You've probably heard the Lada Niva is a pretty crafty off-roader, but in terms of handling and acceleration it leaves a bit to be desired. Lada still wanted to go racing though; that's where Ferrari and a crazy chain-drive transmission comes in.

The Niva was based on the Lada sedan that was based on the Fiat 124 sedan, and Fiat owns Ferrari, so turning a front-engined Russian 4x4 into a mid-engined racer with four-times more power made perfect sense. Sort of.

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In order to make the Niva competitive in the Italian off-road championship in the mid-nineties, its team first got the 32-valve Ferrari V8 from a Lancia Thema 8.32, which then was tuned to produce around 300 hp instead of the stock 215. That was the easy part.

The V8 was connected to each wheel via a direct power-transmission chain drive system. The frontal pair was running parallel along the longitudinal axle with the two axle shafts starting towards the wheels. The lack of driveshafts meant there was no need for heavy differentials apart from the central one, which was operated by a fourth pedal in the cabin.

Needless to say, this racing Niva prototype also came with a trick suspension including two nitrogen shock-absorbers and two springs laid on top of each other for additional clearance. It also had an adjustable damper in the middle of the chassis, which controlled the angle of the triangular suspension arms via belts, changing clearance and acting as an anti-roll bar.

Italian crazy off-road is best crazy off-road, wouldn't you agree?

Hat tip to Ladaniva.it!