Used car review

Lada Riva 1500E 1996.


I’m currently running my second Riva. I had my first one back in 92 which I bought because I wanted something different that was cheap and could get me to work and back. Basic A to B motoring. I had that car for four years, and during that time spent very little money on it. In fact the only thing that kept it off the road in four years was a blown clutch slave cylinder seal.

Still can’t understand why I sold it in the end, maybe it was just time for a change, but then again, at the time there were people literally knocking on the door offering to buy the thing for shipping back to it’s homeland. Those days are long gone, as there have been several changes to the import laws in Russia. These days the cars tend to be run into the ground and scrapped, unless their owners are part of the band of Lada enthusiasts scattered across the UK.

The first thing you notice when you get into a Riva is the plasticky odour.

Not unpleasant, but sort of strange. You step into the drivers seat, I say step because you don’t really have to bend much, you sort of walk into it rather than having to crouch, and are greeted by the huge steering wheel. The controls are quite well set out, if a little quirky. there are three stalks on the column that control the wipers, indicators and main beam. The dials are set ahead, one is a round speedo that incorporates some warning lights, the other has the fuel and temperature gauges. Somewhere in the middle there’s a battery meter that indicated the status of charge. Everything else works on toggle switches, except there’s a dial to raise and lower the headlamps from inside the car, but on mine it’s stuck and doesn’t do anything.

The seats are comfortable, and the driving position is good, but the big
drawback is manoeuvring the Riva at low speed. The steering is designed for training Olympic shot putters. Because of this, parking can be a nightmare, but all round visibility is good. Around town the Riva more than holds its own in terms of performance, eagerly keeping up with the other traffic, and not needing too many gear changes as the engine is surprisingly torquey. 

The gearbox takes a little getting used to, a bit like driving a van, but once mastered changes are pretty easy. The ride is a bit wallowy, but comfortable, and the car will cruise all day at 70 but tends to be noisy because of its brick like aerodynamics and archaic sound proofing. Room in the back is cramped compared to modern cars of a similar size, but comfort in the front is adequate and the boor space is generous.

I do most of my own servicing, changing the oil and filter is dead easy, and it’s advisable to adjust the timing chain at regular intervals. I’ve fitted grease nipples to the front ball joints as these can wear, also the sliding propshaft joint which when greased makes the characteristic “clang” on drive take up a little quieter.

The rear brake shoes are difficult to change because of the incredibly strong springs, and on later models the quirks in the engine management system (yes it has electronic ignition and a black box etc.) can lead to MOT emission failure, but these can be fixed by following some simple steps to check
everything is working properly.

Overall,the Riva is a simple, rugged , cheap and reliable means of getting from A to B. Second hand examples can be found at literally give away prices.

Fuel consumption is around 30 MPG overall, not bad when you consider the weight of the thing (The panels are made from steel that is around 50% thicker than found on more modern designs).

Last of all, you have to have a bit of a thick skin to own one of these.

There are hundreds of jokes about Ladas, but once heard, they become water off a ducks back. Must say that I’ve had the last laugh on the odd occasion.

There aren’t many cars that you can buy for next to nothing , run for a few years and still sell for almost what you’ve paid in the first place. Overall, call me mad but I like ‘em.

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