Lada Samara T3


Ever hear the one about Ferdinand Porsche being enticed to Russia by Stalin, who wanted the German to help revolutionize the Russian car industry? No? Well, it obviously didn't happen, but it's true: ol' Ferd was thought to be quite the talent back in the day and really was courted by Stalin—for obvious reasons. (If not for cars, maybe advice on how to best trim a moustache?) 

If that'd happened, however, it's likely the Lada Samara T3 wouldn't have.

In Porsche's lean years, engineers had to solve the problems of other car companies, instead of how things are these days, where engineers get to spend their time drawing special Boxster stripe packages and interior leather packages for god-knows-why. I'd rather they work on Ladas, actually, and it really did happen—Porsche engineers completed a revised and updated prototype VAZ-2103 for the company, helped to engineer the Samara (even adding "System Porsche" to the cylinder heads), and in a roundabout way even lent its talents to the Samara T3, a Dakar competition machine.

"Lent its talents"—what does that mean? You're looking at a Lada with the four-wheel-drive system from a Porsche 959, as well as a normally-aspirated flat-six from a Porsche 911. Thing is, the connection with Porsche likely came not factory to factory, but because the Samara T3 was a project taken on by the longtime French VAZ (and other Soviet machines, including Tatra) importer, Jean-Jacques Poch.

His connections in France resulted in the hiring of two ex-Formula 1 drivers, Jacky Ickx and Patrick Tambay to lead the squad. Racing through 1990 and 1991 in a number of desert and off-road endurance events, the T3 was a fast truck and capable of the odd stage win. 

As a privateer team, however, no matter how good the components are—tubular steel space frame and carbon fibre body panels, by the way—once the Peugeot, Citroën, and other factory teams entered, their better-fielded operations were simply more effective once the going got rough. A shame: apparently, Tupolev even helped make some components for the truck.

An interesting off-road machine, and one made better by its German heart. 

Hey, ever hear about the mid-engined FSO Polonez race car with the motor from a Lancia Stratos?