Before painfully staged pranks ruled the show, Top Gear was, at times, an interesting TV show. One famous episode in 2002 revolved around “drivers cars” and if it were possible to make anything a drivers car. In classic Top Gear format, a big challenge was set… Could a Lada Riva be turned into something you’d want to drive?
Top Gear took Paul Sherwood’s Lada Riva to see if the experts at Lotus HQ could turn the boxy Soviet into something more fun in just two weeks. What could be more exciting than a build thread involving a Lada and Lotus?
**Unfortunately I couldn’t find the entire episode, however, video clips are below!**
The Unwitting Lada Riva
The Lada Riva was the butt of many jokes in the UK. It’s bluff appearance and low quality was at odds with the conspicuous consumption prevalent in the UK. Mechanically it was given enough to move under its own power and not much else. This made it perfect for the show and a huge challenge for Lotus having to build something worthy of their famous badge.
Lotus Begin Modifying The Lada
Lotus’ Chris Ardle was in charge of the project and met with Paul to discuss the plans they had for the unwitting Lada Riva.
The first decision was to swap the Lada engine with a twin cam Fiat engine. The late Guy Croft was both a Lotus employee and an expert on the Fiat and Lancia twin cam engine. According to a forum post the spec for the engine was considerable with a straight through exhaust and lightweight flywheel among the modifications Croft suggested.
Before the engine was swapped, Lotus test driver Gavan Kershaw took the Lada around the Lotus test track. Kershaw found the car awful and said it was “the worse car I’ve ever driven”.
After the engine swap, the Lada was given BBS Wheels, Yokohama tyres, Bilstein suspension and uprated brakes. Hand finished OMP seats from the Lotus factory were fitted. The car was resprayed in black with a contrasting silver line and hammer and sickle motif.
Lotus spent 1000 man hours on the project, putting the estimated spend at around £100,000.
The Final Result
The end result was a quick and fun to drive Lada as demonstrated by Kershaw on the Lotus test track. The car attained a cult following and several replicas were built. The actual car is registered P968 OEX.
What Happened To The Top Gear Lada Lotus?
According to a Pistonhead thread; Sherwood sold the Lotus Lada in 2003, due to family commitments. This was just a year after the car was shown on TV and it was sold without Tax or MOT, so it was unclear whether this indicated a bigger issue with the car. Another Pistonhead user (Stefan?) bought the car via eBay for around £5000 and immediately moved the car to Germany.
According to Sherwood some teething issues were solved and he assisted Stefan in selling it on to another party.
After several years of being housed in a Lotus showroom near Munich, Stefan (with help from Sherwood) sold the car on and the car was moved to MotorWorld Munchen, where it remains to this day.
The car seemed to have some issues which prompted the first sale without Tax or MOT. Even so, this seems like a hasty decision and the cars cult following shows just what a desirable car Lotus managed to create. If it ever came up for sale again, I’m certain it would reach a far higher figure than the one it initially went for.
I'm fortunate enough to drive classic cars and speak with owners, designers and engineers. This has given me both inspiration and stories to share. I write stories that interest me, from the E-Type replacement that formed the basis of the Aston Martin DB7, to the missing Metro Cooper and the truth behind the Rover 220s nickname. In addition to attending car shows, track days and other informal automotive events for the last 20 years, I have planned & driven various road trips. I once drove to the Nurburgring and back in a day, went karting in Montenegro and also drove through the Florida keys in a Mustang GT. The blog is a passion project so any support is appreciated; whether that is by sharing on social media or buying me a coffee!