Lada Gorbi by Colani

Car of the Day #26: 1987 Lada Gorbi by Colani

Lada Gorbi by Colani
Lada Gorbi by Colani • via

Anything designed for a wide range of tasks, from doing 85 on the Interstate to taking a load of groceries home to moving a kid to college will inevitably require a suite of features that conspire to help whole segments of the car market look and perform largely much the same.

Mass market, right? Many people have the same needs; meet those needs with a strong product, and you have a wide audience to appeal to. Get more specialized and the potential audience starts to shrink while the list price goes way (way) up. 

tl;dr: Seemingly from the moon and with a similar vibe to the Renault Racoon concept, this Russian off-road machine could conquer anything.

Caution: Suggestive sand sculptures ahead. sigh Oh, Colani…
Lada Gorbi by Colani fender detail • via

So: How many keen drivers needed an off-road moon buggy…in 1987?

With a name that translates into "wheat field" (thanks, Wikipedia), the standard Lada Niva is already pretty specialized for a certain set of tasks, and a known quantity in a sizable portion of Northern Europe, Asia, and regions of the world closely linked to the former U.S.S.R.

Tasks such as? Primarily off-roading, where off-roading isn't a recreational activity but a response to every road being beat up in some wicked way—don't make me share the dash cam videos. There, nameplates like Mercedes-Benz G Class, Land Rover, or Jeep Wrangler are as foreign as ГАЗ (GAZ) is to you and I. 

I've seen the Niva described online as "a Renault 5 on a Land Rover chassis"—passenger car comfort over off-road mechanicals, a design brief similar to the original Jeep Cherokee but executed with the help of sharpened pencils and grain alcohol.

Lada Gorbi by Colani • via

Thought: what if the body of the Niva wasn't designed for "passenger car comfort," but for something more extreme, like being able to go anywhere off-road, with better performance?

Luigi Colani had that brainwave decades ago, and executed it in his typical fashion. Starting with a Lada Niva chassis, he worked out what would make the Niva truly unstoppable off-road:

  • More ground clearance
  • Larger diameter tires
  • More wheel travel to tackle obstacles
  • Four wheel steering for better maneuverability
  • Mid-engine layout for better weight distribution
  • More powerful engine (claimed 200 hp)
  • Better aerodynamics (200 km/h claimed top speed)
  • Reclined seating to minimize back injuries

Sadly, there's not much information online on the Gorbi, but by all indications the single prototype produced ticks all of those boxes. Gorbi = “Gorbachev”.

Lada Gorbi by Colani • via

In the Colani museum until his death, its plastic body is shaped similarly to the rest of Colani's designs. A Colani design will focus on natural-looking aerodynamics, with shapes hard to reproduce in traditional metal bodywork.

I don’t know where it is in 2024. Leads? Get in touch.

This YouTube video, a walkaround without commentary, gives a good idea for its size, shape, and overall look (not to mention a rare glimpse at its swoopy tan leather interior.)

Was Colani on to something with the Gorbi?

One look at the Local Motors Rally Fighter or a modern Dakar buggy and you may say, "You know what? Actually…"