The Lada Niva debuted originally back in 1977 when it was launched as “a Renault 5 on a Land Rover chassis.” Soviet Russia wanted to develop a more rugged car that is suitable for the country’s rural areas and the result was a hatchback-style crossover with solid off-road capabilities. Many changes were made to the vehicle during the next decades but the Niva is still sold in Russia in a largely unchanged form compared to the original vehicle. For one off-road enthusiast, however, the Niva’s factory qualities weren't enough for proper dune crawling and he modified basically every inch of the vehicle.

The video at the top of this page introduces us to Andries from South Africa and his Lada Niva. The small off-roader has never been especially popular in the country but in the 1980s and 1990s, Lada was officially imported into SA where it sold a few different versions of the Niva. These vehicles are hard to find on the used car market these days and even more importantly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to source parts. What better time to put a new engine under the bonnet?

Andries wanted to swap the original four-cylinder gas engine with a large and reliable motor. His choice was a 4.0-litre 90-degree V8 from a first-generation Lexus LS – not the most powerful mill but surely one of the most reliable ones. In its early years of production, the output was 254 bhp (191 kilowatts) but the owner of the Niva says the peak power is now a bit lower. More importantly, you can keep it in the red rpm zone almost all the time without worrying too much about overheating or blocking it.

Why not more power? Because it is difficult to find a transmission and differential that fit the Lexus V8 engine and can cope with more horsepower. Instead, Andries decided to modify the suspension and make the vehicle not faster but more capable in the mud and sand. Combined with the lifted suspension, the Maxxis off-road tyres turn the once humble Niva into a rear rock- and dune-crawling monster. See its story in the video above.