The decision had been made – we were going to Central America, but the question remained, how were we going to go. We’d have loved to get our overlanding bike, Kim, back on the road but while she’d served us well for three years all over the Americas she wasn’t the answer for us this time. We now had a dog, who could admittedly go in a sidecar quite comfortably but this time we also wanted to be able to get to some of the places that the bike couldn’t get us to last time. We’re no strangers to dirt roads (or no roads) but there are limitations when you’re two-up on a big Africa Twin. No, this time we needed four wheels.
If we were going to go down the four wheels rather than two wheels route we were going to do it properly – four wheel drive, good ground clearance and the ability to go pretty much anywhere. Somehow we didn’t think the likes of a Vaxhall Corsa would quite meet our criteria. However, we’re on a budget and the likes of a lovely turbo-diesel Land Rover was out of the question too. It needed to be as cheap as chips, capable off road and easy to work on. In this day and age there is only one vehicle that I know of that fulfils that criteria – the trusty Russian Lada Niva! So the search was on.
We could only find two in the UK for sale, both in Automart and both in the south of the country, one at a dealer, the other a private sale. We left a message on the answer phone of the private seller.
Phone call No.1 (to the dealer) –
“Hi, do you still have the Niva for sale.”
“Yes’ I do.”
“What’s its history?”
“Oh, its in good nick, you should come and see it, it’s a great car.”
“Is there anyone else interested in it, it’s a long way to come? Can you hold it for us until say, lunchtime tomorrow?”
“Well, you’ll have to put a deposit on it.”
“I’m not putting a deposit on a car I haven’t seen mate. Can you hold it until lunch time tomorrow?”
“Well, until lunch, yes.”
“Ok, see you then.”
Next morning we threw the dog in the boot of the car complete with his right leg in a cast and set off down the M6 for Buckinghamshire. The guy on the phone sounded like a patch ‘em up and flog ‘em kind of guy but given that there were only two for sale in the UK we decided to take a risk and at least have a look. 120 miles later we were standing beside a Niva that didn’t look quite as good in the flesh as it did in the pics. There was a history to this vehicle and it wasn’t a good one. The dealer didn’t even have the V5 (pink slip), just a receipt that anyone could have written. We politely told him he was a tosser and left.
Phone call No.2 (to the private seller) –
“Hi, do you still have the Niva for sale?”
“Yes, yes I do.”
“Great stuff, can you tell me a little about the history?” I asked.
It was three years old, had 20,000 miles on the clock and he’d imported it himself from Russia. “It’s a great 4×4, I’m only selling it because I change them for a new one every three years. This is my third one.” He said.
“Sounds perfect. Would it be possible to come down and take a look?”
“Of course. Where are you coming from?”
“We’re in Staffordshire so it’s a bit of a drive but we could be with you by mid afternoon tomorrow perhaps.”
“That’s a long way to be coming. Are you sure you want a Niva though?”
“Well, if you know it’s a Niva you want, I’ll be surprised if you don’t buy this one because its in very good condition. I only ask because I’ll come and meet you somewhere north of London if that helps.”
It did help, a lot, and by 2:00 the next afternoon we’d driven 120 miles again and stood beside a lovely Niva in a service station on the M25. David was a gentleman farmer in his early seventies and a lovely man through and through. All the paperwork was in order, the vehicle was in great condition and just as he’d described it and he was the kind of chap that you’d like to buy a vehicle from. We shook hands, handed over £3000,00 and drove home.
My God, does a Niva have some character. Its like going thirty years back in time. It’s perfect.