, attempts are also being made to make a car with a removable middle part of the roof, but the experiment was rather unsuccessful.

Photo: iStock

“Samara” became especially popular as a sports car for rallies, in which it often entered into direct competition with Porsche.

The last VAZ-2108 rolled off the factory assembly lines in 2004, with Samara variants being produced for another seven years after that.

Samples of this particular Soviet car can be seen on the streets of the former Eastern Bloc countries to this day. They can also be found on second-hand car trading sites, and in Bulgaria “Samara” can be found for between 1000 and 5000 BGN.


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