Today we meet the first-ever high-riding hatchback, based on the popular Lada Samara.
What is it?
It’s something between a production model and a prototype, a compact AWD vehicle with off-road independent suspension on both axles. Not a huge success, but an interesting concept, revealed long before the modern compact SUVs and crossovers existed.
Where and when was it made?
While it was produced after the fall of the Iron Curtain, we consider it a vehicle from the Soviet Era, as it used technology from the Lada Samara and Niva. The original Tarzan was manufactured from 1997 until 2003 with some 300 units totally assembled.
While it used the body of the Samara, it was actually based on the highly successful Niva compact off-roader, which we featured in our Soviet Bloc cars series this summer. This means it has a 1.7-liter naturally aspirated petrol engine with 80 horsepower (59.6 kilowatts), mated to a manual gearbox.
Why is it special?
Well, we can’t say it’s super special, but it could be regarded as the predecessor of the modern SUV-like, high-riding hatchbacks, like the Renault Captur and the Hyundai i20 Active, for example. The only major difference is that the Tarzan was designed not only as a practical city car, but also as a capable off-road machine.
Being based on the Niva, it means it features a front-engine, four-wheel-drive layout. The AWD system employs three differentials (center, front, and rear), while the transfer case involves a high/low range selector lever and a central differential lock lever. All four wheels have disc brakes, hiding under 15-inch alloy wheels.
The exterior design of the Tarzan was made by DeCon and, well – it was not impressive. The designers took the standard three-door Samara and installed additional protective cladding, new bumpers with different fog lamps, and wider wheel arches. The interior is identical to the Samara with the only exception being the additional levers for the off-road options.