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.