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AUTOVAZ (Lada) rotary powered cars from Russia/USSR

Introduction / FF&R magazine article / The Lada range of cars / The Lada range of engines / More interesting facts / More Information / SovAvto webring


LADA logo (actually the Vaz parent company logo)

Several years ago there was a short article eluding to the existence of Wankel Rotaries made by Lada published in Fast Fours and Rotaries magazine. Since reading this article I found additional information on the Internet and have sourced a few pictures and tables of various engines produced. See below.

AutoVaz (or often reduced to just Vaz) is the parent company of Lada, kind of like GM with Chevrolet or Opel.
The first rotary car was made in 1978 - a single rotor powered Lada sedan based on a licensed Fiat design.

I understand that at least 8 different models of Lada sedan have been converted to rotary power and around 20 different variants of engine produced of 1, 2, 3 and reportedly 4 rotors.

I speculate that some of the engines are surprisingly similar to the Mazda 13B family; with some of the 2 rotors engines being 1308cc and the same rotor housing width as the 13B. Perhaps AutoVaz used Mazda parts as a template for their own early experiments? (Note, this is only speculation. I have not seen nor heard anything that would confirm this).

Fast Fours and Rotaries article

Note - This article appeared in Fast Fours and Rotaries magazine, sent to me by the author; see acknowledgements. I believe that it is based on a letter sent to the magazine from a reader in the USSR. Text is unedited by me (Unless noted).

Russian Rotaries
Quick, think of all the car manufacturers in the world that have produced rotary engined cars, bet most of you thought of Mazda. Many of you would have thought of NSU/Audi, and the odd really keen enthusiast may be aware of the Comotor/Citroen unit but almost no one would have thought of Lada.

During the summer of 1980 the Volga auto works of Tagliatti (called Auto-Vaz) sold about 250 rotary equipped Lada cars to customers under the imaginative Vaz-21018 designation. In this case a single rotor Vaz 311 rotary engine was installed in a basic Vaz-21011 body.

The power plants geometrical data will look surprisingly familiar to Mazda enthusiasts:
Engine type Vaz 311 (Single rotor)
RE = 102 mm (Craig comment - rotor eccentricity/trochoid dimension.)
ECC= 15 mm (Craig comment - Eccentric shaft/Rotor journal offset from centreline)
Rotor width = 80 mm
70 bhp @6000 rpm
95 Nm @3500-4000 rpm
Comp = 9.5:1

The compression is very high by Eastern bloc early 80s standards considering the 'high octane' Russian petrol was only rated for 93 RON.
The vehicles electricís were considered sensational for the time. A black box which analysed inputs from the load, speed & rotor position transducers triggers a thyristor (Craig comment - electronic ignition), which fired the ignition coils. The spark plug design featured twin side electrodes.
A most unusual feature of this car was itís cold starting device, an anti-freeze injection system. This part of the world can be very cold & when trying to start the thing at minus 25 Celsius some of the liquid anti-freeze needed to be squirted in, hoping to stop the plug electrodes from icing. A manual which came with the car suggested that this be tried only twice; three times and you flood the system with anti-freeze.
A standard down draught carburettor was used but with altered jet sizes and a two stage air cleaner was employed as well. The apex seals got their share of oil through a lubricator, and the oil level in the sump was maintained automatically.
A belt driven fan was upgraded to an electric type for latter versions.

I personally had no experience in performing a 'low temperature start'. In warm weather the rotary fired instantly & after warming it a bit, settled to steady idle of about 950 rpm. This particular car was fitted with a tacho by the owner (a racing driver) as none of these 21018 model cars received one at the factory (big mistake) .

Performance of the rotary seemed as good, or perhaps better than any 1.3 lt. Lada, but keeping the revs up was a must and a tacho becomes invaluable for better driving. What I instantly noticed, was the almost insignificant engine braking available from this tiny power plant, so the brake pedal got an extra work out as a result. The revs matched the accelerator pedal inherently. No where near the inertia of a piston engine, you lift the accelerator and the revs disappeared instantly.

Required driving style changes apart, it was a pleasant experience, but according to the little statistics that became available, many rotaries didnít last to the first 10000 km filter change. Maximum engine life up to 20000 km was seemingly as per normal. In many cases the rotary was thrown out and replaced with a conventional four cylinder 1.3 Lada/Fiat motor.

End of and era, you suppose? With model 311, yes, but not with Autovazís aspiration within the Wankel league. Then came a long flirt with 2 rotor models. In 1982 some where seen installed in rally cars and those were as fast as 1.6 Ladas. Fed through 2 twin throat Webers DCOEís meant at least 150 bhp was available from those developed for racing. A long silence followed, but suddenly in 1988, several engines were put on display at an exhibition in Moscow. A twin rotor Vaz 411-01 which had an equivalent capacity of 2300 cc & the same 120 bhp on tap. The model Vaz 413 with fractionally larger dimensions was rated 20 hp higher. No torque figures were given but both had 9.4:1 compression and weighed in at 130-140 kg per engine.

Some 411 engines were seen in Ladas, indexed as Vaz 21019. The more powerful models became available for Latvian made RAF buses & Ambulances. The KGB got some Volga sedans fitted with the larger rotary as power was about 1.5 times the standard 2.5 lt engine. Also, a 3 rotor Vaz 513 was released (equivalent to 3900 cc) and rated at 280 hp for itís 200 kg engine weight. Max power of all said engines was quoted between 5500-6000 rpm.

So who in the USSR needed that sort of power? Good question. The answer is people in uniforms, 280 hp from a 3 rotor and at least 350 from a 4 rotor engine (which did exist as well) in a light weight package was a real day time dream for designers of lightly armoured fighting vehicles. We can say that perhaps Vaz 21018, 21019 were spin offs of some military program. There was never an intention to let Mr & Mrs average Russian behind the wheel of a rotary engined car. The few hundred produced were just a lucky break.

The Lada/Vaz range of cars

The AutoVaz company is parent to many divisions, including Lada, UAZ, ZIL, GAZ, and Volga.
There is a research centre called the GENDR (Short for the full Russian name). A subdivision of GENDR is the SKBRPD (Rotary Research Division) - This name comes from SKB = Special Design Agency, RPD = Rotary Piston Engine. The Russians usually refer to rotaries as "RPDs".

They seem to make about 100 rotary engined cars per year.

Picture of Car Information about the car
VAZ-21108 Car (300x185)
The VAZ-21108 Car (first made in 1978) was powered by a single rotor VAZ-311 engine.
The VAZ-21109 Car was a minor update to this body shape but powered by a two rotor VAZ-411 engine.
This car was licensed from Fiat (Fiat 124 sedan)

The base model 4 cylinder engine was the VAZ-21101 (picture 289x200)
VAZ-21059 Car (200x167)
The VAZ-21059 Car (first made in 1980) was powered by the two rotor VAZ-411M engine, and also the two rotor VAZ-4132 engine
Transmission was a 4 speed manual and the car had an optional extra fuel tank.
Again, this car was licensed from Fiat (based on the Fiat 131 sedan)
Price of car when new: Roubles 51,975 / $US 8316 / $AUS 13513
VAZ-21079 Car (200x197)
The VAZ-21079 Car (first made in 1982) was basically an updated version of the VAZ-21059 except it used the two rotor VAZ-411-01 engine, and the two rotor VAZ-4132 engine
Transmission was a 5 speed manual and the car had an optional extra fuel tank.
I believe the 4 Cylinder version of this model was made by Lada as a cheap car until as late as 1997!
Price of car when new: Roubles 57,870 / $US 9259 / $AUS 15046
Weight of Car: 1430 kg
Top Speed: 180 km/h, 0-100 km/h time: 9 Seconds
Fuel consumption, at 90 km/h: 9.5 litres per 100 km, and at 100 km/h: 12.5 litres per 100 km
VAZ-2108-91 Car (300x225)
The VAZ-2108-91 Car (first made in 1984) was powered by the two rotor VAZ-415 engine.
Transmission was a 5 speed manual.
This was the first Russian designed model, and was sold in several western markets as the Lada Samara.
The car in the photo seems to be some 1997 race champion.
Price of car when new: Roubles 56,300 / $US 9008 / $AUS 14638
Weight of Car: 1050 kg
Top Speed: 200 km/h, 0-100 km/h time: 8 Seconds
Fuel consumption, at 90 km/h: 7 litres per 100 km, and at 100 km/h: 10 litres per 100 km
VAZ-2109 Car (300x181)
The VAZ-2109-91 Car was an updated VAZ-2108-91 (same drive train)
The car in the photo was a normal police car (called the MUD, this is not the KGB)
Price of car when new: Roubles 58,100 / $US 9296 / $AUS 15106
VAZ-21099-91 Car (160x120) The VAZ-21099-91 Car was an updated VAZ-2108-91 (same drive train)
Price of car when new: Roubles 62,300 / $US 9968 / $AUS 16198
(no large picture available)
VAZ-2115-91 Car (460x231)
The VAZ-2115-91 Car was an all new design and was powered by the two rotor VAZ-415 engine.
Transmission was a 5 speed manual.
Price of car when new: Roubles 75,700 / $US 12112 / $AUS 19682
VAZ-2110 Car (540x266)
VAZ-2110 Racing Car (297x268)
The VAZ-2110 Car was supposedly powered by the two rotor VAZ-415 engine.
Unfortunately I can't find any more information on the rotary version.

(Picture of crashed Racing Model)

GAZ-3102 Car, known as the Volga (350x208)
The GAZ-3102 Car (First made in 1981) also known as the "Volga". Powered by the two rotor VAZ-411-01 engine (as used in the VAZ-21079 car above).
This car was also available with the 210hp 3 rotor VAZ-431 engine, supposedly used by the KGB.
Length 4960mm, Width 1800mm, Height 1422mm, Weight (4 Cyl version) 1850kg.
The 4 cylinder engines used were the ZMZ-406 (2.3l, 150hp, 170 km/h top speed)
or the ZMZ-402 (2.445l, 100hp, 147 km/h top speed)

(Unconfirmed information about large sedans)
Regarding the GAZ-3102, it appears that this may have been updated to the GAZ-3105
There was a new car in 1994 called the GAZ-2410 which also used the rotary engine.
This may have had variants GAZ-31029 , GAZ-31022 , GAZ-31023.

Note, regarding the price of the cars, this is what the car cost in Russia, in Roubles, when new. Despite the apparently cheap prices, no doubt these would have been fairly expensive for the average Russian citizen. I have no idea what the exchange rate was at the time. (The rates used were correct in July 1998)

All rotary engine cars in Russia for private (non government) use are sold through a company called "SPAR". I think they are in the same town as the AutoVaz headquarters. (Toliyatti). As of November 1998 there are apparently two 'Unofficial' - whatever that means - dealers in Moscow.
Main Dealer 445032, g.Toliyatti, str. Zastavnaya, 9 JC "SPAR", tel. (8469) 37-17-27
Moscow#1 ph 485-18-54, 484-74-07
Moscow#2 ph 232-75-02 (Kraevskiy Alexander Borisovich, apparently better than the first)

I can't quite figure out what the story is with private citizens buying these cars. It seems that the normal man in the street can only get front wheel drive cars but there seems to be a loophole that you can buy a car but not register it with GAY, who I presume are some kind of police authority.
I'm pretty sure that the early cars were for official use only, but the later ones may have been publicly available (after VAZ-2108-91 but I'm not sure)

The Lada/Vaz range of Engines & non-car applications.

VAZ-311 Single rotor engine (300x237)
VAZ-311 engine; 1 rotor (300x237)
VAZ-411 Two rotor engine (300x241)
VAZ-411 engine; 2 rotor (300x241)
VAZ-413 Two rotor engine and Russian V8 (300x160)
VAZ-413 engine; 2 rotor see note (300x160)
VAZ-4305 Two rotor engine (300x241)
VAZ-4305 aero engine;
2 rotor (300x242)
VAZ-415 Two rotor engine (300x256)
VAZ-415 engine; 2 rotor
See note (300x256)
VAZ-426 Three rotor engine (300x283)
VAZ-426 aero engine;
3 rotor (300x283)
VAZ-426 Three rotor engine (300x273)
VAZ-426 aero engine;
3 rotor (300x273)
VAZ-426 Three rotor engine on test rig (300x309)
VAZ-426 engine on test rig (300x309)
VAZ-426 Three rotor engine on test rig (300x195)
VAZ-426 engine on test rig (300x195)
Helicopter powered by VAZ-426 Three rotor engine (300x196)
VAZ-426 powered helicopter (300x196)
Ultralight powered by VAZ-1187 engine (300x220)
VAZ-1187 powered ultra light (300x220)
Volga boat powered by powered by VAZ rotary engine (300x178)
"Volga" rotary engined boat (300x178)

Notes about above pictures:

The VAZ-413 picture shows the engine on the right hand side. (I think the engine on the left is a Volga 2.5 litre 4 cylinder that made less power).

The VAZ-415 two rotor engine, was a new design used from the mid 1980s.
As of 1998 this engine is apparently still in production and used in the VAZ-2115-91 Car (see above).
In August 1998 the company produced a fuel injected version with 206hp @ 7500 rpm and 180hp under 6000 rpm. (The "Normal" version of this engine is 140hp)
I understand there is also a high performance version of 240hp (Reported by Canadian enthusiast - see More facts of interest below)

The VAZ-426 engine was approved for aero use on March 30, 1998. The cost is 120,000 Roubles - approx $US20,000 / $AUS 30,000.
There is a cut down 2 rotor variant of this motor called the VAZ-416
(I think, but am not sure, that by 2005 they plan to sell 2100 VAZ-426 engines and 900 two rotor VAZ-416)

This boat - called Volga - was powered by a two rotor VAZ rotary, exact model unknown.
Note that while the boat is 'flying', this effect is limited to just above the surface. This would have been an experiment in the 1970s for a high speed low cost alternative to an aeroplane. (The Russians had an enormous 6 jet engine transport craft built on the same principle. It could fly just a few feet above the surface at nearly 500 km/h).

Engine Model Horsepower Torque (kgm) Fuel Consumption
Production or
Engine used in this model
1 rotor
70hp 9.7 215 Production engine VAZ-21018 (above - car 1974-1978)
1 rotor
70hp 9.7 215 Pilot Model (Unknown)
2 rotor
Variant of 311
115hp 14 217 Production engine VAZ-21019 (above - car around 1978)
2 rotor
Variant of 311
120hp 15 217 Production engine VAZ-21059 (above - car around 1980)
2 rotor
Variant of 311
130hp 15 217 Production engine VAZ-21079 (above - car around 1982)
GAZ-3102 (above - car)
(+Unknown application)
2 rotor
Update of 411
140hp 19 217 Production engine GAZ-31028 (Unknown - perhaps an update of the GAZ-3102)
GAZ-24-10 (Earlier version of the Volga, a "5+2 seated caravan")
VAZ-421 140hp 19 220 Pilot Model RAF-2915
VAZ-430 270hp 38 220 Pilot Model Aeroplane
VAZ-4305 210hp 28.5 220 Pilot Model Aeroplane
3 rotor
210hp 28.5 220 Pilot Model
GAZ-3102 (above - car)
GAZ-14 (Limousine, probably based on the Volga)
VAZ-541 280hp 38 220 Pilot Model Unknown *note2
1 rotor
45hp 5.5 220 Pilot Model Unknown *note1
1 rotor
45hp 5.5 220 Pilot Model VAZ-1111
1 rotor
45hp 5.5 220 Pilot Model Unknown *note1
1 rotor
About 1991
45hp 5.5 220 Pilot Model (Above: Used in Ultralight plane)
VAZ-3184 80hp 11 220 Pilot Model Unknown
VAZ-4132 140hp 19 230 Production engine VAZ-21059 (above - car)
VAZ-21079 (above - car)
2 rotor
Also 206hp
and 240hp
18 230 Production engine VAZ-2108 (Above - car)
VAZ-2109 (Above-  car)
VAZ-21099 (Above - car)
VAZ-2115-91 (Above - car)
2 x 654cc rotors
H*W*L (mm)
125 kg
About 1993-1996
160 19 210 Pilot Model
(In production
now I think)
Aeroplane Engine
3 x 654cc rotors
H*W*L (mm)
About 1993-1996
240 32 210 Pilot Model
(In production
now I think)
Aeroplane & Helicopter Engine
(Experimental variants of this engine have made 300-350 hp)

*Note1: VAZ-1181 / VAZ-1812 / VAZ-1184 / VAZ-1187 all same hp and VAZ-1187 definitely used in plane.
*Note2: The VAZ-543 may be a 4 rotor engine as the power output is consistent with being double that of most of the 2 rotor engines and 4/3 that of the 3 rotor engines - however I have no hard data to confirm this.

More detailed comparison of VAZ-4132 and VAZ-415 engines. (VAZ-4132 was an early 80's engine; VAZ-415 was the more mature 1990s 2 rotor engine)

Engine Model VAZ-4132 VAZ-415
Number of rotors 2 2
Total engine size, cc 1308 1308
Compression Ratio 9.4 9.4
Engine power kW(hp) at RPM 103(140)/6000 103(140)/6000
Torque Nm (kgm) at RPM 186(19)/4500 186(19)/4500
Minimum idle speed, RPM 1000 900
Engine weight, kg 136 113
Height, mm 560 570
Width, mm 546 535
Length, mm 495 665
Fuel Consumption, first unit unknown (grams/hp*hours) 312.2(230) 312.2(230)
Percentage oil-fuel mixture 0.7% 0.6%
Kilometres until first rebuild (?) 125 125
Car models this engine was used in VAZ-21059/21079 VAZ-2108/2109/21099/2115/2110

More facts of interest

November 1998 update from an enthusiast in Canada:
I've been dealing with the AutoVaz (Lada) rotary lab for the past 3 months, trying to import a rotary engine for my Niva.
Here's some of the updated/corrected info for your section on the Lada rotaries.
The UAZ model 415 is STILL in production, as of Oct.1998. It has been available, as a special cost option, in the European Samara front wheel drives, for the past 6 years. In standard trim, the current generation displaces the same 1308cc's as the Mazda 13B engine, and is rated at 180 HP, running on sequential port injection. A high performance model is also offered, that has the port timing redone, and is rated to 240 HP, using sequential port FI. Apparently they do not offer a turbo version for automotive use at this time. As I intend to prep my Niva for weekend Rallying, they also Hinted at a racing/aviation only motor that is (supposedly) capable of 300+ HP. From the way they phrased it, these engines are still experimental, and may use a peripheral port design: they specifically stated that they were 'unsuitable' for street use. My contact at the lab was Alex Shenayakin, but e-mail service to the lab has apparently been cut off, so I can't get you in touch with him. He did confirm the existence of both the three, and four rotor Russian engines, and described them as being designed for scout car/APC applications for the military. They have not been in production for at least the past 6 years, and were only ever available in carburetted, non-emissions forms. He additionally described a dual turbo, 4 rotor engine, rated to 680 HP for use in a 5 tonne amphibious APC, that never went into production. He didn't work on that project, but believed that it was set up using mechanical injection. (Maybe a knockoff of the Bosch CIS system?) That was circa 1984-85.

I haven't been able to find any shots of a rotary engine in a Niva, but here are the shots (see below) of the rotary engined Tundra buggy. They are manufactured by an aftermarket company, and use a completely swapped driveline from (I believe) a Soviet military UAZ. (The Russian military jeep). These things are designed for use in the Russian north, over Muskeg, and as surface vehicles for the Russian research stations in the Antarctic.

Monster Lada Niva (287x178)
"Monster" Lada Niva
Monster Lada Niva (285x194)
"Monster" Lada Niva
Monster Lada Niva (449x239)
"Monster" Lada Niva

Note the above pictures and info were emailled to me. I have since found they are called the Bronto 1922 Marsh Niva.
Bronto is the company that does the modifications and 1922 is the model number. I have only been able to find references to them being powered by  the 4 cylinder piston engine of normal Nivas (but maybe there is a rotary version? If you know anything let me know.)

More Information

There are a few Russian sites with information about these engines and cars. By far the most useful was the VAZ rotary history page which someone on the RX7 mailing list pointed me to. Based on the number of different models of cars and engine, it would seem that these cars would have been made in reasonable volumes, so may not be especially rare in their home country.

Please note that most of this page was created by me matching data from multiple sources and should not be held as nessecarily correct. Where I have made a guess or estimate this is noted.

Further reading and acknowledgements:
* Special thanks to David Morris, a writer for Fast Fours and Rotaries for sending me the FF&R article.
* Special thanks to a Canadian enthusiast for data in the 'more facts' section. He was trying to get a genuine factory rotary to fit to his Lada Niva. ( or
* The AutoVaz website for many of the photos and raw information about models and engines.
* I have not seen any other information about these engines or cars in any books.

Other relevant reading at Craig's Rotary Page (Please go via the INDEX page):
* There is no other content at this site relevant to Lada/AutoVaz

Other relevant sites on the Internet (Please go via the LINKS page):
* AutoVaz website, especially the rotary history page(s)
* David Morris' web pages (a.k.a. DMRH - David Morris Rotary Historian; although I do not know if he has any relevant content accessable on his site)
* Bronto website (Russian, translate with Altavista's Babelfish)
* SovAvto webring (bottom of this page)

This page last updated 22/8/2002
Update History:
22/8/2002 - Changed SovAvto webring style to match Mazda Rotary style
5/5/2002-Joined SovAuto webring
13/12/2001 - Minor tidy up, fixed a few broken pictures.
19/3/2001 - Major revision of this page; a lot of tidying up and bad links fixed; no new content. Converted all text to new standard (Headings as Heading1, Some sub-headings (e.g. tables) as 14 point normal bold italic, Most text as Normal, Internal page links at top not all uppercase) Changed from Netscape to FrontPage. Background image changed to PG00_02B.JPG
2/12/1998 - Previous known update (May have been some before this)


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