The heyday of Group B rallying was brief, brutal and above all, brilliant. Major developments in turbocharging technology and the introduction of all-wheel drive made cars of this era faster than any that came before. For a short period, Group B made the World Rally Championship a true rival to Formula 1.
Participation from carmakers was plentiful, featuring iconic race cars from Audi, Lancia and Peugeot, as well as more obscure entries from Citroën, MG and Toyota. Were it not for Group B’s poorly timed string of fatal accidents and the category’s subsequent cancellation, these cars would’ve been joined by Soviet marque Lada, which made a serious effort to race on the international stage with a prototype called the Samara EVA.
This story starts in 1984, in Estonia’s motorsport mecca of Tallinn, where according to Rally Group B Shrine, workers at a truck factory repurposed a side room for the secret development of a race car. Codenamed the “Lada Turbo” according to some sources, this car was a silhouette racer modeled after the Lada Samara (or VAZ-2108). It borrowed only its doors, headlights, and windshield from the production car.
Beneath its fiberglass skin lay a skeletal, but stiff tubular chassis, which combined with its lightweight body to keep weight down to somewhere around 2,100 pounds, per World Rally World. Unlike the front-wheel-drive road car, the Lada Turbo was rear-drive, with an engine mounted midship to improve its weight distribution.
Its engine was a heavily modified version of the VAZ-2106’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder that was bored out almost 300cc to reach just shy of 1.9 liters, per Superrally. The engine featured a twin-cam 16-valve head, as opposed to the stock, eight-valve single-cam design.
As with all successful rally cars of the era (sorry, MG Metro 6R4), it was turbocharged and intercooled, and unusually for a Soviet vehicle of the era, it featured electronic fuel injection. The Samara road car didn’t get fuel injection until 1996. Together, these resulted in an output of 300 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of torque, according to Superrally. While far from competitive in boost-crazed Group B, those stats were damn impressive for a race car built under but not sanctioned by the Soviet government.
When the project came to Soviet officials’ attention in 1986, surprisingly, the powers-that-be were pleased enough with the workers’ side project that they turned it into a government-backed motorsport program. The Lada Turbo was put under the direction of Lithuanian rally driver Stasys Brundza, who had won one ADAC rally and several domestic events in the USSR.
Under Brundza, the Lada Turbo program was moved to the factory in Vilnius, Lithuania, that built the Lada 2105 VFTS rally car. There, the Lada Turbo was renamed the Samara EVA, where EVA was short for “Experimental Vilnius Auto-plant.” With funds earmarked for 200 production cars—a requirement for Group B homologation—it looked like the Soviets were about to be represented in the World Rally Championship.
Shortly into the Samara EVA’s production run, with somewhere between three and 30 cars built, Group B endured a string of fatal crashes that claimed the lives of competitors and spectators alike. The WRC’s sanctioning body FISA (predecessor of the FIA) pulled the plug on Group B, leaving not only the Samara EVA with nowhere to race, but its competitiveness as a race car a mystery. Given its horsepower deficit to the winning cars of the day and lack of all-wheel drive, it’s likely the Samara EVA would have performed at best like the Lancia 037, which was obsolete before the Samara EVA even entered development.