The VAZ factory is one of the biggest in the world, has over 90 miles (144 km) of production lines and is unique in that most of the components for the cars are made in-house.
The original Lada was a basic car, lacking in most luxuries expected in cars of its time and was patterned after the Fiat 124. Ladas were available in several Western countries during the 1970s and 1980s, including Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, though trade sanctions banned their export to the United States. Sales to Italy were forbidden by the agreement between the Soviet Government and Fiat, to protect Fiat from cheap imports in its home market. Imports to Spain were also prohibited in Spain because the local Fiat subsidiary, SEAT, built a version of the same car.
The plant was set up as a collaboration between Italy and the Soviet Union and built on the banks of the Volga river in 1966. A new part of town Togliatti, named after the Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti, was built around the factory. The Lada was envisaged as a "people's car" like the Citroën 2CV or the VW Beetle.
The lightweight Italian Fiat 124 was adapted into something intended to survive treacherous Russian driving conditions. Among many changes, aluminium brake drums were added to the rear, and the original Fiat engine was dropped in favour of a newer design also purchased from Fiat. This new engine had a modern overhead camshaft design but was never used in Fiat cars. The suspension was raised (to clear rough Russian roads) and the bodyshell was made from thicker, heavier steel. The first Lada models were equipped with a starting handle in case the battery went flat in Siberian conditions, though this was later dropped. Another feature specifically intended to help out in cold conditions was a manual auxiliary fuel pump.
Engines fitted to the original Ladas start with the 1.2L carburetor in the original and go up to the 1.7L export model set up with a General Motors single point fuel injection system. Diesel engines were later fitted for the Russian market only. The drivetrain is a simple rear-wheel drive setup with a live rear axle. The engine is an inline four with two valves per cylinder and a single overhead camshaft.