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Lada Niva. Barney rouble


           

The Toro was a late-model specced-up Niva - better interior, wheels, air-conditioning etc - and good ones with little off-road use are the cream of the Lada crop

Russia may be sliding back to the Stone Age, but the Lada just keeps on going. Roothy maintains the little ‘eastern bloc’ is dynamite off-road, whereas most would just like it dynamited
Why do Lada Nivas come with a heated rear windscreen? So you won’t get cold hands pushing them! Cruel jokes abound about these little Russian super cars, but despite lousy supply lines and incomprehensible marketing, the Niva has found plenty of friends in Australia and New Zealand because it is one of the most honest, reliable and simple off-road-capable vehicles ever built.

But who the hell thought up advertising like that 1980s poster that said “Takes some beating! Nothing comes harder а Lada!”? Good grief, were they trying to suggest Ladas were for wankers or what?

Like all jokes, though, dig deep enough and you’ll find the truth is anything but a joke. Ladas won the Australian Off-Road Championships in three consecutive years during the early 1980s, and in ’87 and ’88 they came first, second and
third in their class in the Wynn’s Safari. Even race ace Peter Brock was heavily involved in both preparation and pre-delivery sales of Ladas back then.

Ladas are light, they’re wide tracked, they’ve got a five-link rear end, coil suspension all around, the most solid body in the business and they’re built - get this - in the biggest auto factory in the world, the Vaz Motor Works in Togliatti, Russia. Ladas were engineered using a typically Russian combination of the best technology around mixed with simplicity and cheap creature comforts.

The reliable constant four-wheel drive pre-dates Toyota’s 80 Series, the four-cylinder motor was copied from a Fiat original that’s powered most of Europe, and the transfer case is still a favourite with specialist race-car builders the world over.

Most of the Ladas you'll see are at least 10 years old and often look a bit scrappy around the engine compartment. They’re a solid little unit, though, once you’ve leamt their quirks!

This Lada's being wrecked owing to excessive rust, but check out those super sturdy forged-steel suspension arms! Note how the front diff is mounted off the bottom of the sump too

That’s about top dollar tor a 15-year-old Lada, although this one's in better than average condition. When they do show up in caryards, they’re usually pushed over near the fence...

The Niva's Interior Includes vinyl seats and a Flat-style dash. Pedals are a bit squeezed because they were designed to be driven on the other side of the road.

Given the low price and terrific write-ups Ladas earned during the 1980s from journos who knew their cars and refused to suck up to ‘the industry’, it’s a wonder the ugly duckling Lada didn’t blossom in Australia. Supply was always a problem, as the factory, struggling to build enough right-hand-drive models for the rest of the world, found it hard to stop everything to churn out left-handers for the relatively tiny market of Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Some years - like 1993 and ’94 - the trickle virtually stopped The local importers didn’t have the interest or the capital to push the product, and most of all, Lada’s European engineering wasn’t understood by the vast majority of mechanics brought up on a diet of straight six with one-diff engineering.

As my mate Pitstop Mike so aptly put it, “The dickhead* who turned spanners on them ruined their reputation”. Because of their cheap price and unusual needs - a mechanical overhead cam chain adjustment, a rubber donut transmission shock absorber, a front diff mounted to the sump and the three-piston split system brakes for starters - even warranty servicing was often handed to junior apprentices because nobody else wanted to know.

In a nutshell, that’s the biggest problem an old Lada’s still got. Nowadays, they’re very cheap and still very capable, but unless massaged through life by enthusiasts or mechanics experienced with European vehicles, they can be a real bugger to own. The ‘knowledge’ is everything.




The genuine brake pads might as well be made from potato peelings, but there’s an Italian set that works brilliantly. Most aftermarket oil filters cause the oil pressure to drop drastically compared to the genuine Lada or Fiat oil filter, which is just as cheap. There’s one aftermarket air filter element listed for Ladas that’s perfect, except it’s a quarter inch too shallow. Fit one of those and, without knowing it, your I/ada will eat dirt and sand until it chokes to death.

But if you’re prepared to learn the ‘knowledge’, or find someone who’s already got it, a Lada Niva’s one of the best value-for-money fourbies around. They’ve still got a crank handle, they’ve got almost complete parts interchangeabilty from 1984-98, they’re dirt cheap, parts are even cheaper, they’re stronger than most where it counts and they’ll out perform almost anything off-road if the driver’s got the will

My best tip for anyone contemplating buying a second-hand Lada is to find someone who knows Izidas to do an inspection - don’t even bother with NRMA RACQ-type inspections - and be prepared to pay a bit more for a good one right from the start. Most of the ones you’ll see are already 10 years old, but there are plenty of gems to be found among the mullock heaps!

We probably haven’t seen the last of these tough little guys, though. Recently, Chevrolet released the Chevy Niva -built by the old Vaz Motor Works and looking exactly like an updated Niva - in the USA, and they sold more than 60,000 in the first year. Unfortunately, the factory was so overwhelmed, they didn’t have enough capacity to make any for our left-hand drive market yet again!

OFF-ROAD MODIFICATIONS

With constant four-wheel drive and that five-link rear end, the Lada is already a bit of a monster off-road, especially given the excellent visibility and compact yet sturdy body.

Making it better means giving it some lift. Up to 2in can be squeezed easily with a suspension kit (Lada Autosport do 2in coils and Monroe shockies to suit for around $700), but beyond that you risk stuffing the steering geometry like most IFS cars. Once the standard super-soft shockies arc replaced, it’s worth bracing the shock mounts back and front because they’ll crack if worked hard. It’s a simple job and shouldn’t cost more than about $6.

Although the wheel-stud pattern is the same as Suzuki, Daihatsu and some Fords, you need to be very careful that the wheel offset doesn’t hamper the brake calipers. Ladas come standard with skinny 175x80xl6in tyres, which might look weird but work quite well. However, it’s hard to get decent tyres in that size, so the common trick is to update to 195x80xl5in tyres on Suzi rims. Much bigger than that and you'll foul the body as soon as you get her twisted up olT-road, although a lift kit and flares fix that.

Like other constant four-wheel drives (Toyota’s 80 Series springs to mind!). tyre choice can dramatically affect handling and steering. For instance, 215 tyres have been known to cause all sorts of radical road holding problems in an otherwise very stable vehicle.

Although the Lada four-pot is well known for its torque, it's got the pulling power of an ant humping a brick in the acceleration stakes. Like most European cars, the Lada motor already has a decent two-into-one manifold, so extractors are a waste of time. A good 2in exhaust helps though, as does a Weber carburettor.

Apart from that, they breathe pretty well, although they’ll benefit from a bit of port matching and a thin shave off the head to increase compression. Be careful on that latter point. Australia’s wonderfully watered-down fuel can make raising the compression a waste of time.

The best engine conversion is to lump in a 2L twin-cam Fiat motor. Very popular during the 1980s, most of these donks will probably need a rebuild before you plop them in. Although the bellhousing bolts straight up, the fact that the front diff is mounted off the sump means a sump and oil pick-up will have to be fabricated to suit. Lada experts tend tо specialise in things like this, so talk to the right people before you even think about it.

It’s a worthwhile modification, though, because the rest of the drivetrain handles the 30-percent-plus power increase without a worry. Better get the suspension done at the same time, though - you’ll need the extra clearance and bigger shockies to handle landings!

Bullbars, driving lights, roof-racks, headlight protectors and things like that are either available or can be adapted from other makes pretty easily. Best place to look for Lada extras is at a dedicated Lada wrecking yard.

Want some instant urge? Plug in a twin-cam 2L Fiat donk and hold on! Although the bellhousing bolts up, it's not really a ‘bolt in' conversion because an oil pick-up sump need to be fabricated to suit the bolt-on front diff

Go the five-link live axle rear end! Hey, some people pay more than Lada prices just to have a set-up like this plugged under their Nissan...

BRIEF SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE: Four stroke, inline 4-cylinder, overhead camshaft, five-bearing crankshaft, aluminium cylinder head. (Post-'94 models in brackets.) BORE AND STROKE: 79x80mm {82x80mm)

CAPACITY: 1570CC (1690cc)

COMPRESSION: 8.5:1 (9.3:1)

MAX POWER: 56kW@5400rpm (59kW)

MAX TORQUE: 121.6Nm@3000rpm (133Nm@3200rpm)

FUEL CAPACITY: 42L

FUEL RANGE: 315-350km

MAXIMUM SPEED: 130knv'h (137km/h)

ACCELERATION: 0-100knVh gaded - 23sec

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed gearbox (5th is an cvercrive:. hich- and

low-ratio transfer case (1.2 and 2.135 ratios) with centre differential

lock, constant four-wheel drive BRAKES: Dual-circuit progressive brakes with load-controlled

three-piston front callipers and aluminium drum brakes on the rear.

Handbrake works on rear wheels

DIMENSIONS:

LENGTH: 3720mm

WHEELBASE: 2200mm

WIDTH: 1680mm

TRACK; 1430mm (1400mm rear)

NET WEIGHT: 1190kg

USEFUL LOAD: 400kg

CLEARANCE: 220mm

TURNING CIRCLE; 11,6m
CHASSIS: Monocoque body, very strong (0.9mm steel body panels!).

Independent front suspension, rigid 5-link rear axle, coil springs all arcind; telescopic shock absorbers and stabiliser PRICE RANGE: Ladas only have ore price range - around $3000!

That's a joke, Boris, but it’s not far off the truth. Any Lada much less than S2000 is probably only suitable for wrecking, while the best 1.71 in town will be lucky to push S8000. With Ladas, you definitely get what you pay for because most of the ones you see will be over 10 years old. No matter how you look at it, a Lada in good condition at any price is a bargain!^ 1982-91: S2000 to $3500

1993-94: These models are very rare;

the factory was too busy to build any for the RHD market 1995-98: $4000 to $7000

Twin-cam Rat-converted models: S6000-plus Utes? Just buy it, whatever they’re asking! NEW PARTS PRICES: Note: There's a dramatic difference in the quality and suitability of consumable parts for Ladas. Check with an expert before buying anything. Most of these parts are genuine or Italian-made replacements. OUTER CV: $185

FUEL PUMP: $73

FAN BELT: $11

WATER PUMP: $91

DISC PADS (SET): $77

REAR BRAKE SHOES: $47

COMMON PROBLEMS

People telling crude jokes about your pride and joy? No, if you didn’t have a thick skin you wouldn't have considered a Lada anyway, so I guess that’s not a problem.

All Ladas have spongy brakes, period. It's not so much a problem as a direct result of superb engineering - and for once I'm not being fasee... faci... phass... er, silly here. The front calipers house three pistons and the master cylinder has a two-stage piston set-up. That means that when the brake pedal is pushed lightly, only one caliper piston works. Stomp on it, and all three start squeezing.

That gives the Lada’s discs incredible feci - absolutely perfect for slowing down on an icy Russian road, but it makes the pedal feel spongy to feet more accustomed to instant stoppers. The Lada system also incorporates weight transfer assistance, so the trick to Lada brakes is make sure they’re not leaking - and then get used to the spongy pedal!

In this age of auto everything, most Aussie mechanics wouldn’t know that t he Lada’s overhead camshaft chain needs manually tensioning every 10,000km or so. It’s a dead simple job, but if it’s not done, the chain will start rattling like an old 40 Toyota up the Canning. Listen for that and, if it ain’t be tweaked into submission, expect to have to replace it and the tensioner block.

All Ladas vibrate, but some are a lot worse than others. The problem is the alignment of the gearbox - which moves with the motor - and the fixed transfer case. Between them is a short driveshaft fitted with u rubber donut-style shock absorber. There’s a bit of a black tut to getting the alignment right, and even the experts reckon this is a dicky job that might take 10 minutes or 10 hours depending on how lucky you are.
People do have problems with the overdrive fifth gear when the nut on the mainshaft wines loose and allows fifth to float in and out. Being a bevel gear, it gets pushed forwards or backwards depending on the load and will flog out. The trick -as with most overdrive fifth boxes - is to avoid humping the vehicle into fifth and making it work hard at low speeds. Anyway, a replacement cog and labour charges will cost less than half a similar job on most other popular makes.

Finally, check the coolant. Alloy heads are notorious for warping when coolant levels drop or pumps and radiators clog. Bubbles coming up around the radiator cap when she’s running are a sure sign all’s not well. It should be said that the Lada isn’t more prone to this than any other alloy-head four-cylinder, but with so few real problems to pick on, we’d better include this one.

Rust? Mostly around the window and rear doorframes where the bodies tend to twist if driven hard off-road. Check the sills and look behind the front wheel there’s a bolt-in panel there that should be removed after beach trips so it can be washed clean and oiled. The factory Russian rust protection is a superb throe-coat mix that’s almost impossible to scrape off. But, like most airs, once the body drains get blocked and water gets trapped inside the panels, rust is inevitable.

The bottom line is that you’re looking at older airs that have always been considered cheap and often didn’t get the services they should have thanks to tight-arsed owners. There are plenty of Ladas that were genuinely loved, though, family pets that performed so well over the у care they were treated to a warm garage and lots of fresh oil and filters. Find one of these and you’ll get the olf-road bargain of the century!


              







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