03 November 2014, 14:27
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The Niva Kayf: The Automobile with an Armenian Attitude

The Lada Niva is a 4x4 produced by the Russian (former Soviet) manufacturer AvtoVAZ, which, to this day, enjoys an international following. Like many things from the Soviet-era, it was built with a special kind of durability, one that is not merely physical. In fact, the legendary sport vehicle has and continues to hold a firm place in Armenian society since its arrival in the 1970s. In this article, Vrej Haroutounian describes why in a list of 10 truths about the Niva. In what he terms the Niva’s ‘Kayf’ [the way or the joy of the Niva], Haroutounian explains that it is a not just a car, but an automobile with an attitude and it is a four by force to be reckoned with.

For Armenians, the Niva 4x4 vehicle became a ubiquitous cultural symbol, even at its inception. Some consider it a rite of passage; others strictly adhere to its lifelong philosophy, for it represents not just a mode of transport, but a piece of history.

In its factory form, the Niva is ready for almost anything that the road, or lack thereof, might throw at it. Its light body weight, small engine, rugged 4x4 transmission, high road clearance, 45 degree front and rear approach angles make it the ideal vehicle for almost any climate and terrain. 

Nivas are present everywhere: utilized by companies in conducting work, adopted as the official mascots of identity by the lav dghek [Armenian ‘goodfellas’], and operated like a workhorse by villagers and suburban folk alike. Yet, Niva’s identity, or its Kayf,is not merely in its tinted windows, loud horns and sense road ownership. The Niva is not just a car, it is a lifestyle. It is a Kayf. And there are certain rules by which one must abide and understandings to which one must adhere.


Here is a Niva ad from the 70s. In it, the Niva is depicted as a hunter’s car. But it’s purposes are much more diverse.Here is a Niva ad from the 70s. In it, the Niva is depicted as a hunter’s car. But it’s purposes are much more diverse.

1. Choosing the right Niva (One does not simply choose a Niva, a Niva chooses you.)

The right Niva is the one that you can afford based on your budget, with a usual starting price of $1,000. It can also be an heirloom passed onto you from a predecessor. It could be the prized possession that you dedicate your savings to. Regardless, ownership of the Niva represents membership into the Niva Kayf, giving yourself the ability to get where you need to go by adhering to the rules. The Niva Kayf is not about perfection. It is about perseverance and the pursuit of expedition. The right Niva is the one that you can afford, giving you the ability to conduct your work during the day. Occasionally, the Niva encourages you to break beyond your confines and head out onto the open road of discovery. Blending utility and ingenuity, choosing a Niva is akin to choosing a specific lifestyle. Regardless of the vehicle’s lineage, the chosen Niva and its owner must mesh according to desired levels of productivity and recreation.


Image taken from Wikipedia.Image taken from Wikipedia.

2. The Niva as a form of expression (The Niva, just like its owner, must express itself.)

Not all cars are created equal and this is where the Niva outshines all others on the road. Whether clean and immaculate or dirty and imperfect, the Niva can take on many forms. Whether it is meant to service the workingman, the creative man (as depicted above), or the resourceful man, imperfections are to be expected. A few scratches here and there, a rusted fender, a broken taillight, maybe even a stereo that does not work. With all of its shortcomings, the Niva fosters creative expression. Creative exchange occurs as the vehicle is passed down from generation to generation. Overall, the Niva, regardless of modifications (age, color, or quality), should always be in a condition that demonstrates its owner’s personality.


3. The Niva as the ultimate tool of resourcefulness (A 4 by force to be reckoned with.)

What do you get when you cross a Niva with Armenia, a country with highly developed automotive fueling systems? You get a hybrid that can travel 50-55 kilometers on $2.50 of fuel. Essentially, you are paying $10.00 for over 200 kilometers of travel. Additionally, a full tank of Benzene in the Niva has over 650 kilometers of fuel storage capability. The Niva Kayf is about frugality, resourcefulness, and efficient economy. It is about being conscious of the price we pay for transportation as individuals, as members of society and as human beings living on a planet with limited fuel resources.

One of Niva’s more notable drivers is Vladimir Putin, whose Niva depicted here appears, like Putin himself, comically imposing. (Image taken from http://jalopnik.com/)One of Niva’s more notable drivers is Vladimir Putin, whose is depicted here with his beloved, custom-designed camouflage Niva. (Image taken from http://jalopnik.com/)

4. The Niva driver (Everyone can drive a car, but few can answer the call of the Niva.)

A Niva driver is at all times responsible for the vehicle, its passengers, and the safety of those that fall in its path that the Niva travels. The Niva driver should be self-reliant and undaunted when faced with any unforeseen situation encountered on the road, off of the road, or along its path. Similarly, the Niva driver should be familiar with the car, its passengers, and the rules of the road. The Niva Kayf is not for the unprepared, a Niva driver must be ready at all times. Even in the most challenging of circumstances, the driver must foresee any obstacles and be bold in their efforts at confronting them.


Image retrieved from http://www.ladaniva.co.uk/baxter/clubs.htm, a site dedicated to passionate Niva enthusiasts – even more proof that the Niva is not just a car, but a community.Image retrieved from http://www.ladaniva.co.uk/baxter/clubs.htm, a site dedicated to passionate Niva enthusiasts – even more proof that the Niva is not just a car, but a community.


5. The Niva Passenger (A passenger of the Niva is a team member embarking on its expedition.)

The Niva passenger understands that they are not simply traveling to a destination, but they understand that they are embarking on a unique experience. The Niva passenger must realize that there may be bumps along this adventure. Their patience and, even more so, their assistance in maintaining the Niva is appreciated by the driver. Passengers must understand that the Niva might not be as comfortable as a luxury car complete with leather seats and air-conditioning but it will travel down roads that most cars would not dare, either due to inability of the vehicle itself, or the lack of the driver’s willingness in exposing an expensive vehicle to that type of terrain. The Niva passenger must know that the Niva will go further than most luxury cars, even when the road is not always covered with smooth concrete. There might be challenges along the way, but the destination will be one of a kind.

6. The Niva Tool Box (One must have a physical and an abstract toolbox.)

Every Niva is outfitted with a toolbox, the contents of which are in accordance to the taste and style of the owner. It may be simple with a few tools and a shovel or it can be a complete expedition kit with tow-ropes, a front mount winch and a roof rack full of gear. Regardless of the materials in its toolbox, the Niva driver’s ultimate advantage lies in his or her ability to be resourceful. The Niva Kayf is about having the grit to solve problems. Having the right tools (literally) for the job always helps, but more figurative tools, like ingenuity and determination, go a long way

The Niva has been a valuable storage device for Armenians since day 1.The Niva has been a valuable storage device for Armenians since day 1.
Example of Armenian khorovats (barbecue) -- a skill with which every Niva driver should already be fully equippedExample of Armenian khorovats (barbecue) -- a skill with which every Niva driver should already be fully equipped.

7. The Niva Trunk (A treasure trove for necessary materials.)

There are necessary essentials for the Niva trunk that will allow the driver to occupy himself with more entertaining aspects of road life. First and foremost, every self-respecting Niva driver must have a set of Khorovats Shish (Armenian-style barbeque equipment) in the trunk. And there’s no need for a portable grill – just the skewers. The ever-resourceful Niva driver will take care of the rest. He should be able to build a grill out of rocks and roadside materials. In assembling a strong trunk, the following are highly recommended items: an ax, drinking water, flashlight, Cognac, blanket, fishing pole, matches, etc. Surely, each expedition requires its unique set of equipment and gear, and it is a part of the Niva Kayf lifestyle to have this gear ready and prepared to be thrown into the trunk when an opportunity for exploration presents itself.

This picture is proof that you take care of your Niva, your Niva will take care of you.This picture is proof that you take care of your Niva, your Niva will take care of you.

8. The Niva maintenance (One must be strictly responsible for maintenance.)

The Niva Kayf comes to a screeching halt only when the Niva is not cared for. A simple tenant of the Niva Kayf lifestyle is having the vehicle break down on the side of the road. Yet, breakdowns due to lack of maintenance present serious and inexcusable violations of the Niva Kayf. The Niva power train and mechanical components have to be kept in the best possible form that resources will allow for. It is not important if your fender has a dent or if your stereo is not working, but the internals are key. A rule-abiding Niva driver will ensure that the vehicle is well-greased and ready to take you to all of your desired destinations. All concerns with the aesthetics are secondary.

9. The rules of the Road (One must not rage on the road. One must value sanctity and patience on the road of life.)

We often see drivers along the road that are in a hurry to get somewhere. In essence, these drivers are interested in glorifying the concept of the “hurry.” Eager to demonstrate they have somewhere urgent to be, the reality instead is that they are getting nowhere fast. The Niva having been on the road of life for many more years knows better then to hurry. It is a car designed in the “good ol’ days,” as old as our grandparents and thus, it is in no hurry at all. The Niva is about taking the slow lane and getting to your destination in a cool, calm, collected manner, regardless of how other people drive along the way. Above all, the Niva Kayf values patience. It prefers to remain calm while others unleash their rage upon the road of life. The Niva Kayf does not cause a scene. Instead, it takes great pleasure in traveling down the road of life towards goals and destinations in the smoothest, calmest fashion.

10. Expect everything.

The road of life is not always well lit; nor is it always covered in smooth asphalt. Thus, the vehicle you choose to take you to your destination has to be considered carefully. A luxury car may be comfortable on the road, but not fare well off of it. When it breaks down, it will be expensive to repair. The fancy paint might impress people and raise a few eyebrows, but that paint will need to be waxed all the time. Even the faintest scratch will be noticeable. It might have air conditioning, but it will still be hot when you leave the car.


The Niva does not venerate luxury or physical comfort. It is concerned with getting you to your destination in the most efficient way possible. It is about facing challenges along the way, but having the audacity to successfully jump over every hurdle. It is about bringing the right passengers along for the ride, and having a good time along the way.

This is the Niva Kayf and these are the rules by which one must abide in order to embark on this expedition.


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