When I saw photos of this orange 1981 Lada 2103 for the first time, I just knew I had to see it in person.
The fact that the owner lives outside of the big cities didn’t make it easy, but during one of my trips to Moscow to shoot the Russian Drift Series, I managed to catch a three-hour train to Ryazan, where I spent a couple of hours with Sergey Grachev and his car.
By day, Sergey works in a car workshop where he predominantly services steering racks. His automotive hobby tips over to work, and even though he doesn’t suggest mixing the two to others, there are positives, namely a full-equipped facility and lots of knowledge around him.
The Lada was bought in 2014 from a friend as an emotional purchase. It had previously been modified and was known in Russian stance circles, but needed work, hence a low buy price. Sergey knew that he was buying the 2103 for a project, and that it would only be a weekend car, but at the start he didn’t know which style of modification to go with. Without many good customized examples of this chassis around, for a couple of years he was at a loss for inspiration.
But after looking at a variety of European and US stanced classic projects on Instagram and other social media channels, Sergey eventually formed the vision of his very own low-down Lada 2103. It was 2016 now, and he got stuck straight in, adding leather to the engine bay, refurbishing the engine, and starting work on a set of custom wheels.
Unfortunately, health issues didn’t allow Sergey to finish the car right away, but a year later it made its debut.
The Lada certainly looked the part, but Sergey knew there were still issues and how it could be so much better. So in 2018 he disassembled the whole car, repainted it, freshened up the interior, laid down new leather under the hood and built up a set of custom 15-inch wheels based on BLMZ (Balashikha Casting & Mechanical Plant) wheels from the USSR.
He combined Soviet magnesium centers with 9.5-inch wide aluminum barrels from a Japanese truck, and dressed them with stretched 165/45R15 tires. The finishing touch came with custom wheel caps featuring the logo of Sergey’s own workshop, PGC.
A wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel feels right at home in the retro cabin, complete with lap belts, analog dials, and a bunch of Soviet pins.
The last thing to go in was the new engine: a 2.0-liter DOHC inline-four from a Fiat 132, which was fully rebuilt and stripped of any unnecessary ancillaries for a cleaner look. A custom intake manifold running twin side-draught Dellorto carburetors, and a single-pipe custom exhaust system featuring shotgun-style dual tip ensures it makes all the right noises, while producing around 130hp (on a good day) according to Sergey.
Suspension-wise, the front setup is modified original Lada fare – with -9 degrees of camber adjustment – while the rear setup was taken from a BMW E21. The low-riding stance comes courtesy of an air suspension package that features Berkut compressors, a 19-liter tank, and Chassis Tech airbags.
Next to the air tank is a neat spot for the spare wheel, which is wearing an Advan A048 semi-slick. Sergey told me that he thought about prioritizing speed at one point, so he felt that sticky rubber would necessary.
Right now, Sergey is working through some small engine glitches and will try to visit as many shows and events as possible in 2020. As it stands though, this 2103 takes its rightful place as one of the best custom Ladas in Russia.