If you’ve been to Russia or to any former Soviet state, you’ve probably seen an old Zhiguli on the road. Made by AvtoVAZ, millions of these cars were produced starting in the 1970s. They’re considered extremely durable, though perhaps not the most comfortable. This museum, located nears AvtoVAZ’s headquarters in Tolyatti, Russia, holds some of the highlights of the automaker’s history.
AvtoVAZ was established in 1966, in cooperation with the Italian automobile manufacturer Fiat. They built a factory near the banks of the Volga River, and a town in the surrounding area to house workers and their families. The town was named Tolyatti, after Palmiro Togliatti, a leader in the Italian Communist Party. The cars produced at the factory were named for the Zhiguli Mountains near the factory.
The first model was a copy of the Fiat 124, a small family car first produced in 1964. Fiat workers came to the Russian factory to train local workers. Some of them never returned to Italy, instead settling in Russia permanently. Over the next several decades, AvtoVAZ would go on to produce more than 27 million vehicles. Within the Soviet Union, the cars went by several names, including Zhiguli, Oka, and Sputnik, while exported cars were known as Lada.
In the 1990s, other models were phased out and AvtoVAZ discontinued all their models except Lada cars, and began to produce different models without any Italian inspiration.
The AvtoVAZ museum is small but interesting. Its collection includes the model based on the Fiat 124 (VAZ-2101), concept cars that were designed to weather sub-zero temperatures and difficult terrain, and electric vehicle, and a LADA Largus signed by Vladimir Putin.