24 February 2018
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My 1978 Lada in New Zealand



Dear Vin Karnila,

A friend of mine whose brother lives in Lithuania sent me a copy of your article Back to the USSR in Vilnews which I read with interest. Regarding your comments on buying cars during Soviet times reminded me that when my father purchased his car in 1969 (and for many years after), it was not possible to buy a new car in New Zealand unless you had access to overseas funds, which meant that you had to be someone like a dairy farmer who was exporting. At that time, some people would ask their relatives who were farmers to buy cars on their behalf, and then pay them back. In the neighbourhood in which I lived for example, the daughter of only one family had a new car as her husband was a farmer. In fact, they bought a new car (GM Holdens made in Australia) every couple of years. My father ended up buying a 1965 MK III Ford Zodiac imported from the UK by its first owner and I still own it. It is in original condition and has appeared in two UK car magazines. I also have a rare 1972 Volvo 164 (with only 42,000 mls) which I bought several years ago.

My daily car is a 1978 Lada 21031 (1500cc) which I have had since 1987 and used almost every day until recently when I began to bus to work as my carpark is now a construction area. It has 225,000 mls or 360,000 kms on the odometer. I don't doubt what you say about drivers doing up to 600,000 kms on the same engine because I heard of Canadian ones with 500,000 kms and when I had mine checked a few years ago there was no wear in the bore and it still looked new inside. I also agree with you mentioning the Lada as the most produced car. Many people don't realise that because of the figures given for the VW beetle and the Toyota Corolla. However, in the case of the beetle, the boot rubber is the only part shared between models. Every other part including the body pressings and mechanicals are different. The Corolla claim is misleading because it only relates to the name 'Corolla' - in fact there have been at least 6 (possibly 7 now) different Toyota models that have used the brand 'Corolla'. However, in the case of Lada, it is indeed the same car that has been produced with only minor upgrades.

Luckily I have not needed to change many parts on my Lada. In NZ we have access to parts for old Ladas so it is not a problem. The first water pump lasted 90,000 mls and I then fitted another substitute brand that the garage had in stock but it only did 16,000 mls when it suddenly failed. I then changed it for a Lada one again and that one did about 90,000 mls too. I had problems with the fuel pump after 200,000 mls and fitted another. I also had a replacement steering box and carburettor (at 160,000 mls). Recently when the car was on a hoist I checked the differential oil which I had never changed. Remarkably, it looked perfectly clean (just as new oil) and was still at the correct level even though I have never added to it. In the time I had the car, I have only added about 2 cups of oil to the gearbox, although I have heard that 5-speed boxes tend to use oil (mine is a 4-speed).

In NZ, people often make jokes about Ladas but owners generally liked them for their ease of servicing. Every now and then you would get one that would play up but I've never heard of any major problems. One thing that impressed me was the engineering. Shortly after I bought my car, the oil pressure gauge dropped to nothing. I thought the gauge had failed so kept driving the car for a week and at the time was driving to work on a motorway about 34 miles per day. When I did get the car checked, the gauge was in fact working but there was no oil pressure at all! The former owner had been an elderly person who drove only short distances and left the servicing to a local garage. I'm not sure if they had in fact been changing the oil or even used the correct oil because it was thick like sludge and had blocked the oil pickup. I had to get the engine totally cleaned out (which was covered by insurance) but there didn't appear to be much damage apart from some scouring on the cam shaft. The interesting thing is that everyone tells me that it is not possible to drive a car without oil pressure, especially at motorway speeds. All I know is that I did it for a week so either I was very lucky or the car's engineering permitted this to happen.

Several years ago we had a major storm and the carpark in which I was parked got flooded. The water went well up the doors and into the passenger compartment. The other cars had to be towed out as they would not even start, but the Lada started as usual and I drove home after removing the water from the cabin with a tin. I stripped all the carpets and sound proofing as well as all the seats as the water had soaked into the seat packing from beneath. The door cards on the rear doors were damaged but the front ones were not. Over the last years I have become attached to the car and would never sell it even if offered many times more than what I originally paid for it in 1987 ($6000). Nor do I want to get rid of it when it finally dies, and I will hopefully be able to store it somewhere.

Finally, regarding the Volga section of your article. I think the series 1 and 2 photos are in the wrong order (the larger-spaced vertical grill is the earlier model). Also the very first M21 Volga had a different front grill again (with horizontal bars only, and a round star emblem in the middle) so there were in fact 4 series. There is a photo of the horizontal grill version in Julian Nowill's book 'East European Cars' (on page 11).

Well I hope that you find some of what I have said to be of interest.

Best of luck with the magazine,

John Iavas - New Zealand

Hello John,

Thank you for writing. With great interest I read all the information about your Lada. Your experiences with you Lada are like so many millions of other Lada owners in that the power train is pretty much indestructible and the repairs are for all the other components. I can fully understand your attachment to your Lada and your desire to keep it. It was also with great interest that I read about the New Zealand regulation not allowing a person to buy a new car unless it is paid for with funds from overseas. I am guessing that their logic behind this was that New Zealand money would not be used for the purchase of expensive import items.

Warm regards - Vin Karnila

Category : Opinions

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