“Car for criminals!” said Vlad
February 8, 2014 10:10 PM   Subscribe

I don't really care about the Olympics, but I love Russia, jolly writing, photo essays, beat up old cars, and roadtrips.
posted by Grandysaur at 10:23 PM on February 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

A simple, wonderful story. I don't care about the Olympics either. But this story made my evening. Thanks!
posted by njohnson23 at 10:29 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have the Lada Niva marked for the inadvisable automobile purchases segment of my eventual midlife crisis. If you guys can wait about ten years or so I'll give you all rides.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:44 PM on February 8, 2014

Suddenly Russian dash-cam video makes a lot more sense.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:54 AM on February 9, 2014

A friend of mine who grew up in Russia told me that traveling in Russia comes in three parts - the traveling, with all of the unexpected challenges and adventures that go with it is often the most memorable part; the arrival, where you are tired and beat, and you look around and for a brief moment you're kind of let down, with the thought "Wait, I came all this way for this?" but that only lasts for a moment; and the last part, the best part all, is having a good time with the people you came all this way to be with.

I asked him why isn't the most memorable part of the trip the time you spend when you get there, and he replied "Well, we're usually pretty hammered during that part, so, yeah, a little less memorable. Still best part, though."
posted by chambers at 2:48 AM on February 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Quick! What's the Russian translation for 'Gumball Rally'?

Maybe this is saying there is no such thing - there is no need for such a thing.
posted by grimjeer at 7:02 AM on February 9, 2014

Wow thanks for this. I owned a used Niva (around 1984-7), and this brings back some good memories.

The Lada NIVA... is (in concept, anyway) a great little car. Mine was a full-time 4-wheel drive with a 1.6 L engine and 3 differentials, 4-speed manual and low/hi range gearing. It's high ground-clearance makes it look like a frightened Corolla.

It was a blast to drive. No it's not the ideal highway car; what the Niva is, is nimble. A twisty country road or offroad single-track is it's forte; but it was also great for city driving especially in the snow. Pretty easy on gas too.

As I said, great concept. Where it failed was, like all Ladas, was in the execution. The materials, workmanship and quality assurance are frequently substandard. On my Niva, the camshaft wasn't properly hardened, and it wore through in under 30,000 km. Also, the center differential had a slow continuous leak so the car always smelt like 90-weight gear oil.

I had my Niva for 3 years, then sold it cheap to a more mechanically-inclined friend, who also enjoyed it til some jerk t-boned him, writing it off and nearly killing my friend.

Sorry for dwelling on my car. The tale of the trip, and the glimpse into Russian life were fascinating.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:55 AM on February 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

"The bride posed with a rifle and a small pistol, for no reason other than that she liked guns."

Who says Americans and Russians have nothing in common?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:12 AM on February 9, 2014

According to Wikipedia, "Niva" is apparently Russian for "crop field." Truly, this was a Soviet car.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:54 AM on February 9, 2014

$6? Is it me, or does life in Russia seem like a hard, hard thing?
posted by yoga at 9:18 AM on February 9, 2014

A delightful piece, but just an appetizer; those of you who enjoyed it should read Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia, which is chock-full of this kind of thing (as well as much else; the audio book, with Frazier reading, is wonderful too).
posted by languagehat at 11:04 AM on February 9, 2014

Lada Niva

I have all her albums.
posted by Herodios at 11:11 AM on February 9, 2014

Two decades ago, a business partner of mine lent me his Niva while he went on vacation. It was a vehicle like no other. You had to push it hard to get anywhere, but it just inhaled gas like a bulemic.

It was based upon a Fiat; the Russians had need of a domestic auto, so they bought the Fiat 124 assembly line and move it to the Mother land. The Niva was their idea.

I remember that my buddy had bought his in Vancouver at Italian Motors on Commercial Drive. At the time, he asked them for a shop manual. Months later, he got a call that the shop manual had showed up. What he got was a book that would pass for a coffee table art book; B-Sized, and full of paintings of exploded parts diagrams, in full colour. It was surreal, as if Salvador Dali had taken up AutoCAD ...

After my buddy's vacation, he showed up at my place and reclaimed his treasure. 10 minutes later he was back at my door, gasping for breath and soaked to the skin. The damned thing had caught fire when he turned on the wipers.

They fixed it, and told him it was a 'known flaw'.

Long live the Niva.
posted by bc_fred at 8:21 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

oh my god my favorite new Dune-inspired metal band

Oh, I thought you were talking about Shai Halud for a second.
posted by FatherDagon at 4:41 PM on February 10, 2014

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