Why was the Lada Riva such a bad car?
There’s an old joke about Ladas: How do you double the value of a Lada? By filling the fuel tank. Although something of an exaggeration, this cruel joke hits cringingly close to the bone. Originally marketed in Russia as the VAZ-2104, 2105 and 2107, this Lada was based heavily on the Fiat 124 but without any of the Italian forerunner’s style or driveability. Imported to the UK in 1983, the low cost of the Lada Riva kept it flying out of showrooms despite being considered deeply unfashionable.
One of the most notable aspects of the Riva’s failing as a decent car is its looks. The Riva takes the term ‘boxy’ to a whole new level, and that’s just the exterior. The interior was appallingly basic. There wasn't even the bonus of a comfortable ride. The enormous, velour covered seats were a selling point, but only accented the Riva’s complete lack of style.
What kind of car comes with a custom made 21-piece tool kit? One that’s going to require you to use it fairly regularly. Most car kits only include a jack or a wheel brace, but the Riva had everything from spanners to Allen keys. Budding mechanics could hone their skills with the regular tune ups the Riva seemed to require.
User reviews included comments such as, “…the things that fall off are only the ones you really don't need anyway.” I don’t think that slogan is going to make its way onto any marketing literature any time soon. Another favourite was, “It has more rattles and squeaks than a baby toy factory.” Experienced Lada owners quickly replaced original parts with clever conversions to lower the risk of breakdowns and overheating.
The reason the Lada stopped being marketed in the UK and most of Western Europe was due to emissions regulations. Carburettors were quickly becoming supplanted by fuel injection systems in the 1990s. Lada didn’t have the money to invest into the adaptations needed to make the Riva and its sister models compliant. The Riva, therefore, started to fail emissions tests, meaning owners were struggling to get them through an MOT.
Today, there are only 179 Ladas registered in the UK. There’s talk of it making a comeback though, as it’s recently taken on something of a ‘cult classic’ status. Whilst some may remember it with fond nostalgia, the fact is the Riva was and still is a terrible car, and that’s the real reason there are so few left on the roads today.