All the cars I’ve owned : Lada Riva 1300SL

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Just to prove that we don’t just drive Rovers, Saabs and supercars – we offer you another tale of motoring misdemeanours.

Staying with the Communist theme, we take a peek behind Mike Humble’s Iron Curtain with the Lada Riva – the boxiest of Russian bangers!


Keeping the red flag flying

Lada Riva - Cumbersome & boxy but such great no nosense fun!

Often, I have stated that I seldom get emotionally involved with cars. But after spending just a short time with a cup of tea and some daydreaming, it seems to be not actually be the case. Since passing my driving test in 1989, I have been responsible for the running of over 50 cars (including company smokers) and every now and again, one or two will get right under my skin.

My current Rover 75 for example is one such car. It has an uncanny ability to float along in an almost cloud like manner, only a Saab in my opinion has been a match for driver comfort. Staying with the Swedes, after owning four of them – a trio of 93s and a showroom-condition 9000 Anniversary, they are yet another brand of car I look back with fondness upon.

Of course, I have had the pleasure of owning some cars even more boring than a wet weekend in Rhyl. There are three Peugeot 406 and three Sierras – all boring as hell, and yet all as reliable as a St Bernard – and in the case of the 406 1.9TD, they are a car that will sponge up the motorway miles in true Demis Roussos fashion – ever forever.

Of course, I have owned some cars that were nothing short of dismal. After making the stupid and fatal error in swapping an MoT-failed Cortina Ghia for a black Fiat 127 Sport, I vowed never again to consider a front-wheel drive elderly Italian car. But I did come close to purchasing a Lancia Beta HPE a little while back – a car I still consider to be achingly pretty and so very underrated.

But owning a car is all about fun when you’re a pup, of course being a true petrolhead – I have owned and mildly tuned up a Mini, but in the end the noise, the constant bucking and bouncing, the lack of space and the never ending back pain of stooping down to piddle around with the 1275 A+ series plant caused it to be sold – amazingly to my father. The clan that I hung around with in my early 20s, all ran an eclectic bunch of cars which included a 1.7 Princess, 1.3 Cavalier Mk2, Metro VDP, Marina 1.8 and of course, the obligatory Ford Cortina. But what I ended up purchasing and subsequently owning two of, caused initial mirth and laughter with our bandy gang of car obsessed half-wits – but needless to say, I had the last laugh.

D688 DNV was just four years old upon my ownership. Featuring huge velour trimmed seats, six-pot sports instruments and snazzy headlamp wipers poking out from that massive chrome plated grille. As you opened the door, you were greeted with a red glow from the safety warning lamps at the bottom of the front doors – it felt posh… it felt new… it felt solid and secure… It was a Lada Riva 1300SL.

The county of Northamptonshire boasted a Lada dealer in three of its major towns; Northampton, Kettering and Wellingborough. And they were all a haven for fans of these lumbering Russian boxes. Mine was a one-owner car with full service history in a nice shade of light red – almost the same colour as BL Cinnabar, and I loved it.

In the past I have slated the hatchback Lada – the Samara – and rightly so, as it was everything the Riva was not. The Samara was badly made, flimsy and quite literally, had no brakes, whereby the Riva pretended to be nothing more than a method of simple honest mobile transport that was one notch up on the class-o-meter than queuing for the bus. The former Top Gear presenter Quentin Willson perfectly summed the Riva as ‘the epitome of anti establishment motoring’, and he was spot on with his analogy. I grew very fond of my Riva very quickly and for someone who at the time was working as a mechanic, the Lada Riva was the perfect car for honing those roadside tinkering tactics.

The level of equipment was amazing considering these things only cost 15 bob when new, the tool kit was staggering too. Your average Montego at that time featured a jack, wheel brace and odd looking piece of bent metal for removing the wheel trims but with the Riva, you got that little bit more. Buckled up in the boot lived a leatherette roll upon after unhooking and strapping featured:

  • various spanners,
  • screwdrivers,
  • crowbar,
  • tyre pump,
  • lead lamp,
  • tyre pressure gauge,
  • 10mm Allen key,
  • a small pot of paint
  • and even a little sliver of metal for setting the gap on the contact breakers and a plug spanner.

I once serviced the car from top to toe using only the makers included tool kit – you needed nothing else.

The car also included some neat little touches that proved that these cars were built to survive in a world where buying bread and milk could take an eternity. Starting a car after running out of petrol would often involve needing a damn good battery and a tube of Polo mints after sucking through the juice from the fuel supply hose.

Not with a Riva, you simply added some pop, tickled the primer lever, and waited for the see through bowl on the top of the fuel pump to fill up with fuel, flick the key and way you went. The car never ceased to amaze me in spades, one day outside the house, the timing belt snapped (the 1.3 had a belt driven OHC engine) and I thought the end had come for my red box on wheels.

I phoned our local dealer – Acre Lane Garage to be told over the blower ‘slap a new belt on it’ll fine’. And they were indeed correct. Borrowing my dads Montego, I flew up the road to a trusted motor factor to acquire a new cambelt. After half expecting an answer of not in stock, without even thinking, the chap behind the grubby counter simply wandered to a shelf and handed me a box – no part number checking, he went straight to the relevant item and picked it up.

I asked if this was a common problem as he knew straight way which part it would be, to be told ‘same as a 2.0  Ford Pinto mate £6.99 please’ – those bloody clever Russians. Fitting the belt was simplicity itself requiring just three spanners and half an hour.

The Lada plant in Togliatti USSR - The Riva went on to be one the most produced cars in the world, even more than the original Mini

Reliability was pretty good too, especially after throwing away the awful Russian twin choke carb and fitting a Weber conversion. The difference was like night and day as performance transformed from acceptable to downright nippy. Lada cars tended to run a bit poor when temperatures were high, my SL model featured an electric fan rather than a fixed plastic type so under bonnet heat was more of an issue.

Just like our own 1.6 MG Maestro, Rivas tended to suffer with fuel evaporation and other carb related issues and by fitting a different carb, all the running gripes simply vanished. After fitting a performance exhaust, some natty driving lamps and lowering the ride height, my Riva was a hoot to drive about in.

Of course there were problems along the way, mainly caused by a young driver taking full advantage of cheap petrol and driving like a buffoon. The exhaust downpipe snapped on a dark evening, making the car sound rather like a Lancaster bomber and the clutch started to judder so violently that the glove box would drop open with the vibrations.

There was also an issue with the distributor advance base plate (very common) causing a monumental miss-fire and making it a real misery to drive in heavy traffic. There was of course one fault that almost killed me however. Driving at speed along the newly opened A14, I turned the heater up and the water valve seal in the heater box ruptured, dumping red hot coolant onto my left leg.

The knock on effect turned the interior of the car into a Turkish sauna almost immediately, wiping a small peep hole in the condensation whilst being burnt alive, I tugged the steering wheel over towards the inside lane and dived onto the grass verge accompanied by a barrage of horns and flashing headlamps – this all took place within seconds.

Switching the heater to cold, I diverted to Beale’s breakers yard near Kettering, sourced a replacement part and using the tools I always carried in the car with me, fixed it there and then, continuing my journey to Suffolk some 45 minutes later. Even though these problems were mainly quality related, often as not, they would cost next to nothing to fix, sometimes requiring in true Russian style, no more than a packet of cigarettes and a hammer – trust me, it was great fun!

Not once did I ever suffer the jokes so common to Eastern Bloc cars, we had one of the worst winters in 1991 and my Lada always fired up on the first turn of the key and jump started half our road as temperatures dropped below -15. Further testimony to just how dependable they were came one dark night while dropping the girlfriend back home.

Flying along a country lane at warp factor nine after an evening with friends, I drove over a man hole with a missing cover. The steering wheel was almost torn from my grip as the car hit the gaping hole, the tyre and tube were ripped from the badly buckled rim and after we calmed down from nearly driving into a wall at over 60mph, I set about inspecting what I thought would be colossal terminal damage.

Some poking about with the standard lead lamp showed nothing more than a destroyed rim, so after fitting on the spare we continued our journey and the following day a thorough inspection was carried out. Judging by the cars now new habit of pulling to the right, I visited a fast fit centre, told them of my almost fatal encounter. After 20 minutes or so, the fitter presented me with a bill of £10 for the re-alignment of the tracking – I was so impressed with this, I wrote to Lada Cars UK in Bridlington who replied back thanking me for my compliment and how that this scenario is an everyday event in the USSR. To this day, I still regard the Riva and pocket sized off road Niva as cracking cars that were solid, cheap and above all, no headache to own.

There was also the time I thought I had written it off. Fellow Lada owning chum Don Harlin ran a Riva 1600SLX and challenged me to a race from his house to the petrol station we would gather at. I was sneaky, and thought I would go a different route to him – with disastrous consequences. After getting baulked at a set of filter traffic lights, I could see Don in his car at the junction, my light went green and I planted the throttle with all I could muster. Launching away from the lights, I had amazingly not noticed the Nissan Stanza in front of me, and I rammed the car into next week. Inspecting the damage, it was clear the Stanza was dead yet all my Lada suffered was a smashed headlamp, cracked grille, bent bumper and a dent In the wing!

The cars were of no pretence and had a unique charm of their own, just like the Skoda that Keith Adams once owned and I will always have a soft spot for these awkward, ancient looking Russian tanks. The dealers were first class and always offered outstanding customer service, along with parts availability back up that many volume makers couldn’t touch.

Providing you did not expect Jaguar refinement and Ferrari looks, the Lada Riva and pocket sized mud-plugger Niva 4×4 were the perfect choice for people who wanted no frills, easy to run and reliable transport. I was that impressed that 18months after buying my first one, I purchased a newer example (E644 HVV) which sadly did not prove to be as reliable as my first – such is life!

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

44 Comments

  1. We had some of these in NZL i think the NZ dairy board swapped Ladas for Butter or dod they put the butter in the ladas i cant remember. but they werent very reliable, in fact I remember the Lada NZ topman on national tv program fair go telling a lady he wasnt going to give her money back after she spent her savings on a new car to see her through. the car had been away for repairs more days or weeks, than she had had the car i seem to recall…. it was a particularly bad case and any fair person I think would have given her a replacement car or the money back. but I dont think Lada sold many cars in NZL after that. but…I do remember TOPGEAR sending one of these to Lotus for a make over….and the results were too bad….more Fiat parts I think than Lada parts….alex

  2. My parents replaced their Austin Princess with a Riva estate, despite all the jokes about them being unreliable, it only ever broke down once in about 8 years. I think it was carb related, swapping for a second hand twin choke webber cured that and did indeed change the performance.

    The princess before it though had about 7 or 8 breakdowns in 4 years. It was always eating dizzy caps, the suspension went pop once and i remember the fuel pump being tempremental on a family holiday once, where we got stranded in the middle of norfolk for hours while green flag came out, then it ended up being towed home a few days later.

    I think what finally killed the Lada was parts supply started to become difficult, the tail gate on the estates started rotting and made it look shabby (although it’s about the only bit that did rust)

  3. Great solid cars – I used to work at a Lada dealership in the early nineties and we sold loads, with a lot of repeat business.

    You forgot to mention the hand operated pump that also came in the toolkit – the rest of which was in a large leather satchel type case.

    The strangest one I drove was one that Lada Cars had turned into a stretch limo, the work was done by Crown Limousines, it also had the ‘Riva Sport’ engine kit fitted, which gave a useful hike in power. The limo even had it’s own separate heater box in the back – lifted straight out of a Mini! I still have a picture of the car – it’s registration was E833UAT.

  4. Great writeup from someone who owned these beasts.
    They get knocked too easily by those for whom anything more leftfield than an Audi A3 diesel is scoffed at.
    Something designed for Russian road conditions and winters would be right at home in the UK, with the potholes and the winters of ’09 and 2010.
    I think the influx of cheap Korean metal helped kill them off in the UK, while their previous communist Skoda became a budget brand of the VW empire.
    There are always rumours that Renault would reintroduce them, though with Dacia I don’t see the reasoning.

  5. I reckon it was Lada’s own Samara that killed them off, as it’s poor reliability turned owners away from the brand, towards the other side of the showroom where the Mitsubishi based Protons lurked! At the time, many Lada dealerships also sold Proton, who were a much cheaper brand than today as they tried to get a foothold in the door.

    • Didn’t need impact bars way the Lada Rivas was built, and you are right no abs but no abs on any other car around that price, emmisions at the time no worse than any other car, the Fiat based riva was the best, I loved the strong double wishbone front suspension far better than McPherson strut.

  6. They probably did have charm to some. I owned one briefly in 2000 when I was trading in a 10 month old Ford Focus for (what was then) the newly launched MK Skoda Fabia. Unfortunately the Fabia was delayed as I’d bought the top spec model and the dealer wasn’t prepared to hold the trade value any longer so I traded the Focus (worst car ever bought – 10 months old, 5 months at dealer with fault after fault) I had to find a very cheap runaround that would be needed for 6-8 weeks. I saw an M-Reg Riva 1300 on a nearby street for sale, £200. Only had 24,000 miles and was mint to look at and only 5 years old. At that price I could use it and throw it away without feeling the pinch so I bought it. Well I have to say, Focus aside, it was the worst driving experience I think I’ve ever had. A truly ghastly car in every sense of the word, to drive, to sit in, to steer, to touch. The car, unknown to me, suffered the fate of most late 90’s Lada’s in that it had a Carburettor mated to a catalytic converter – they don’t mix well and most 2-3 year old Lada’s simply stopped working and without a horrifically expensive total Carb re-build or replacement ( I was quoted £300-£500) the car was useless. In the end someone burnt the thing out (honest Guv, it really wasn’t me…) But I have never come across anything so shoddily built from the cheapest materials known to man, and believe me, I have spent many hours in Proton’s! I’ve owned most Skoda cars barring the Estelle, but ever one of them was light years ahead of that damn Lada. What’s more unbelievable is that Lada actually still produce the Riva and people buy it!

  7. Interestingly I have been in a Fiat 124 from 1968 (upon which the Lada was based) and despite the car being over 40 years old at the time it was a much much better machine, Didn’t drive, handle or feel anything like the Lada clone whatsoever. Clearly the only thing the Riva shared was the bodyshell, but even that felt a whole heap better built than the Riva. It’s a shame because the Fiat 124 is a rare machine and not a bad car at all, but I wonder how many of them have been scrapped because Lada ruined it’s reputation. Most people couldn’t tell the difference.

    • The only reason they were a butt of jokes is because the thick British public believed what the Sun told them believe, when in fact they were reliable no nonsense motoring and very solid, I owned a few ladas in my time, the thing I did replace was the carb at put on a Webber, I waxoyled through out and fitted plastic Austin montego wheel arch liners which stopped the wings going and was still going strong for 20 years until written off in an accident.
      As regards Fiat 124 my father had 3 of those and very good cars, but the Russians did make improvements, one major was on the 1200 engine, changing from push rods to overhead cam, they highered the ride height for Russian conditions, but apart from making the body shell stronger very little else was different on the original pre Lada riva, never believe what the biased media told you, these were durable a to b transport, that could be fixed easily, even providing a starting handle, a butt of jokes in this sad country, but in Russia away from cities you would die if the car would not start.

  8. Hi, my first car ever was a Lada Niva (the only family car late 80 early 90 in Slovenia), and all the things you guys mentioned were true. Changing the carb was the first thing to do (with a Fiat one)and screw all the bolts ….like all off them there was always mist in the cockpit with rain and a lot of magic and luck to get the right choke quantity to start the car in a middle cold day,a light steering like a 453 kg stone but…but it was an comination of a tank (it was bulletproof) and a unstopable rider
    Now I drove only british cars (x 300, MGF, and classic Mini) but still remember the old soviet car (with cyrilic marking Made in the USSR on every bolt)

  9. My grandad bought a new one in 1988 for four grand (a 1.3 estate in dark blue) with his redundancy from t’pit (he was a fitter at the workshops). He wax injected all the cavities and undersealed it from new. Ten years on it still looked like new, apart from the corners of the front wings where he couldn’t get the wax to. He serviced it himself and said it was teh best car he’d ever had – it never failed to start, it never went wrong and it never let him down. The only thing against it was that the steering was horrendously heavy; after a decade of reliable service he got a Micra with power steering. It even looked quite nice in dark blue with the estate bodyshell.

  10. Lancia Beta “achingly pretty”?? YOu must be joking, all Italian stuff of that era were badly proportioned, square and ugly piles of rust, they also came in the drearyest of colours… I never will understand what people see in these grot bags…

    • Lancia delta was a great car, but regarding rust you clearly never owned ford or talbot or minis or Datsun or Vauxhall’s Now they rusted, many years ago a news program nationwide got info from the dvla this was about 1983, and the two makes of car that remained on there books the longest were Toyota and Fiat, never owned Toyota but my father had 3 Fiat 124 specials and a special t, both far better finished off than cars from Britain and were under sealed and I still run an Italian car to this day one in particular model a punto sold in 2004 which I had from new had covered 243000 miles body not a rust mark insight, and the great little fiat fire series engine still going strong

  11. Like Jon I worked at the local Lada dealer, but this was in the late 80s. Bearing in mind they were cheap Communist built cars, the only real rivals they had in their day were the Skoda Estelle, The FSO 125p or the hideous Polonez, and for a brief time a Dacia they were about the best of the bunch. More so being in sales, being so cheap you could always rely on repeat custom, so there was usually someone who’d owned on for over a year you could usually butter up to buy a new one. We always had a steady stream of people in through the door, looking to buy a cheap, no frills car, and they usually bought, either new or used, after all, there were usually enough taken in PX for a new one, as were the aforementioned Eastern Bloc cars. I liked the old Estelle too, they always had a nice thrum from that engine slung out the back.
    I remember we had a 1600 SLX in white, adorned with a fetching body styling kit, all colour coded too. The engine had been breathed on slightly and been fitted with a Weber carb, and it flew, it was known amongst us all as the Flying Brick. While no hot hatch, it could certainly hold its head high in the traffic light grand prix, easily embarrassing more sophisticated machinery.
    Along side Lada, we also had the Proton and Hyundai franchises, and I still have my company ties somewhere.

  12. @13 Steve McGill – I love 70s Italian cars. They generally look great, (apart from the FIAT Strada Mk1) had fruity sounding engines, and rusted about no more or less than the Ford Cortina / Vauxhall Victors our dads all drove around in. Don’t think that all 70s Italian motors were Lancia Betas, Esther!

  13. I had a Lada Riva 1300 SL as a company car of sorts in 1994 for two months. It was quite heavy to drive and quite thirsty, but coped well if a bit noisily on the motorway( although the fifth gear kept the noise down), never failed to start, was comfortable and a Ford aftermarket stereo provided the entertainment.
    Oddly enough someone mentioned Protons, I owned one of these 13 years ago from a Lada dealer who had branched out into Protons( most of them did) and it was a more modern take on the Lada Riva, deeply unfashionable and outdated, but cheap, well equipped, reliable and good on the motorway, if a little more refined and lighter to drive than the Lada.

  14. The Riva never pretended to be more than what it was and this gave it a sort of appeal – especially the estate.

  15. I actually worked at a Lada dealer towards the end, and the 1.5 cat engines were problematic. The electronic carb being a right royal PITA, but the Riva did have it’s charm. Build quality was a bit suspect, and I remember having to bend the door tops in, so they didn’t leak, but hey ho.

    My mum ran a 1986 1200L in Astral Blue, with its bum burning plastic seats in black. How she managed to pilot that thing I will never know. She even killed a Ford Orion, and a Fiesta in an accident, but all the Riva needed was an offside headlamp, bumper, and bonnet. The old girl was sold about 6 months after repair for export, as they were paying silly money. We got £1500 for it, and it was nigh on 5 years old. Not bad for a car that was less than £3k brand new!

    And Mike, that annoying whingey ex squaddy warbler James Blunt admitted to owning a Lada Riva 1300 Slightly Luxurious.

  16. We went to Cuba a few years back and the place is littered with them. I even saw a number of very stretched versions making their way as taxi’s. They appeared to be home made and frankly looked like a deathtrap so I took another but I did capture a few pictures of them.

    I drove a few Riva’s whilst I worked at a car auctions and without doubt I have never driven a car with heavier steering. It was a proper man’s car in that respect, uterly awful to drive and yet I’d quite like one. Agree on the Samara though which to this day remains the worst car I have ever driven.

  17. I have had several nivas and still run a 1.7 niva as well as a 110 defender on my farms here in NZ. The capability of the Niva never fails to amaze and has never let me down. What a shame you cant get a new one in Rhd as I would buy again. They have character like older British cars did and this seems to have disapeared from roads of today .

  18. Carcraft owes its existance to these cars,and the toolkit was great!i remember a line from the owners handbook-“this quite splendid”design.HMMMMMM.

  19. “The capability of the Niva never fails to amaze and has never let me down. What a shame you cant get a new one in Rhd as I would buy again.”

    You can still get LHD though, and i doub’t it would be a lot of work to swap one over the RHD with a suitable rotten donor vehicle.

  20. Good game with these used to be fitting the DOHC engine from a rotten Fiat 124 Special T but leave the exterior unchanged. You then had the perfect “Q” car, looked like a cooking Lada but went like stink. Bit difficult to find the donor cars nowadays though!
    Cheers, David

  21. ‘I drive one, they’re great!’ ran the advert from the 1980s in the local press, together with a photo of the late wrestler and ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet!’ builder Pat Roach.

  22. Classic Ian!

    Some others Z list celebs who endorsed them were Bobby Davro who’s father swore by them, Bobby did an article for the Lada magazine.

    Also, there was a dealer over Ipswich way called Wheeler Motor Company who advertised on Anglia Television in the mid 80s using the services of Arthur Mullard… How’s that for stardom?

  23. “Build quality was a bit suspect, and I remember having to bend the door tops in, so they didn’t leak, but hey ho.”

    So it was a lot like working for a BL dealer then? haha

  24. The dealer was also a Peugeot, and Proton dealer too Dennis. I honestly thought the folks at MVI at Carnaby would have sorted the door leaks, but nooooooo. The process involved upening the doors, chocking them open with a block of wood, and physically pulling on the door tops. The Lada was built originally by Communists, just like BL, and still is being made today! It is what you would call a cockroach car.

  25. @16 aka Simon Hodgetts, I’m glad that somebody else is also of the opinion that 70s Fiats rusted no more than Fords and Vauxhalls, whose rust problems by then were behind them, of the day. Whilst the metal might not have been as good, the superior anti-corrosion treatment made up for this and the proof of the pudding is in the eating in that my Grandad had four 128s, a mark 1 Strada which I actually really liked and two Unos which I know came from the 80s. We had two 131s as did my Grandpa.

    Back to Ladas, I was at uni in Hull in the early 90s and Cream Cars of the city ran a fleet of Lada Riva 1200s in, predictably, that colour. The dashboard was rather heavy looking and rattled a lot leaving me thinking that it was going to drop off on my legs but they must have been reliable to have been their vehicle of choice.

    Re their death in the UK, due to the loyalty of their buyers, equipment levels probably didn’t kill them of, it was the emission levels of the engine that Fiat designed for them (no way were they going to licence their twin-cams) which considering it was designed in 1970, didn’t stand a chance. Mind you, I bet a lot of those tool kits are still going!

  26. Did’nt old Top Gear send one to Lotus to be “Tweaked” I cant remember exactly what they did to it but it went like stink!
    I’ve driven 2 1200 All i can remember was thinking i hope no one see’s me 🙂

  27. Big H, they fitted a Fiat Twin Cam, and beefed up brakes,suspension, full interior trim etc. I think it was well over £50k worth of mods

  28. Lada Rivas seem to be popular rally cars in former Eastern Bloc countries too, and a little while ago on the bay of ee’s, there was one up for about £12k, fully prepped with about 160bhp! Now that really will have been a flying brick!

    And on the subject of die-casts again, the latest model in the stupidly large James Bond collection is a navy blue VAZ 2105, aka a Riva. I got mine today. Well worth £8!

  29. @15 Mark- Ah now I liked the Niva and lusted after one as a first car – found them to be a lot better put together and dare I say it slightly more advanced than an a Series 3/Defender SWB Land Rover. What killed it for me is the worm and peg steering though. Does yours come with rack-and-pinion now???

  30. Apologies in advance for my contribution to ‘War And Peace’!!

    My Grandad bought a brand new Riva 1.3 select saloon in January ’91, to replace an N-reg HC Viva saloon that had done 180 thousand miles – The Viva was only 2 years old when he bought it and it had already done over 70 thousand miles!

    Sadly my Grandad died in December ’97, but I inherited the car and was amazed that it had only done 10379 miles in just less than 7 years. Mind you, it had only been off the Wirral once…

    There were numerous faults:- the clutch wasn’t a very good design and went about 4 times, the gearbox had to be replaced at 22 thousand miles, the choke and carburettor never worked properly, the oil consumption was horrendous, if you braked and forgot to put the clutch down, the back end of the car would pull out to the right, plus the worst ventilation system ever – you couldn’t get any cold air out of it and I also found out that the ventilation pipe on the passenger side hadn’t been screwed in. Also, the pedals were set too high and the seat didn’t offer any support to your back or hips, so if I drove it for more than 2 hours, my hips would be absolute agony. (Being 6ft4 and having size 12 feet doesn’t help either!!)

    When I first acquired it, it would always start first time, but if you tried to start it later on, it would take about 10 attempts to get it going. This caused the distributor to bugger up and revealed that all the problems were caused by the engine timing being a mile out.

    Like you, I was almost killed in mine:- one night I was driving up the 2-lane M53 by the Vauxhall plant, I went round a bend and was greeted by a Jag XJ40(also renowned for c**p build quality!!) that was stopped in the fast lane signalling left – the idiot behind the wheel had obviously never heard of hazard warning lights…. I slammed the brakes on, but instead of pulling to the right, the Riva spun left, right around the Jag and then spun the other way and ended up facing lengthways on the hard shoulder. One of the most frightening experiences I have ever had.

    After 3 & a half years in my ownership, the end came:- The heater matrix decided to leak water into the driver’s footwell and then the engine decided to backfire violently every 5 minutes. My mum & dad decided that enough was enough and as I had nowhere else to keep it, it went for scrap(and I only got £10 for it, it was 10 and a half years old and had only done 36450 miles. Stupidly, I forgot to keep the toolkit….

    I was really upset to see it go, but I’d had a lot of fun with it – especially the time I got 95mph out of it on the M56!! Also, the only rust was a little bit of bubbling on the inner side of one of the front wings.

    Its replacement was a brand new Proton Wira 1.3 saloon, which was reliable 98% of the time – There was only 1 occasion when it didn’t start first time and it never had to have the clutch replaced. Unfortunately, after 5 and a half years, someone crashed into the side of it whilst I was driving, which spun it round 110 degrees, bent the back axle and ripped out the brake pipes on one side. The relative flimsiness of the bodywork seemed to shatter some of my illusions, as did a quote of 2 grand to repair it, which was about the same as what the car was worth. Strangely, a patch of rust appeared on the top of the driver’s door at 2 year’s old, was treated under warranty and then came back about another 2 years after that.

    I then decided that diesel was the way forward and bought a 7 and a half year old Peugeot 406 HDI 90 with 6 previous owners and 104 thousand miles on the clock. It was really econonical and once managed 932 miles on one tank of fuel. 2 years 9 months later and with 143 thousand miles on the clock, the head gasket gave up the ghost, so I bought a 3 and a half year old Peugeot 407 HDI 110, which has been a very stressful experience, due to the pointless DPF and EGR systems. It is also nowhere near economical as claimed…

    Next time I will go for an older diesel with an automatic gearbox….

  31. Occasionally, they actually did make a half decent job of screwing them together. There was one cab firm in Leeds called Diamond, that was 100% Riva 1500E, and some of the cars clocked up well over 100k with minimal fuss. They did have their own garage, so everything was done in house mind you

  32. Major update. This Monday, the very last Autovaz 2107 rolled off the production lines (Riva 1.7 Injection). The 2104 (estate) is to continue for a short while longer, but it’s 30 year life is now over. R.I.P Riva. If I had the money, I would import one now.

  33. Will be missed…or not? Now what would do Fiat 124 & 125 lovers looking for spare parts? ( That is the end that many Ladas find in Chile: preserve Fiat 125s; the other it’s just junk)

  34. I have a feeling these last of the line Rivas will be a lot better made than days of old. They now have proper electronic fuel injection, and the factories are a lot better than they were. The new range such as the Priora & Kalina look fairly modern, and have all the latest safety gubbins such as airbags & ABS. They probably would make a good rival to the Dacia when they arrive here in the UK, but I believe Autovaz is now part owned by Renault, so a UK return is unlikely I think.

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