Documentary traces history of the legendary 'Latvija' minivan

Take note – story published 3 years and 3 months ago

Latvian Television (LTV) has prepared another in its series of short historical documentary films, 'The Keys' complete with English-language subtitles, looking at important moments and subjects in Latvian history.

This time the starting point is 1960, and a slice of automotive history. Though Latvia the country was under Soviet Occupation, a  vehicle bearing that name was shown to the world and became legendary throughout the Soviet Union.

The 'Latvija' minibus-cum-minivan-cum-ambulance-cum-everything was known for its advanced technical specifications -- at least by the standards of Soviet engineering of the time which was good at making tanks but not so hot on lighter vehicles, most of which were cost-cutting knock-offs of western vehicles that were already outmoded by the time they had been reverse-engineered.

The Rīga Autobus Factory (RAF) produced its Lavija model based on the original VW Campervan, but with some novel innovations of its own that made it much more than a rough rip-off.

The insatiable demand for multipurpose vans eventually led to severe quality control issues and the numerous faults vehicles might exhibit at any moment became increasingly synonymous with the brand, which in turn led to some novel roadside fixes such as driving with a heavy manhole cover in the back to balance out uneven weight distribution!

The collapse of Soviet power brought freedom to Latvia, but it also exposed the RAF minivans to a much more competitive capitalist market in which they were hopelessly outclassed by European, American and Japanese manufacturers. 

According to LTV "The Keys" series tells of the most important or "key" events, personalities and turning points in the history of the Latvian state from 1918 to the present. The purpose is to reveal each selected event from an unusual point of view, as if "unlocking the door" to lesser known and therefore particularly intriguing facts. 

"Such an exploratory approach, bypassing the usual stereotypes of presenting history, will allow viewers to perceive what is known to others and to better understand what has happened in the context of today's experience," says LTV.

The show was made by VFS Films, a long-time partner of Latvian Television, and was hosted by Mārtiņš Ķibilds.


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