On the subject of the last Lada Zhiguli

The last one rolls off the line:

The AvtoVAZ manufacturer announced that the last VAZ-2104 from the Classic series – usually known as the Riva abroad – rolled out of its factory in Izhevsk in the Urals on Monday.

The series had been produced since the early 1980s but varied little from a 1970 predecessor, which was conceived as an affordable workhorse as a result of collaboration between Italian automobile giant Fiat and the Soviet government.

In the West, the Riva became a figure of fun for its boxy looks and atrocious build quality,

Build quality was indeed the thing. For if you had one that was actually built right (a rarity, you wanted one built in the middle of the week in the middle of the month such was the effect of state planning. At the beginning of the month there were no parts to build one from, at the end they were being slammed together to make quota as the parts had arrived. Mid-week for the obvious reason that sobriety was most likely among the workforce at that time) they were very solid little beasts.

But oh dear God, the build quality. We never did have one over there, but we had to vans made in Moscow. Based on the old Renault 4 design. Bought them new out of the factory. First thing the drivers did was take them apart. Right down to disassembling the gearboxes. To check that all parts were there, that screws were screwed in, not hammered, etc, etc.

This is one of the things that so grossly over-estimated Soviet productivity and wealth. Sure, they made cars, trucks, steel, cement, in vast quantities. But most of what they made was just crap. Not worth the value that the national accounts put on them at all.

8 thoughts on “On the subject of the last Lada Zhiguli”

  1. Don’t be too quick to knock Russian cars.
    Back, s’pose must’ve been the tail end of the 70’s a Moskovitch van entered my life. And stayed. And stayed. It was about 3 years old when I got it. Gave a guy 200 quid because I needed something to hump gear in. Very strange vehicle. Came with the most comprehensive tool kit I’ve ever seen. You could have rebuilt the bugger with ’em. Not the sort of flimsy, Little Mechanic toytown stuff, but spanners could double as hammers. I think there was even a shovel. And all sorts of strange gadgets. A starting handle. An engine preheater. An electric screen heater. Some other things, I never worked out what they did.
    OK. It was a lousy drive. The brakes weren’t clever, the gearchange was a developer of upper body strength & it drank fuel. Bit like driving a slightly up-market tractor. But boy, was it tough. It never. ever, refused to start. I had it for 4 years & apart from slinging some oil in once in a while never serviced it. You could stand on the bonnet, roof or bootlid if you needed a convenient work platform. The bloke who drove into the back of it at the lights almost demolished his car. I I had a buckled bumper.
    Then it became surplus to requirements, so I flogged it. For 200 quid. Guy ran it for a couple years. Then sold it to a mate. Who I re-bought from for, you guessed it, £200. I used it for another couple years, then couldn’t get it through the MOT. Garage didn’t like the cobbled together exhaust system ( the original was scraped off on a tree stump) & the parts to rectify the slightly sloppy steering were unobtainable. So I gave it to a farmer mate. Ten years later, I visit the farm & it’s sitting in the yard. He’s using it for running round the farm roads.
    Do you remember Brit cars from the 70’s? Pre-rusted for added enjoyment. The mechanical reliability of a chocolate hammer. By 2000 they were as rare as hen’s teeth. Phil packed in the farm & his son runs it. Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s still running Ivan the Terrible, either.

  2. I’ve driven two car rentals Lada’s, one ordinary sedan (Riva) and one jeep style (Niva) they were admittedly a tough drive, but were then the cheapest cars around in Norway, and they rolled. But at the time, in the late 70’ies, there were still a lot of old GAZ-21 Volga taxicabs in Norway, good looking and comfortable. I suppose they too were cheap, at least compared to a Mercedes which was the main taxi alternative, but obviously they were long lasting and so cannot have been that shoddily made.

    Since their weaponry have received accolades in the West, their machine guns, tanks, and fighter planes all being well known as quality products, central planning can’t be said to absolutely exclude quality?

    Tim adds: Weeeel, yes. Some of their military production was very good. But others just absolutely appalling. Their jet engines are crap in terms of maintenance for example.

  3. ‘The bloke who drove into the back of it at the lights almost demolished his car. I I had a buckled bumper.’

    I had a Portuguese UMM (old model) that could probably give your van a run for its money. 2mm steel bodywork, could (and did) rip the bodywork off another car with just a vague mark showing, spend the night upside down after rolling down a 5 meter embankment and started first time….

    Rubbish build though – I remember the steering wheel coming off whilst going down a dirt track.

    The brakes were very Portuguese.

  4. “Since their weaponry have received accolades in the West, their machine guns, tanks, and fighter planes all being well known as quality products, central planning can’t be said to absolutely exclude quality?”

    I would never describe the Soviet era weaponry as “quality”. Effective, maybe. Solid, mostly. But “quality” it is not. Ever seen e.g. a MiG 21 up close? They look like they’ve been hammered together in a barn.

  5. “collaboration between Italian automobile giant Fiat and the Soviet government.”

    What Fiat got out of the deal was access to cheap Russian steel, which they then used to build Alfasuds and Pandas.

    The steel was cheap for a reason: we once had a Panda that was scrapped at four years old because there were holes in it that you could, literally, put your clenched fist through – without touching anything.

    I have never given one penny to Fiat since that car was scrapped, and as long as I live, I never will.

    As for the Alfas, are there any at all left on the roads? But they were lovely to drive – and to listen to!

    The wonders of state planning…

  6. blokeinspain’s description of his Russian car sounds an awful lot like my old Land Rover. Even when new, the Series III pissed oil everywhere. You had aluminium plates held on with steel rivets, which caused the aluminimum to oxidise. The footwells had rusted through on all models within weeks. The chassis was prone to rusting through within a decade. But they were easy to fix, hence their reputation for reliability. But as any owner will tell you, Land Rovers are far from reliable.

  7. We had a Moskvich 408 when I was little, needed a ladder to climb in but we loved it.
    Grandad had a penchant for weird foreign vehicles but was a mechanic so had them in bits on delivery. When it passed to my father, that car taught me all about mechanics too, because we had to take it apart and rebuild it every few months!

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