The Carchive: '87 Lada


Disaster has befallen The Carchive! Descending the ladder into one of the lower levels, my feet touched down with a splash, not a smack. No idea how long the water has been there, but it’s decimated a lot of top-class material. I can kiss goodbye to all my pre-war Delahaye stuff, my Bugatti brochures, the early Model-T pamphlet that was never issued due to being full of spelling errors, and the lushly produced Cadillac V16 catalogue that was recalled due to allegedly having communist sympathies.

Never mind; at least I had the forethought to ensure that all the valueless dreck, all brochures about cars that nobody could possibly still care about, were stored safely out of the way of any harm. And heaven-be-praised, those are the exact kind of cars we like to discuss here.

So lets get ourselves properly mired in mediocrity. LADA!

“Why are Lada cars subjected to such stringent test conditions? Well, if you’d ever experienced a Siberian winter you wouldn’t have to ask”

This is a noble proposal. If you build a car designed to handle the ravages of the hinterland, where the car might disappear for months on end under a snowdrift, or get part-devoured by brown bears, coping with the demands of  life in Caister-On-Sea should be a cakewalk. Especially when you consider that:

“All Ladas are made from thicker than average steel and have a reinforced underchassis, transmission and exhaust plus a heavy duty starter motor, battery and alternator.”

Of course, the brochure at no point mentions the fact that the Lada was based on a million-year old Fiat design, and Fiats had something of a reputation for effervescing away as soon as a Mediterranean breeze struck. So, surely driving something as compromised as a Lada on the basis that it suits the rigours of existence in the USSR was a bit of a folly. As much so as my habit of taking a daily inoculation against the Tsetse Fly and Diptheria, just in case.


Lada also had a penchant for listing all the wondrous things that their cars came equipped with, at a time where such features were either ignored or taken for granted elsewhere. For example, your Lada came with an enviable “Comprehensive 20 piece toolkit”, while you could argue that going prepared with such an arsenal of equipment was to acknowledge that you’d likely run into trouble. There were “Automatic reversing lights” too, rather than those ones where you have to physically get out of the car and switch them on.

The “Heated Rear Window” was latched on by many “comedians” of the day, who would jest that such equipment was invaluable as it kept your hands warm while you pushed it on a cold day.


“Just imagine, a brand new car for less than the cost of many two year old second hand cars”

This was dubious marketing without a doubt, but it seemed to do the trick. Remember, there are an awful lot of people who, above merely not knowing anything about cars, actually don’t know what they want out of life. These people often end up with houses full of absolute rubbish because they buy products on price-point above any other consideration. Kelloggs Corn Flakes are boring and immemorable, but they can by no means be substituted with the Supermarket Value Version of the same product, which is universally the most loathsome substance that can be taken orally.

People who bought Val-U-Flakez, bought Ladas. Probably trading in a Morris Ital (The Horror) in the process. They were impressed by the idea of newness and the impact a shiny new car would have on their thoroughly wretched lives,  irrespective of the thought that a used car that wasn’t Russian would be infinitely better for the same money. Poor bastards.


“Just sit in the driver’s seat and you’ll know that you’re about to embark on a really smooth ride”

Being Smooth is just about the simplest task that any given suspension system can be charged with, and the floppy Ruskie springs ‘n  dampers could indeed deal with keeping the body off the floor on moderate roads. That said, the moment it had anything remotely complicated to deal with; expansion joints, cobbles, transiencies, or worse still changes in direction, it all went to pot and the passengers and cargo would be flung around the cabin interior as if in zero-gravity.


“Now put the bonnet down (notice how the gas filled strut makes it easier to open and close) and pop your head inside the spacious interior. Amazing isn’t it?”

It’s hard not to imagine the above from the perspective of a marooned, rain-soaked motorist who has just had cause to employ bits of that 20-piece tool kit to perform some job that blatantly should have been done when the car was being built, and then his heightened appreciation of having ANY kind of interior to shelter in. The Lada HAD an interior. Perhaps that thought alone is amazing.

“All in all, the new Riva 1300 Estate offers room for almost anything. Except improvement”

On reading that line I’m just sitting here shaking my head, but it’s difficult to express that via a keyboard. Suffice to say; Lada, U R RONG.

Until suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, a good car came along.


“On the road or off the beaten track the permanent four-wheel-drive Niva is an outstanding vehicle”

It’s peculiar how the Lada sedans should have been so intolerable, yet the same negative virtuosity somehow lost all significance when found in the Niva. For sure, the Niva suffered from virtually all the wrongnesses of the Riva, but somehow each issue was far less offensive in a car which was designed to soak up abuse from the outset. The Niva was best seen as a tool, rather than a car. It should have been sold by blacksmiths and tractor dealerships.

“Cruising at up to 81 mph”

ARE YOU INSANE? Doing that would have guaranteed you tinnitus for the rest of your life, plus the fact that you’d actually have to do that speed until you ran out of fuel because the brakes had no way at all of hauling you down from those velocities. You’d apply them, they’d then be on fire and the car would continue on its trajectory unimpeded.

At lower speeds, and preferably kept as far away from highways as geographically possible, the Niva worked rather well.

“With the style of a thoroughbred and the strength of a shire horse the Niva 4WD is one of the toughest and most versatile vehicles available.”

Some of the above is actually true. Partial credit.

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22 responses to “The Carchive: '87 Lada”

  1. Devin Avatar

    It's weird that they seem to have spent more time on the graphic design and layout of the brochure than they did on actually building the car. It actually looks pretty fresh and modern, until you look at the thing in the pictures.
    I still very much want the weird Canada-exclusive Niva pickup.

    1. FЯeeMan Avatar

      Graphic design is quicker, cheaper, and easier than mechanical engineering.

      1. Preludacris Avatar

        I can verify and +1 this. I am a graphic designer for a reason.

    2. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      I'm not sure there are words in the English language which represent how much I want this…
      <img src="; width="600/">
      …or how much I do not want the Nadezhda (yes, I had to look up the spelling…) in front of it. I don't care if it's Russia's Ford Aerostar or GM Astrofari – I'd have to look at it before I got in, drive it once I did, and then see it again when I got out.
      (Apparently 'Nadezhda' means 'hope'. Hope for what? An instant and painless death?)

      1. Vairship Avatar

        Hope, because they KNOW that their next car will be better. That's the one advantage of being in the pits of despair, there's only one way to go from there.
        Which of course means that if you own a Nadezhda, your next car will be this: <img src="; width="500">

        1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

          Ahh yes, the Up!. As various internet comedians have suggested, Volkswagen should offer a personalisation programme for it called 'Up! Yours'.

  2. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Why are Lada cars subjected to such stringent test conditions? Well, if youd ever experienced a Siberian winter you wouldnt have to ask."
    And if you ask any more snotty, revanchist, running dog bourgeois capitalist stupid jokes, you will experience many Siberian winters first hand, Komrade!
    But, you know, the Lada had to be much like the Yugo and the Excel: New cars for people who can't afford new cars. Those were some of my friends first new cars. They were rather proud to have been able to buy a new car. After a year or so, we tried not to let the conversation stray over to their car. But those cars did give them some needed pride and satisfaction, if only for a little while.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      They certainly had their place. But, as the owner of two £500 (or less) beaters I still struggle with the concept of newness for the sake of newness, an issue which definitely took its toll on my monthly targets when I was a Salesman.

      1. Van_Sarockin Avatar

        I think there are many people for whom a new car is the best way to go. I like to buy my cars from the anal retentive dentists and accountants who obsessively maintained them, never really used their capabilities, and are happy to accept a low price to be rid of them. But many people also need some new car status, want a car to be serviced under warranty, have to have reliable transportation, and can't be left to their own devices for maintenance and repairs.

  3. Number_Six Avatar

    In Canada Lada sedans came equipped with crank start. Some folks I know used the feature fairly often back in the '80s.
    *edit + threadjack* – Rusty, what the hell was with that jingoistic outburst at the end of the Top Gear finale? Is there something you folks need to talk about but are too embarrassed to share with your friends? We can send antibiotics if that's what it's about…

  4. Jay_Ramey Avatar

    Love the TG ep where they take a guy's Lada to Lotus, spend like a hundred thousand quid….. and Lotus doesn't really do anything especially spectacular to the car.
    I guess 90K out of 100K was Lotus labor – I remember thinking a shop in Sofia or Kiev could produce the same thing for like $5K. The guy just kept saying "strewth" over and over again. No kidding, they could have at least put an engine from an Elise in there, but they kept the same engine. ::facepalm::
    Where's Xzibit when you need him? Strewth!

  5. racer139 Avatar

    While not common in Canada Ladas where around back then. I guess peoe didnt mind the niva and excused its ladaness because of its merrits as a unstoppable beast on the trail. Our familys niva certainly prooved its worth for three years or so until the oneday that it decided to show its ladaness and the starter ate a bunch of teeth from the flywheel it was retired to a long rolling jumpstarteish hill and replaced by a suzuki jx410 which survived 4×4 hell for many years.

  6. Maymar Avatar

    I'm more than a little disappointed the brochure doesn't just say "You need car? We have car! It stops, it goes, it makes heat. What more you need?"

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      "You will come buy car from Lada, or I'll have your family killed!"

  7. mseoul Avatar

    I am intrigued by the Caddy V-16 "Communist" catalog: any re-prints of that anywhere? That might be a lux car catalog that could appeal to Silicon Valley today! Otherwise, sorry to hear of the loss and glad something of great value was saved. I liked the dash of older Ladas that had the Jaeger-looking gauges. Best part of the car for sure.

  8. Sjalabais Avatar

    That zero gravity option upon changes of direction was build in only to remind everyone who won the space race.

  9. john365 Avatar

    "…the Lada was based on a million-year old Fiat design…"
    The Fiat 124 was introduced in 1966, the Lada in 1970.

    1. FЯeeMan Avatar

      Don't interrupt his hyperbole with your fact!

  10. FЯeeMan Avatar

    Thanks for getting me in trouble with the wife and kids for laughing out loud at that last night… :/

  11. mdharrell Avatar

    "There were 'Automatic reversing lights' too, rather than those ones where you have to physically get out of the car and switch them on."
    That's just silly. Switches like that should be reserved for front turn signals.
    <img src="; width="500">

    1. monkey_tennis Avatar

      Pretty sophisticated those Ladas: The 'automatic' reversing lights were self-cancelling too!

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Too rich for my blood. The KV doesn't even have reversing lights and the centralized control for the turn signals (assuming the fronts have already been set in the "on" position) is a toggle switch on the dash.