I was born behind the Iron Curtain. I was born in times when no one expected the Berlin Wall to fall. Ever. I was to become one more equalized citizen of the fabulous Soviet empire. My dreams were also appropriate: becoming the head of local collective farm who drives black GAZ 24 “Volga.”
My childhood passed in an unawareness that the “outer” world exists. I hated, actually, when my grandpa watched news or listened to “forbidden” radio stations. Booooredom. When I got myself acquainted with any kind of political geography, that was 1991 on the clock. Therefore, nothing existed in my earliest automotive memory except for the masterpieces of the Soviet engineering.
The first car I have ever closely encountered was 1983 Lada 21053. Better known as Riva. Export variant. 1,5L petrol engine. 71 horse powers. Painted “Soviet” red. The car was shipped to my uncle, who ordered it as an employee of a chemical factory (that was the only option to buy a car, actually). My parents waited for if for more than a year and paid 3500 rubles for it. Big red "tovarisch."
One of the first things my father mentions about this car: it was powerful as for 1980s! Having changed 23HP ZAZ-965 to 71HP Lada, he was a bit afraid to accelerate. At first. But with more driving experience, another problem emerged. It was even more scary do go faster than 90 km/hour. The front of the car was becoming unstable. Wheels were losing grip. Lada wanted to fly.
One of the first things I can say about this car: the artificial leather seats were dreadfully disastrous. On the one hand, they were getting too hot in summer and spread a stinky smell. Easiest way to get the gas-camera experience and suffocate in an agony. On the other hand, they were becoming too cold in winter. I hated that freaking feeling of a freezing butt. A winter doom. Since that time I hate leather seats. Even the heated ones.
Summer rides to my grandparents and back are thriller-memories of my childhood. These were 40 kilometers long wobbly journeys on a bumpy curved road. And yes, that stinky leather smell... Every time I wanted to vomit! I don't remember, but it's likely my father had to stop on a sideway a couple of times to give me some fresh air. The suspension was there, in the car, – and that was it.
In the mid '90s Lada started to fall disastrously. Thermostat caught its Alzheimer. Radiator leaks – and the variety of other leaks – became a tradition. Passenger door opening mechanism stopped working. Cold engine revving reminded “Flight of the Bumblebee” interlude. Problems with wiring occurred: the handbrake warning lamp was lit all the time while cabin lights were impossible to turn on. The body paint cracked and started to look like a post-drought desert. Central console squeaked and vibrated. Things got even worse after a winter '93 incident. A blind turn, a skid, and a frontal collision. The car was rebuilt quite soon, but it became even more faulty.
In the spring of '94 (if I'm not wrong) I started servicing our Lada. Hmm... nope, servicing is a very strong word. I started making car look better. At the very beginning I cut carpets from a piece of yellow linoleum and replaced old ones. Hand-made upgrade, mates! Then I tried revitalizing cabin lights, but failed. Instead, alternative cabin lights were mounted wherever I could reach. A couple of additional stop lights were also glued to the dash behind the rear window. Radio was fixed to an extend it could produce some sounds. And yes, I cleaned everything and tried keeping everything clean. I started loving cars since that time.
In summer of '95 (if I'm not wrong) we had a cow-incident. That was supposed to become a nice day in the countryside near the river. We left all windows open and went bathing. Meanwhile a cow approached the car, pulled its head into the open window, and started chewing our sandwiches and t-shirts. We were shocked on our return. The animal was shocked even more and rushed back for its life. But failed. First we heard a specific jerky crack – that's how the headlining gets torn. Then two little horn-made bumps appeared on the roof. Finally we laughed, cried, and “crawled” to “liberate” the animal. At the end of the day, the cow was safe and uninjured. The car, in its turn, was optically tuned in the most environmentally friendly way.
In '98, when we knew that the car would be sold, my father took me to a closed area for a ride. That was the first time I drove a car as much – and as hard – as I wanted. That was the first time I drove a car, actually.
The next day we sold Lada the alternator went off.
P.S. Part 2 of the story is under the following link: drivetribe.com/p/lada-21053-riva-hero-of-its-time-WlDz6pDyQeWA2kLT8rjE3A?iid=bnyEW-RbTXu04V-k6sKRNg
P.P.S. Matt Parsons can be reached here: www.behance.net/Matthew_Parsons_SA