Remember the Lada Niva, most of us do and most of us (including us) thought production had stopped for this little but very capable 4×4, how wrong we were.
There are many Lada Niva clubs and owners out there today still enjoying the fun of driving a 1970’s cold war designed car and working on them.
Just like so many cars of the 70’s to 90’s era simple, basic, fun to drive and to tinker with none of this electrical mumbo jumbo rubbish.
We met up with one of these like minded chaps recently, Paul Gough, now retired having spent many years in the motor trade following a time served apprenticeship and a true classic car enthusiast.
Paul is now living in sunny southern Spain with his 3 main loves in life; his wife Melanie, a classic Triumph Herald convertible and “Valery” his Lada Niva (Valery is the name of the Russian designer of the Niva and he’s a male)
Paul dropped on his Niva in Spain at a car dealers, it had been a trade in looking pretty tired.
A 1990’s model, Spanish badged Foresta, (note the Spanish spec. grille) LHD 1700cc petrol.
The Niva had been used as a builders van for many years, so to imagine the condition would be frightening to say the least.
Paul told us everything was there pretty much, but in a sad state, dents flat paint filth throughout the interior, leaking seals, general lack of maintenance and TLC.
As a member of an ex-pat classic car club, and his years of experience in the motor trade, Paul was eager to jump in to another project without any doubts for the final out come for the Lada.
First the whole interior was stripped out, all trim removed, the shell cleaned, then piece by piece everything was cleaned restored and put back with a few upgrades like sound proofing added as the project advanced.
We were stunned to find that the original upholstery was still intact and free from any staining, Paul had removed all the original seat covers and cleaned by hand until they were as good as new. The same for the paintwork, apart from dent re-spraying, the Niva’s flat paint had been cut back and waxed until it shone like show room condition.
On the mechanical side, all rubber work has been replaced, hoses, seals, belts, drive shaft gaters, etc.
The timing chain was about to throw its self overboard, so a new kit was added with tensioners etc. New pads and shoes added, clutch and slave cylinder, all oils and fluids changed throughout the vehicle, with everything getting checked adjusted and cleaned as Paul worked through all the components.
After two years hard graft to some, and a labour of love to others the Niva Foresta looks pretty fine indeed, the photos prove that, but Paul is adamant it is still a rolling project with work to be done. But on the bright side, working on a classic 4×4 in the Spanish sun is not so bad with a cold beer at hand, instead of a cold hand reaching for a warm drink in your freezing garage in the UK.
For any Lada Niva owner wishing to source parts at a very competitive rate, Paul has graciously passed on details for a small, very helpful and efficient company in the Ukraine. Pavel is your man at www.ladapower.com
For a brief history of the Lada Niva, read on …..
Designed in 1971 by Russian automaker Vaz, after several proto-types the Lada Niva went into production in 1977.
Original equipment was a 1.55 ltr engine permanent four wheel drive and diff lock on the transfer case, basically as the Land Rover system operated.
Three gear levers operated the transmission;
i, main gearing leaver(four then in1985, five gears)
ii, high & low range
iii, diff lock
The vehicle was introduced to western Europe in 1978 at the Paris motor show, where it became an instant hit with customers having to wait long periods for delivery due to the demand.
The engine was later upsized to a 1.7ltr model with single point fuel injection supplied by General Motors until 2004 when Bosch took over supplying multi point fuel injection.
Coil springs are fitted to all corners with independent suspension to the front and beam axle to the rear.
Braking was supplied by front discs and rear drums that are a servo assisted duel circuit system. The clutch was hydraulic too.
Many western European importing countries thought the standard Niva trim was below the expectations of the car buying public of the 1980’s, although the practicality and functionality of the vehicle was very popular.
Hence the model names that many of us are used to, started to appear:
The Niva “Hussar”
This was the basic ‘entry” model defined by a few decals to the side of the vehicle.
The Niva “Cossack”
The better known Cossack was upgraded with roof rails, flared plastic wheel arches, running boards, sunroof, bull bars 15” alloys and partial bucket seating. The spare wheel was also removed from the engine bay and hung on to the rear door, not really an upgrade in our eyes as an off roading vehicle
In 1997 UK imports of the Niva ceased due to new emission rulings and at that point most of us believed production had stopped.
There have been several further attempts to re-introduce the car back in to the UK and finally it happened in 2010 but only through a private importer and all models are LHD only, as the import volume has remained too low to produce RHD options.
Although most of us only know the Lada Niva as a 3 door vehicle, there was a stretched 5 door version, a pick up and a crew cab pickup, still in production today. Just to make you sit up …. an amphibian version was completed in 1987, able to travel at over 70 mph on the road and 6 nots on water. After many proto-type stages of development, it worked and was a very capable machine. The UK Ministry of Defence tested and trialled it with outstanding results, but then backed out of the deal due to cash flow and it never made mass production unfortunately.