- Written by webmin
When I recently mentioned all the cars Canada got that we down here in the States didn’t, dave_7 reminded me that in addition to the CMP and various gray-market imports, some parts of Canada also got the Lada Niva, another vehicle that I would place in my garage, given the chance. Dave had, in fact, shot a couple photos of a Niva converted into a pickup a couple years ago. Dave, of course, also rubbed salt in the wound by letting me know that he recently picked up a Niva, a 1995 Cossack model with GM-sourced fuel injection atop the 1.7-liter four-cylinder. Dave writes:
It all started in around February of 1988 when my father’s Datsun 510 station wagon was on its last legs and the local auto show came to town. Living in western Canada meant it was a smaller show filled mostly with the current line up from mainstream manufacturers as well as a few recycled concept cars from last year. My father researching a possible new car and myself a budding car buff attended. My father is not and never been interested in cars beyond transportation and being an account was looking for looking for something budget oriented. There was one perk of being in western Canada which was some east European cars were sold – Ladas mostly but the occasional Skoda. I didn’t think much of the Lada sedans or even the rear engine Skodas (forgive me, I was young) but the rough and tumble looking Lada Niva was certainly eye catching. I climbed right in and was captivated. Levers sprouted out everywhere from the transmission tunnel, individual gauges unlike everything else with its single display panel. A row of rockers switches haphazardly placed. My father even nosed around and seemed quite interested or at least pretended to be. I remember trying to convince him to get the Niva, even pleading at some point but we left empty handed. He later bought a Ford Tempo L with five speed, which was rather disappointing.
Well I’ve never forgotten the Niva and always admired them when I saw them. I’ve heard from many sources since that they aren’t much fun to drive on the road being rather rough and crude but do come into their own road when not broken. When I lived in Calgary you’d see the occasional one because one of the old Lada dealers (they left the Canadian market in 1997 or so) stocked parts for them but when I moved to Lethbridge the sightings dried up. Not surprising really as it never had a Lada dealer. Then one day I spotted a Niva just a couple blocks from my house. It was parked behind a strip mall so I snapped some photos of it and moved on. A few months later we moved house to the other side of town but so did the Lada, to someone’s house. I wanted it badly but being a father of three small children and more importantly a married father of three small children meant that there was precious little extra money available. I’d always been able to own interesting (at least to me) cars for almost nothing but the budget was dry so I admired it from a far each time I drove by but it was put to the back of my mind.
Then one day scanned the local online classified ads for anything interesting like a normally do I and there was ad for a Lada Niva for sale or trade. They were asking $500 or trade for a beater car. Hmmm … while I didn’t want to spend the money on it what I did have was an old K-car I’d bought for $160 six months earlier. It had served me well but I was done with it and the junkyard offered me $50 if I delivered it. I wondered if the Lada owner would do a trade. I called him and he was interested so I fired up the LeBaron and set off to see the Niva. Getting up close it was rougher than I remember through the rose coloured glasses of passing by glances. The interior was filthy and missing a few bits. The story went that someone had stolen the stereo then tried the steal the Lada wreaking the dash and tearing off the ignition in the process. With the ignition off I was unable to check the engine or any of the electrics but the seller did claim it ran. The tires where shot but on the positive side the body was pretty clean for a notorious ruster like the Niva. Just some rust on the rear hatch and some paint issues on the hood. Oh and the front brake pads where missing on one side. Sounds pretty dire then but my LeBaron wasn’t worth much either so I did the deal. I figured if it turned out to be a total dud with a non running engine I wouldn’t be out much as it had BWA aluminum rims and a few other goodies that could be parted out to turn a modest profit. With help from friends I hauled it home that weekend.
My wife was delighted to see another non runner vehicle appear of course but she did admit it was less awful than she thought it would be. First thing I do when I acquire a vehicle is clean it top to bottom which accomplishes a few things: first I know exactly what I’m working with – details of the car, condition of it as well what is missing. Plus I hate working on dirty cars and I find by cleaning a new purchase I can bond with it in a way. It was actually so filthy inside I neglected to notice the back seat was missing! Shame that but otherwise it was pretty complete. I hotwired the ignition and to my surprise it fired up right away and ran very sweetly. Since I’ve been able to repair the wiring, put in a new, generic ignition and wire up some switches for wipers, heater, etc. I ordered some brake pads to replace the missing ones and when I went to install them discovered that one of the pistons on the passenger side was gone so I’ll need to source that or perhaps just a new caliper. Speaking of the brakes they are an odd design – it’s a three piston setup. One acts all the time where as the other two only kick in when there is enough weight transfer to warrant it. Quite sophisticated for a budget SUV designed in the Seventies but apparently gives a bit of a mushy pedal feel. So that is where it sits now, waiting on a caliper. After that a new windshield and tires will need to come in order for it to be roadworthy. Might take a couple months to get there but reasonably soon I should finally have a road going (and soon after off road too) Niva.
Good luck with the project, Dave, and keep us updated on its progress!