The Drive team reveals what is hidden away in their sheds and backyards awaiting some TLC…
Update 7 – Look hot. Feel hot
The 1988 Lada Niva didn’t get to see much sunshine throughout 2022.
A combination of yet another flat battery and a total lack of time meant the poor green off-roader sat in the garage for much of the year.
Plus, on the few occasions I drove it, things weren’t altogether reliable as the little four-cylinder tended to overheat.
The usual quick fix of flushing the cooling system didn’t improve things and given it wasn’t leaking, the likely culprit was a faulty thermostat.
A thermostat is a temperature-sensitive valve that regulates the amount of coolant circulating in your car’s cooling system.
When an engine is cold, the main thermostat valve is closed so that coolant flowing through the engine can gradually heat up as it circulates. As things get to the car’s optimal operating temperature, the thermostat valve opens and sends the now-heated coolant through the radiator so that it can be cooled for its next pass through, thus regulating the overall system temperature.
To do this, the valve in the thermostat uses a wax that expands when it is hot and then contracts again when it cools down again.
If the thermostat is faulty, and isn’t opening or closing properly, then the hot water exiting the engine can be pumped straight back in, rather than passed through the radiator, which will push temperatures beyond their operating limit.
This can lead to catastrophic heat damage of the block, valves, head gasket, you name it – so it’s not something to ignore.
I sourced a new thermostat from a Lada parts supplier in Western Australia and set about the replacement.
To say the Niva’s engine bay is a bit of a mess would be an understatement.
You’ve got 1970’s technology crammed in with a spare tyre and a wiring system that makes Lucas’ worst look like fibre optics.
With a bit of help from Bill at Richmond Automotive in Cremorne, the old brass thermostat was removed and the new one fitted.
A test to idle the car up to temperature had things settle at a far more comfortable level, so it was a job well done.
Looking at the faulty one, which was the car’s original unit as it had ‘Made in USSR’ engraved in the base, showed that the whole spring-valve mechanism inside had collapsed, so no surprise that it wasn’t working!
But running properly wasn’t enough. The Niva now had to look the part.
As promised a few updates ago, and completed under the cover of the garage, was the long-awaited decal installation.
The two-tone orange blocks were an original design for the Niva back in the 1980s, and used again in a slightly modified single-colour version on the special edition Niva California which was offered in Germany.
The team at Recal Decals created and installed the kit, which needed a bit of finessing to fit the Niva’s lines, but looks brilliant on the green paintwork, despite its inherent poor quality and ‘thin’ coverage.
I removed the fog lamps too, as they weren’t wired up, to give the car an even cleaner and original ‘face’.
There’s still plenty to do on the the Niva, but at least it won’t be lost in a crowd, or overheat on the way.
Current Status – Looking hot, driving cool!
Odometer – 101,500km (yeah, that battery thing…)
Next up – Fixing the stance!
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