Unexpectedly, Ed’s ZAZ Tavria becomes quite good
You’ve already read how I came by my Tavria and learned a little about its history and design. Now for an update. How did my lacklustre rarity redeem itself? The answer is that it did so in many small stages – until it was suddenly a noticeably good drive. Quite startlingly so.
Process of attrition
Initial impressions of it were originally characterised by an underpowered engine, terrifyingly rampant understeer and a tendency to stop dead without warning and require the fuel pipe blowing out to restore progress. I used to leave the hose loose so that I could give it emergency mouth-to-mouth if it was blocking a single-track lane. I replaced its bleached-out and shredded interior, regapped its clattering valves and did a number of other jobs. One job was to stop it letting in huge quantities of rain when it rained. Most of this came from a spot-welded flange under the rear bumper. Since no-one had bothered to seam-seal the flange, water was drawn into the boot by capillary action. It took a while to work this out, suspicion having fallen first on the tailgate. A large rust hole was later found in the scuttle to footwell kick panel end joint and this was also sorted, as were loose weather sheets in the doors. Even now an elusive trickle of water finds its way onto the inside of the door seals. I just stuff cut-up towels between the sill and the sound insulation; a satisfactory, if untidy, solution to the problem for now. Meanwhile, the steering was tidied up by rebuilding the rack and adjusting the front wheel camber.
The Tavria had just 3000km on the clock when rescued (the speedo reads mph, but the odometer’s in km) and at 5000km its clutch friction plate self-destructed. Its then-owner Julian Nowill had it replaced but when I got the car back on the road at 8000km, it would periodically jam. Investigations at 10,000km revealed that the clutch cover was still full of debris from the old plate, which would occasionally drop back into the works. It then destroyed this replacement friction clutch plate two hours after being taxed in May 2016, at 16,000km. This was annoying, as it was due on the SALT (Soviet Auto Luxury Tours) a fortnight later. A clutch came via Ukraine’s splendid ladapower.com parts business in record time. Fitting it was a horrible experience – much worse than when I’d had it apart before. I think the difference was the loose sand-and-gravel floor this time around. Test-driving with clutch number three revealed a strange throttle action. It turned out that in the right-hand-drive conversion, the inner throttle cable spent most of its time bent at a 90° angle as it exited the outer sheath.
‘Thanks to the steering work, it now corners well’
It was now down to its last two strands. I gave up and went to the SALT rally in a Lada (and a huff) instead, Ladas being mostly trouble-free devices.
Sulking, I ignored the car for five months. Its salvation was a PC article commission on the repair of control cables. With the article done, I then modified the arrangement at the throttle pedal so that the cable could have a straight path from the rigidly-bracketed outer sheath to the pedal. I decided, with that fixed, to drive it home from the barn afterwards. I was surprised to find that the throttle now had a point of resistance, half-way down. This corresponded to the opening of the second choke throttle of the carb. I’m not convinced the old cable had ever allowed this. It went like a pocket rocket after that. And thanks to the steering work, it went round corners, too. And, thanks to Mr Glover of this parish, it did so with a new, non-rusty petrol tank, so no breakdowns. Suddenly – a great drive!
And its moment of glory? The SALT people had a stand at the NEC and invited the Tavria for display. I had misgivings because nobody ever notices it as it scuttles past on the street. It’s too ‘normal’. It made it to the NEC and back without mishap, returning 57mpg. But more surprising was the amount of attention it got. People really did stop and look repeatedly at it from various angles – and were genuinely pleased because here was a car they’d genuinely never seen before. The one person at the show who’d actually seen a RHD Tavria before was a Maltese chap – who’d personally pushed two off a cliff into the sea (a standard method of waste disposal, I imagine).
It turned out that a consignment of RHD Tavrias had turned up there in 1991. About the same time, tariffs were lifted on non-socialist Bloc cars, making a Tavria the same price as a Mitsubishi Colt. So most Tavrias remained unsold and were cannibalised as spares for the few that found buyers. My car was registered in April 1993 – but when we (me and a crowd of interested parties from Malta, Belarus and Poland) examined the chassis number, the age identifier code showed 1991. Put that together with the faded paint and bleached interior and I think we can suppose the car didn’t come direct from ZAZ to Lada UK, but was acquired from unsold Maltese stock. So when the last Maltese example is shoved off a cliff, I may well be left with something unique.
Work done New clutch fitted, revised throttle linkage
1991 ZAZ 1102 ‘Tavria’ Engine 1091cc/4-cyl/ohc Power 53bhp@5500rpm Torque 60lb ft@3000rpm Gearbox 5-speed manual 0-60mph 16.0sec Top speed 90mph Fuel economy 40mpg Ed Hughes CONTRIBUTOR
ABOVE Clutch replacement on a gravel floor was less-than-ideal. Good exfoliating effect though.
Sproing! 6000 miles and the clutch is on its rivets with a missing spring. All from 50bhp.
Uk-sourced timing belt had wrong tooth profile.