Arts, Culture & Media

Remembering The Russian Lada Classic

For decades, the Lada Classic has been a fixture on Russian roads. This compact car first became popular during the Soviet era. And that's despite having a crank start and a habit of breaking down.

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"How would I describe a Lada?" asks Russian American Andre Lukatsky. "Well it's really what cars used to be before they became appliances, you know it smells like oil and gasoline, and there's no automatic transmission, no power steering, you really have to drive it."

But the last of the Lada classic models has now rolled off the production line. Russian auto maker AvtoVaz is phasing it out.

So for our Geo Quiz: Can you name the Russian city in the Western Urals where that last classic Lada rolled off the line?

Here's a hint: It's the capital of the Udmurt Republic.
The last Lada classic to roll of the assembly line in Izhevsk, a Russian city located in the Western Urals. The cheap sedan that was so popular in Soviet times has been phased out and replaced by newer models.

But it lives on, even here in the USA. Just ask Andre Lukatsky who lives in Chicago. He still owns and drives one of those classic Ladas, and he moderates an online forum for its fans.

Here's how my colleague Ian Rosser in London remembers the Lada:

"She's my little Deuce Coupe, you don't know what I got", sang the Beach Boys merrily in 1963. It was California, the sun was shining and the wind was in their hair.

When I was 17 my parents bought a Lada Classic. In a really crappy yellow-beige colour. I lived on the windy east coast of mostly grey England and I had a face like a wet weekend. How could they do this to me?

Their reasoning behind it was that it was solid and reliable, got good mileage and was great value for money — they got it brand new in the late 90"²s for around $5000. But I still thought it was a horrendous joke at my expense. I wanted to try and take girls out. What girl would be seen dead in a car like that? It soon earned the nickname "the tank" from my brother and I. It drove just like one, I think (having never driven a tank). It made 0-60 in about 5 minutes, had the turning circle of an oil tanker and took two hands and a lot of effort to negotiate corners. It's safe to say it didn't have power steering. Or a decent stereo. Or anything much decent about it all…

At an age when you want to be the coolest kid on the block, you're totally self-involved like any good teen should be and the opinions of your peers means everything, it made life difficult. Why could they not have bought something half-way decent, like my friends' parents seemed to own? Volvos and the like. Luckily, as my friends and I were all so desperate just to drive we embraced it's awfulness and used it anyway. It was also amazingly low maintenance. It started on the coldest of days, just like a good Russian-built vehicle should. Plus it didn't matter so much when it got pranged — which my brother did — because it wasn't worth much in the first place. And no-one else had one in town, or pretty much anywhere else, either. So it was unique.

Once it had been traded in many years later for a Peugeot with five gears that was actually a pleasure to drive, I probably even looked back on those times learning to drive in it fondly. But not too fondly. And like all things that come to an end there's a certain sense of sadness in the finality of it all. I wonder if she's still running somewhere, refusing to give up the ghost because she was built to last, like The Terminator. Maybe she even found her way back to Russia and is hanging out with other Ladas, as happy as can be.

So I raise a glass of vodka to the old Lada Classic and say 'nostravia'. I love you, sort of.