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?

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Buying & Selling - Theo Ford- Sa­gars

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.

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