These 4x4 relics from the Soviet era can still be bought new, but the older models aren’t too common in the UK. Is it worth looking overseas for one?
Unveiled to we Europeans in 1978, the Lada Niva soon became an export success for Soviet Russia. In fact, The Motherland’s own people often had to wait in line while the supply chain struggled to keep pace with Western appetites for its 4x4.
Niva sales in the UK were killed off in 1997 thanks to tightening emissions regulations, and more recent attempts to re-establish UK sales have met with only limited success. Today it’s believed there are fewer than 100 Nivas here.
High desirability and limited local availability are good reasons to search overseas, but very few people have. The driest, least-rusty examples will usually be found squirrelled away in parts of Portugal, Spain or Italy, though you’ll find battered examples all over Europe, Russia and South America (even a few in Antarctica), often working as a hardy beast of burden for utility companies or emergency services.
Although Eastern Europe has plenty of budget examples, many for less than ¤2000, finding one that’s good value takes a discerning eye. They’re also quite sought-after in these parts, so bargains can be hard to find. Expect battle scars, regional variances and dodgy histories.
‘For barn finds it’s common for documents to be lost or incomplete, and mileage is likely to be unrealistic as most dealers roll it back,’ advises Robert Castle, an ex-pat living in Bulgaria who’s no stranger to buying Soviet motors in Eastern Europe (search Facebook for ‘Castle’s Collectible Cars and Parts’). It’s worth having a source like him if you’re treading unfamiliar ground.
You’ll also need plenty of spare roubles to transport one to the UK, so if you’re after a veteran of the Communist Bloc, forget the cost – just think of it as a once-in-a-lifetime feat of considered insanity to tell the grandchildren.
Although the continued availability of cheap new models from countries such as Russia and Georgia helps to keep the value of old models down, it means that there’s a strong argument for forgoing the risk of buying a battered one and choosing a brand new one instead. Prices for a car with a 1.7-litre injected petrol engine start below £7000. It’s a thought.