Project Cars: 1988 Lada Niva

The CarAdvice team reveals what’s hidden away in their sheds and backyards awaiting some TLC.

I’ve been trying to keep this on the down low but it seems the cat and the bag have separated somewhat, so yes, I have another Niva.

And by ‘another’, I mean that this Fern Green 1988 Lada Niva marks the sixth time one of the charismatic Russian 4WDs has ended up in my care. No late-night questionable decision on eBay this time though (Nivas 2 and 3), nor was it a well-meaning but doomed-from-the-start project (Niva 5). No, Niva number six was a generous birthday gift from some friends.

It was more generous in thought than value though, as I’m told the transport to Melbourne from its previous home in South Australia cost more than the car!

As thoughtful surprises go though, the latest Niva is actually one of the better ones I’ve had and arrived in almost complete and original condition. Plus, and this is impressive for any Lada regardless of age, it runs and drives just fine!

It was wearing an Australian designed accessory bull bar and a set of 16-inch alloy wheels from a later series car (both of which are destined for the bin), plus the front seats are from the same generation car as the wheels, but I’ll keep them as the original ones are pretty terrible.

In terms of missing bits, these are limited to the wiper arms for the headlamps and a couple of minor interior trim components. Everything else is there just as Brezhnev himself oversaw when the Niva first rolled off the line in 1978.

My plan for the Lada is to return it as close to original as possible, a task made much easier by the fact that Nivas are still made new, some 42 years after production started. It’s also helped by the sheer affordability of parts, with many pieces coming in under $1 each.

I’ve managed to source a set of original wheels and tyres, a two-spoke steering wheel from the late ’70s and the original Pioneer tape deck from when the car was specified for Australia.

Next update I’ll run through the process of ‘backdating’ the wheels to stock, and getting the car registered. Let me know if you’re keen on learning more about Niva history too, as its quite an interesting tale!

Current status: Waiting for parts to arrive from the former CCCP
Odometer: 101,197km
Next: Backdating to original