Friday, February 19, 2010

The Russian Civilian Tank

The Lada Niva is the Soviet Landrover.

The Niva was originally designed for the Soviet Ministry of Defence in the 1970’s as an off-roader. In many respects it was ahead of it's time, and in many other ways it was not. AvtoVAZ invested heavily in a new plant in Tolyatti, named after Palmiro Togliatti the leader of the Italian Communist Party. Tolyatti soon became the Russian Detroit / Dagenham, and the Niva became the people's vehicle of choice. Unfortunately, 30yrs later the exact same production line was still in operation, and the Niva remained unchanged.

The Daily Telegraph recently rated the Niva in the worst ten cars ever made. However, it was the first vehicle to reach the North Pole, the first to ascend to 5300m in the Tibetan Plateaux, and the car of choice for the Weston-Super Mare Life Boat Crew and the Channel Tunnel Engineers.

Having owned my third hand Niva for at least 100days, here are MY own key observations:

1.If you replace the 50W headlights for 90W you can drive at night.
2.If it is cold, the indicator and the hazard lights are indistinguishable.
3.If you change the 8” windscreen wiper for a 14” you can drive in the rain.
4.The car is set to automatically streamline at high speed; the wing mirrors fold in.
5.The tyres are designed by cyclists, they have inner tubes that frequently burst on asphalt roads.
6.To ‘balance’ the wheels (stop them wobbling) you attach lead bricks to the wheel rims.
7.Standard Niva parts are substantially better than the factory fittings (plastic – metal)
8.The Niva can perform a spontaneous 180 degree spin on compacted snow.
9.It is permanently (and expensively) in 4 wheel drive, somewhat apt for Tajikistan.
10.The smaller gear stick vibrates against your leg massaging your calf muscles. Long journeys can result in bruising.
11.The automatic speed restrictor kicks in at 60mph; the shaking becomes deafening.
12.On hitting a pot hole, the gearing system can be knocked out of sync. This can be fixed in twenty minutes by a golden toothed mechanic with a chest full of phlegm, a hammer and an adjustable spanner.
13.The fuel tank leaks if you park on a slope.
14.There is no point in locking the doors, your granny could open them with her hair pin,
15.I wouldn’t replace it with a Toyota Landcruiser, the SUV of the UN.

Check out the link to see a NIVA in action:


W E Lawrence said...


Having been towed home, into Dushanbe in my Lada Niva more times than most people will have such an experience, I can honestly say that I am very happy indeed to have swapped it for the UN SUV of choice, even if it is not my own personal choice.

One thing you missed out on your list is the Niva's proclivity to stop functioning when travelling uphill - this is because the diaphragm in the fuel pump inverts when it works too hard against gravity; it then needs a rest before it returns to its original, correct position and begins to work normally again. Many people cannot figure out why their Nivas so often just stop during uphill drives, only to inexplicably recover after a few minutes break.

During my more than two years of driving it in Tajikistan, my Lada Niva had problems with brakes, gearbox, clutch (2 new clutches in 2 years), fuel pump (several times), lights, battery, tyres/wheels, windows, doors, back door handle, seats, steering and probably one or two other things I have forgotten. During three years driving my Toyota, I have yet to have any noteworthy mechanical problem with it.

LandCruisers have issues; they are too big, too heavy, don't perform as well on mud or snow as the Niva, but they are vastly more reliable, mechanically sound, comfortable and easy to drive and maintain, I wd never willingly go back to the Niva.

If you want a small, economical 4WD for NGO work, try the Suzuki Jimny, or if the org can afford it, a Rav4.

Shane said...

It sounds like I am in for a rough ride with my niva in more ways than one. I appreciate it is not God's gift to enginnering but needed to have fastidious remark somewhere in the text about the white elephants of the road... hope you have many happy miles of motoring in the Toyota...and I can hitch a tow when you are passing me up a hill.

Robert said...

Greetings from Cyprus, Enjoyed the blog,

roger said...

Speed restrictor..? Where's the fun in that? I would like to see one of those bright yellow stickers on your Niva, though for sure it would attract the attention of the militsia on Rudaki.

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