By on October 30, 2014

1982 vaz lada 21033 front 34

Everyone knows it by its export name, Lada, but its real name was VAZ and that is how it was commonly known in Soviet Union. Like all other Soviet automakers, VAZ is an acronym and it stands for Volzhsky Avtomobilny Zavod, or Volga Automobile Plant. This is not to be confused with Volga cars which were made by GAZ, Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod or Gorky Automobile Plant, some 600 kilometers southeast.

1982 vaz lada 21033 rear 34

The 2103 model, like all Ladas in this series, 2101 through 2107, is based off the 1966–1974 Fiat 124 Special. Designed to be the car of the people, in its transformation from Fiat to VAZ, the vehicle lost most things that could have been described as a luxurious. Furthermore, the body and chassis were modified to withstand the harsh Soviet climates; thicker steel, better heater, increased ride height, and a newer Fiat-designed engine. The 2100-series VAZs and Ladas, also known as Classic, Riva, Signet, Laika, or Kalinka depending on the market, were produced from 1970 until 2012 in Russia, and the 2107 is still in production in Egypt!

1982 lada vaz 21033 exterior details

The VAZ 21033 pictured here is one of the more rare models. The 21033 was a less expensive version of the basic VAZ 2103. The differences between the two are limited to the 21033 having a 70hp 1.3-liter engine, versus a 75hp 1.5-liter engine. The 2103 also had a radio with a single speaker, whereas the 21033 did not. Those lucky enough to be able to purchase a new VAZ may have been given the options of some models which included engine size or a wagon body. The price for the 21033 was 8617 Rubles, whereas the price for the more powerful 2103 was 8667 Rubels in 1982. Needless to say anyone who could choose, chose the 2103.

1982 lada vaz 21033 exterior details 2

The story of the pictured 21033 is that it was won in a state lottery by some lady in 1982. Because she was not buying a car, she was not given a choice of model, so she got what no one else wanted. After thirty years of use and abuse, the VAZ was purchased by a young Russian-American enthusiast of Soviet vehicles named Roman. With the exception of paint, he restored mostly by himself in Ukraine and then shipped the car to New York two years ago. After proper federal and state paperwork was completed, the car was issued New York state license plates.

1982 lada vaz 21033 interior dash

Vehicle restorations can vary in forms and qualities; for instance I have a personal distain for cars that have been supposedly restored to factory level, but are in reality over-restored and therefore superior to what they were brand new. Over-restoring any Eastern Bloc car would be a rather simple task given their original built quality, and that is where Roman was extra careful. The car was improved where it seemed practical, so factory issues such as poor panel gaps and overs-pray were avoided.

1982 lada vaz 21033 interior details driver

 

Each part used was an original factory part, many of which proudly display a CCCP logo, otherwise known as “made in USSR”. Brand new parts were used on few rare occasions but most were old, restored to original condition. Since these vehicles have been in production for such a long time, finding the original model year part was not always easy for Roman. One such instance were the front fenders, which varied in style but not in fitment. The replacements for the rusted out original fenders were no longer available, so fenders from a newer model had to be adopted for proper side-marker and trim fitment. Steel wheels with chrome covers are also original, down to what looks like a missing center cap.

1982 lada vaz 21033 other details

All interior parts are original, including seat covering. Shockingly, such luxury item as the rear center armrest was standard but headrests were not added until later in production. Manual seat-belts provide world class insecurity and a lot of the interior had a very familiar Fiat feel. Where he could, Roman added factory accessories, such as the factory radio and with a mono-speaker mounted below it; at the right frequency, the ignition system is very audible. Other interesting features are designed with security in mind, such as quick disconnect wiper blades and side mirror, both of which were frequently stolen in communist Russia.

1982 lada vaz 21033 interior details

The front seats offer little support yet are comfortable, feeling springy like older Mercedes-Benz seats. They give an impression on being seated on, rather than seated in. The rear bench has the same springy feel to it. I was really impressed with the amount of leg and headroom for such a small car; a modern 3-series would not be any more spacious, with the exception of the VAZ being a lot narrower, having smaller doors, and much smaller overall exterior dimensions. This is a small car by modern standards, one can almost hug it!

1982 lada vaz 21033 engine

The trunk is lined with a factory-like vinyl cover which I have never seen before as it was something that was likely easily ripped and therefore quickly discarded. The full-size spare tire fits snugly on the left side and is complimented by two tool kits and a foot air pump, all factory parts. Yes, it may seem mind-boggling by today’s standards, but VAZ owners were expected to perform minor service and repairs by themselves. On the right side of the trunk is the gas tank, which in some other Fiat models was relocated under the rear seat.

1982 lada vaz 21033 tool kit

Around town, the little VAZ keeps up with traffic just fine, but it does struggle a bit at highway speeds. The peak of 70hp and square shape simply does not allow it to cruise like an S-class, or even a new Hyundai Accent. Nor should it, as it was designed in time and place where freeways just did not exist, speeds over 60mph were rarely reached and considered fast. The engine has a narrow power-band and does not like to be spun at speeds that approach the redline. The clutch, the shifter, and the steering feel like they have an organic, unobstructed, mechanical connection to the engine and the chassis; it can be felt and heard. From personal experience of driving similar cars over longer distances, this is amazingly unique these days but it does get tiresome.

1982 vaz lada 21033 side

Once the iron curtain fell, one of the first things people in Eastern Europe did was ditch their crappy commie cars. They wanted something, anything, with more power, better reliability, and improved fuel economy. They wanted to be able to hear the radio while driving and have enough power to safely pass a tractor on a narrow two-lane road. With time they developed taste for status which is best shown by the automobile one drives.  In recent years, however, the Eastern Blok cars have developed a cult and patriotic following. People want to restore and preserve them. To many of those people those once hated but now charming cars represent an important era in history, one that shows perseverance and victory against communist tyranny.

1982 lada vaz 21033 greenwich concours 2014

If you want to learn more about Eastern Bloc cars, I suggest this Facebook page. Additionally, in the past I have reviewed an FSO Polonez and a Lada Niva. On semi-regular basis I do write-ups on Hooniverse about weird and obscure cars and trucks that are living and dying on the streets of Poland; see the many links within that post.

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

1982 vaz lada 21033 front

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90 Comments on “Review: 1982 VAZ 21033 – Lada 1300 for the Soviets...”


  • avatar
    petezeiss

    OMG! Boxy Luuuuuuuuv!

    Looks like a 510 mated with a 144.

    In this age of plastic blobs, that thing is gorgeous. Seriously.

    “speeds over 60mph were rarely reached and considered fast”

    Well… shi..yeah!

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Ha, my family’s old car. We sold it virtually new in Poland for $3500 in 1989. If you pop off and remove the rear seat cushion, two people can have quite a party there on a snowy Moscow night.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    Jesus, that thing’s a dinosaur.

    That’d be “fun” navigating across the U.S. via the interstate. lol

    It’s pretty cherry, though. Thanks for the write up.

    • 0 avatar

      Recently a group of three Finns drove a similar Lada wagon across the U.S.
      I guess they had fun, but yea, not my cup of tea.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Thanks for this, Kamil. I follow your stuff on Hooniverse (awesome site), and am glad TTAC found you.

        Cars like this speak to a portion of my soul that no modern, sophisticated, slickly marketed ones can, and I’m not sure of the precise reasons.

        I love the quirkiness of them in the same way I completely respect how incredibly ingenious, clever & resourceful Russian military fleet mechanics have to be.

        Necessity is the mother of invention.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      It’s similar in size and horsepower to a contemporary Corolla, Escort, Chevette, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        I’d take one of these over any Japanese ecopno-box of the 80’s, you get a decent small car but you ALSO get real metal.

        Sure it looks and drives old, but it’ll regular daily driving abuse much better.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Hmm well in terms of metal thickness there is no contest, and I heard that the Soviet cars were made with virgin steel rather than the hot rolled paper mache of the Japanese in the 80s, but maybe someone else can confirm this as well.

          Regarding the longevity of any and all other components, I direct you to the following:
          http://www.zr.ru/site-thumb/source/2010/11/201011030935_no_copyright_1.png

          translated:
          1)Auxiliary equipment including the starter needs tinkering with every other year or so
          2)Balljoints are unlikely to ‘live’ much longer than 20000km
          3)Common source of vibration is a worn driveshaft support bearing
          4)After 60000km, the clutch assembly will most likely need to be replaced
          5)A knock in the recirculating ball mechanism will appear by 100000km
          6) Rocker panels are an early victim of rust
          7) Muffler and other parts of exhaust are unlikely to last past 100000km

          • 0 avatar
            SatelliteView

            Gents,

            There are still plenty of these cars on the roads of ex-USSR space. I can’t understand how this is still possible 24 years after the country that produced them is gone…

            Nonetheless, they were extremely unreliable. My grandfather tells me that part of the trunk was always occupied with spare parts. Because a break-down/malfunction was absolutely expected. Also, a garage of any motorist always had enough spare parts to build a second car because parts where in deficit, like everything else.

            The car is a complete crap. A Chevette/etc from the 80s was head-and-shoulders above this.

            Lastly, 60 mph indeed fast and rarely achieved. I guess like like 110mph today in US

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Very basic Motoring but the heavier sheet metal and other refinements make it a winner to my eyes .

    I really appreciate all the marvelous detail work done here .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I have quite a bit of experience with the “Klassika” as the fiat based Ladas are called in Russia. The Soviet built cars are of much higher quality than stuff made in the 90s and 2000s.

    My grandfather’s neighbor was a cabbie and drove the cleanest cherry red 2105, I thought it was a really slick looking car as a kid, and “Uncle Vitya” was a really cool dude with his 3 pack a day baritone voice and stereotypical Russian cabbie mannerisms.

    I had an uncle with a well worn 2107 converted to run on LPG, he was a madman behind the wheel, we made it from Biysk to Novosibirsk in record time, he had no problems winding that little car out to 80 mph and beyond at 5am on the 2 lane ‘highway’ connecting the 2 cities. With a full load of 4 passengers and luggage mind you.

    Most recently in 2006, we had a rental 2107 built by ‘Roslada” rather than the home plant at Togliatti. Although traditionally the 2107 is the ‘lux’ model of the range, ours had a 4spd and the 1.5 rather than 1.6 engine, and a carburetor when many of the Togliatti 2107s had fuel injection. Build quality was horrendous . The car with 1000km on it had 2 malfunctioning seat belts, and exhaust fumes were making their way into the cabin. We took it up to the Altai mountains with a full load of 5 grown guys and 5 packs (each pack weighing 40ish lb). The poor Lada hung in there, climbing up pass after pass. We bashed it up a bit in the boulder strewn steppes, but it was the little car that could. Despite the load and terrain the suspension was literally impossible to bottom out. In my grandparents village we hit a pothole that was large enough to drop the front of the car and hit the oil pan on the pavement. The sound was gut wrenching but when we pulled over all we could find was a minor scuff on the oilpan, no harm no foul.

    Really fun to drive, the shifting is very direct (seeing as the lever goes right into the transmission) and the steering is un-powered. Couple that with light weight and rwd, they are a hoot.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    For a few years in the 1980’s Lada actually sold quite well in Canada.

    If you were mechanically inclined you could keep them running, very economically for a long time. And they came with a ‘crank’ starter, in case the electric starter stopped working. We only tried this once, but were able to start it without hurting anyone. Afterwards would just use a ‘bump’ start. Something that those who have never driven a manual car would not know about.

    On the south side of Steeles Avenue West, just east of Keele there is still a large neon Lada sign on the top 2 floors of the building. This is where Lada had their Canadian headquarters. One day, if I get ambitious, I may take and post a picture of it.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Lost my original post (again).

    South side of Steeles, just east of Keele in Toronto. The Lada HQ for North America. The original blue neon signs are still on the top 2 floors of the building.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Well, despite being from the area, I didn’t notice that one before. I found it on Google Streetview. It’s at the southeast corner of Steeles and Petrolia, which is the first small street east of Keele. It’s the only multi-story building there, and sure enough, there is a blue “LADA” sign on the top floor, facing west.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Don’t know it it makes me a hipster, Overly nostalgic or just plain devoid of any sense of aesthetic sense, but compared to most of what’s on sale today, that thing is effing gorgeous!

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I think its the act that we’re so used to bizarre overly styled cars now, its refreshing to see something so basic.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Stuki Said : Don’t know it it makes me a hipster, Overly nostalgic or just plain devoid of any sense of aesthetic sense, but compared to most of what’s on sale today, that thing is effing gorgeous!

      Could be you’re just in tune with what you like…..

      I was just offered this :

      Oops ~ can’t attach a photo !.
      A link : http://s1028.photobucket.com/user/VWNate1/media/MorrisOxford_zpsfc61576d.jpeg.html

      A pristine 1956 Morris Oxford Sedan , in my price range .

      -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        petezeiss

        How could you not buy that Morris?

        I know you’re gonna buy that Morris.

        Criminy, it’s sweet.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          Isn’t it though ? .

          I tried to get my Morris Nutter Buddies to buy it as it’s a two owner from new car you simply don’t see anymore .

          I am _TRYING_ to empty out the junkyard I live in so I can get my G.F. to move in with me and toddle off to old age wheezing around America in the oldies I already have ~ you’re _not_ helping here Pete .

          I know I have the space for it, over in front of the Morris Minor in tiny pieces , right next to my tear drop trailer that’s parked next to the long line of vintage Honda Tiddlers awaiting my retirement….

          I bet I’d have much fun driving it home from Canada .

          STOP IT ! .

          -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            petezeiss

            OK, OK … as a recovering collect-aholic of other stuff I’ll back off and leave a brother alone.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            re the hipster comment, it becomes more apparent why the Nash has a cult following.

            Simple often does equal elegant for so many reasons, whether cars, instruments, architecture or math solutions.

  • avatar
    cdnsfan27

    My dad was notoriously cheap with cars and had two of these, one for the road and one for parts. I learned to drive stick on its non-synchronized four speed. Fond memories as my dad has now passed.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    You just can’t argue with simplicity and good proportions, beautiful.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Is the radio AM/FM, AM/LW (like most European vehicles of the era) or AM only?

    What I would do, is get some audio files of old Soviet-era broadcasts, connect it to a small transmitter hidden somewhere, and adjust it to an unused frequency spot for the radio to tune it in.

    It would be a riot to hear, and definitively add to the ambient!

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      My grandfather’s Izh 412 Kombi had a really nifty factory removable stereo, I think the logic of it was you’d drive out somewhere nice, and then take your stereo along with you to hang out at a picnic or something. It had a carry handle and separate antennae and I think ran off some sort of internal rechargeable battery. I was fascinated at all of the strange bands listed (I grew up only knowing AM/FM).

    • 0 avatar
      Manic

      Most that era domestic market VAZ/Zhiguli cars came without radio IIRC, but some got basic MW/LW radio + one speaker.
      http://thumbs2.ebaystatic.com/d/l225/m/mUl2_zCLhTiLedAL4qX-Jlg.jpg

      Later, during eighties radios got FM but Soviet FM frequency range was different than Western FM. For listening Western channels one needed modified equipment Or really old or imported radio of western origin.

  • avatar
    vvk

    Thank you for this article. I learned to drive in one of these!

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Boxy cars do wonders in terms of space versus size,

    I find it weird that a commie car company would be one of the few implementing things that I like in cars, decent ground clearance, thick steel, functional styling.

    For city commutes over rough battered roads I think that I’d trust a Lada over say, a Yaris. Though I don’t trust it to be comfy.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Nothing weird about it if you saw the condition of Soviet/Russian “roads.” When The Fiat 124 was brought over for initial benchmark testing, the sheetmetal was literally getting torn and cracked from all of the stress experienced by simulated typical Russian roads.

      A few years back my hometown in Siberia had a annual contest where they blocked off several hundred meters of the worst road in the city (intentionally not repaired) and had a competition as to who could get across quickest and have an intact car at the end of the distance. I seem to recall the little rear engined air cooled ZAZs did very well, although a VAZ 2106 may have taken the crown the year I watched it.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        One thing I’ll hand the Soviets is they understood how to engineer products for their geography.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Everyone does. It’s just a special case of everyone knowing best how to design/engineer/build for their own needs.

          While, corollarily, noone knows how to, for anyone elses needs. Something the Soviets most certainly failed to understand.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        When James May tested one it handled the broken Russian roads, while his crew’s Range Rover couldn’t.

        Have now lost 2 posts re: this article.

        Lada HQ for North America, long since closed still has its large electric signs on the building.

        These came with hand cranks for starting when the electric starter would not work.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I saw when May and Clarkson drove it, they got it stuck in the mud. It had to get pulled out by a “big, capitalist Land Rover” (Discovery II).

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Arthur may be referencing the 5th Gear test where the Niva scampered around on some fields where the much heavier Disco sank in. Top Gear is dubious at best with their off road antics and ‘comparisons,’ not just in that episode either. I think they just ran the Niva into some deep brush, and then pulled it from solid ground with the DII and claimed victory.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Nope, ‘The Car of the People’ series of Top Gear specials. With May only and the crews’ camera Rover didn’t handle the broken roads that he was running the Lada over.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          I’ve seen that one, as crippled as the roads are becoming we could use more cars that can take that kind of abuse.

  • avatar
    david42

    ” it was designed in time and place where freeways just did not exist”

    Back when I was in college, I took a fun class on dystopias in Eastern & Central European literature. As part of it, we watched the original Russian version of the movie “Solaris” from 1972 (remade much later with George Clooney). The movie had a seemingly-endless scene (I swear, it went on for 5 minutes) showing a driver’s-eye view of a car speeding along highways in the future…. I think it was shot in Japan or Hong Kong or something. Anyway, a Russian-born classmate of mine explained that this wasn’t supposed to be some artsy meditation on the passage of time or subjectivity or whatever, but rather it was a spectacular “special effect,” the equivalent of a 3D movie today. After all, if you’ve never been able to hurtle through the concrete jungle at 70 mph, it would seem pretty amazing.

  • avatar
    Pan

    I owned and drove a Lada for 5 years. It was fitted with a new transmission in the first year under warranty, and used up a lot of brake pads, but was otherwise reliable. The suspension could have used a bit of tweaking for speed on the highway.
    In it’s favour, it was a comfortable car, with chair high seats and excellent 360 degree visibility
    Once, while parked in a mall parking lot, a gentleman left his Buick running while he went into a store. The Buick, somehow, jumped into reverse, and backing up, lightly sideswiped the Lada, proceeding out into a busy street, executing a perfect U-turn back into the parking lot and hitting the Lada again. I thought WW3 was at hand. Fortunately, little damage was done.
    As to garbage automobiles, I would start with Ford Motor’s MERCURY COMET GT, which I bought new. It was garbage on the design board, with so many problems related to rust and poor engineering too long to list here. Lada may have had its shortcomings; but. it was light years ahead of the Mercury.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    But that has now changed correct?

    My knowledge about Russian roads comes from Youtube videos (and yes, please make a joke about my Homer Simpson-level knowledge), but I can see some wide boulevards and highways. And considering how much snow falls over there, the pavement condition is surprisingly good.

    The Russian drivers are still crazy, though….

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Well, it’s been improving, but I’d say even within 50km of Moscow you can find villages with post-apocolyptically-bad pavement and even non at all. Go past the Urals and it becomes more or less the norm for anything outside of the biggest cities. Heck they still haven’t built a decent road that crosses all the way to Russia’s Far East. Putin supposedly drove a Lada Kalina (newer fwd car) all the way out there on the ‘completed’ road in 2010, but parts of it have been completely destroyed by the elements since then (and shoddy construction to begin with). In Siberia, RHD japanese imports have more or less become the norm. The old Ladas aren’t actually THAT bombproof, they wear out balljoints quicker than a Corolla/Carina/Camry of the 1990s era that are so popular out that way, not to mention engines/transmissions and just about everything else. The big advantage used to be that spare parts for the Ladas were pennies on the dollar and there’ll always be parts in stock even in a remote village. But out East, the same applies to common Toyotas these days. Currently, the Renault Logan does very well with those folks that used to drive the RWD Ladas and want to upgrade without the hassle of RHD driving.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Another comment bites the dust!

      Outside of major cities, roads are still atrocious, especially East of the Urals. Honestly, the Ladas are probably more prone to needing balljoints, tie rod ends, and other poor-road related items replaced than most of the RHD imports everybody seems to drive in Siberia. The difference used to be that parts to basically rebuild your entire Lada from the ground up were available in every little hamlet for chump change. But now parts for the common JDM imports (mainly Toyotas of all kinds) are available and reasonably priced.

    • 0 avatar
      vvk

      > The Russian drivers are still crazy, though….

      Crazy, drunk and stupid. Pedestrians not much better, too.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    An amazing fact dug up by James May is that when you add up the production numbers of all the Fiat 124 variants, it is the second best selling car of all time!

  • avatar

    My dad was posted to the Canadian embassy in Moscow from 1977-1979. We owned one of these (we called it a Zhiguli, apparently a nickname based on the mountains near the factory). The thing was definitely “no frills”. We drove from Moscow to West Germany and back with that and the alternator died around Minsk. Back in those days you had to file a route plan with the Soviets prior to any excursion outside Moscow, and if you deviated from it, you had to call in or they’d come asking questions why you weren’t where you were supposed to be. We ended up spending a couple of extra days in Warsaw waiting for a new alternator. Good times in the USSR.

  • avatar
    Sooke

    They sold these in Canada for a while. I think they assembled them in Nova Scotia. Mine ran on propane.

    They were definitely Fiats – without Fiat’s renowned reliability and build quality.

  • avatar
    Sooke

    I drove cab in the 80s, and the owner of the cab company decided to try 4
    ladas for taxis. “They drive like BMWs!” she told us. We knew the real reason – they were dirt cheap. Our regular customers thought it was hilarious – until they tried to squeeze into the back seat.

    Needless to say, we were soon back to driving Impalas.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Lada cars were sold in North America?

      • 0 avatar
        Sooke

        In Canada, not the States. The Niva was also sold here. They also sold Dacias and Skodas from Eastern Europe. None of them successfully.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Lada actually sold quite well for a period in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was built for ‘driveway maintenance specialists’.

          If you had any mechanical skills you could keep one running for quite a while at minimal cost. They were even recommended as a ‘good buy’ by the Automobile Protection Association (Phil Edmonston’s group).

          The H.Q. sign is still on the building at Steeles and Petrolia. At one point they had about 70 dealers in Canada and were selling over 7,000 cars per year.

          The introduction of the Pony took some wind out of their sales.

          And we still see some Niva’s running.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I wouldn’t want this car, but this type of cheap but go-anywhere-built-for-Armageddon-roads is quite attractive to me. I realize there are a few SUVs left up to the task, and yet I don’t want an SUV I’d rather have something closer to this.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I spent the summer of ’92 in Budapest with a Hungarian classmate and his family. His Dad had a Lada, and we would borrow it whenever we were going farther than their Lake Balaton weekend house as our jointly owned Trabant was, well, a Trabant. The Lada was a 1.3L wagon, and was quite a decent car to drive. It was probably 4-5 years old at that point. It would do 120km/hr comfortably, and got good fuel economy. We took it to Vienna several times. His dad kept it for more than a decade. No rust issues in Hungary, it barely snows there.

    His Mom had a Wartburg, and I also got to drive pretty much all the Eastern block cars over that summer. Good times! But to give an idea of the relative performance, his (wealthy) girlfriend of the summer had an A2 Jetta diesel, and it felt like a rocketship compared to the Trabbi, Wartburg, or Lada.

  • avatar
    don1967

    The Lada was sold in Canada during my youth, in fact a couple of them graced the high school parking lot somewhere among the K-Cars and Yamaha Maxim 400s.

    Hard to believe that such a horrid little piece of junk could look so retro-cool today, but then again it is a BMW 2002 ripoff after all. Young hipsters seeking a piece of that action today would be well-advised to find a B13 Sentra instead.

  • avatar
    Stoty

    Back in the 70s and 80s in Hungary, they were commonly called Zhiguli. The later imports came by the name Lada. The numeric code was only used by car enthusiasts and professionals, much like Mercedes fans talk of W126 or W220.

    You can see the Zhiguli name on the lower right of the second picture (in Cyrillic)

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    Correction: all classic rwd Ladas were based on Fiat 124/Familiale. The 2103 (and subsequently 2106) were sort of based on the Speciale version but not really. I believe Russian gov’t couldn’t come to an agreement with Fiat so they went their own way. Which is why the front looks only vaguely like the Speciale with quad headlights but the rear end differs and so does the rest of the car. I’ve recently seen a Speciale in person in Oakland and while it does look very Ladaish you can spot differences very quickly.

    My dad used to own a 2106, 21063 and finally a 2104 station wagon back in the old country. His were new and rarely driven (2104 had about 42K kilometers and it was 7 years old when sold) so he didn’t have many issues with them, iirc.

    I got to drive a 2107 last year when visiting. It was a blast to drive and I was looking for one in the States but it’s very hard to find something that could be CA approved.

  • avatar

    Was there a wagon version of 2103? I do not recall. I think they went from 2102 to 2104 (a wagon version of 2105).

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I honestly prefer the later model with the smaller black grille, square headlights, and black bumpers. One of those with an engine that isn’t terrible and some suspension work would make a fun little road racer…though probably still not very fast.

  • avatar
    Garak

    As an owner of a 2007 Lada 112, I can honestly say the Soviet era cars were built much better. The 112 has 16 valves, direct ignition and so forth, but it’s such a flimsy machine, cannot withstand bad roads and is constantly broken down. Old 1980s Ladas will be still running when last of the 110-series goes to the scrap heap.

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    Heh… 73 comments on this right now….

    32 Yr-Old Lada More Popular With B&B Than Ferrari, Maserati!

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I know that for me personally, cars that are either attainable or have some relevance to me in real life are much more interesting than the latest hyper-car. I have a buddy who’s a big ‘car guy,’ watches Top Gear religiously etc. He’s more of the Jalopnik bent, where he follows the release of the latest Supperleggera Italian exotic, but doesn’t know that his car (which he claims he takes care of) has a clunk in the rear suspension nor is he curious to diagnose and amend the situation. Different strokes for different folks.

      Another angle is that on TTAC there is a strong sentiment for back to basics utilitarian sedans with things like ground clearance, durable construction, good visibility, oh and low price :) Not to mention a push against modern fussy styling that is very much ‘form over function’

      • 0 avatar
        petezeiss

        Amen. And I just love metal stuff, especially enameled metal.

        Of all the cameras I’ve owned from 30 years of sick, budget-threatening obsession, my favorite has always been my 1932 black Leica model II (D in Europe, I believe). Nickel brightware, first one with a built-in rangefinder.

        With aesthetics like that, I’m not well suited to the modern world.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          One just has to make sure there’s room for you is all =8-) .

          I have a buddy who’s a Low Rider and he always says ‘ function follows form ‘ ~ odd thing that ~ we both love old cars but I drive the living hell out of my oldies , he not so much .

          This car is just a simple basic thing like a wooden mallet I imagine ~ some can use one for decades , others will have only endless troubles .

          My brother has a 200 year old Ship Builder’s wood ‘ Beadle ‘ (mallet thing) that is well worn but in fine shape .

          EDIT :
          Re reading this I don’t think is make much sense , maybe after Coffee I can explain better but these cars do speak to many of us GearHeads .

          -Nate

  • avatar
    Brumus

    Growing up in Canada, these things were all over the place on account of them being so cheap you could buy a new one with your income tax refund.

    As others have pointed out, you could keep these things running if you were mechanically inclined.

    However, the people I knew who drove these horrors were in no way mechanically inclined — they bought a new Lada Signet simply because it was dirt cheap.

    And these things were in an utter state of decrepitude after a couple of years. These were truly one of the greatest shitboxes of the post-Watergate era.

  • avatar
    Curt in WPG

    These used to be fairly common in Canada during the 80’s/early 90’s as they were very cheap to purchase. They made Chevettes seem modern and well put together in comparison. I had a friend whose parents had the Lada 4×4 (Niva?) model and it was like a really crappy version of my brother’s Bronco II if it had been made in 1963 by drunk factory workers. Basically like everything else from the Soviet Union.

    When I was in grade 12 in 1987 my high school did a trip to the Soviet Union. It was interesting to see people removing their wipers and batteries when parking so they wouldn’t get stolen as it was probably a 6 month wait to replace them. All I remember about the cars was they were all Lada’s except for the limo’s the party elite guys had (they looked like a 54 Dodge kinda) and the one 80’s Firebird I saw in Leningrad that got me very excited.

    • 0 avatar
      Curt in WPG

      I should add there is no sound on earth like the sound of Lada’s being rev’d past 6000 on a drunken Saturday night in Moscow. To 18 year old me it was like Armageddon itself had arrived and you knew you weren’t in Kansas (or Winnipeg) anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      bk_moto

      Not specifically about the Lada but more to your point about seeing something unexpected in a place, last year I was wrapping up a 2.5 week trip in Vietnam and was walking around checking out the sights in Saigon. If you’ve ever been to Vietnam you know that there are not a lot of private cars there, most of the traffic is scooters. Well as I’m walking around by the former South Vietnamese President’s Palace, my brain registers a very familiar burble which sounds completely out of place after 2 weeks of hearing scooters. I turn to the source of the sound and I see a bright yellow mint condition ~1970 Mustang Boss 302 rolling through the streets of downtown Saigon!

      Who knows how the heck that thing got there but it was pretty cool to see it there.

      • 0 avatar
        Curt in WPG

        I know the feeling. I once saw a full Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am in Glasgow complete with the flaming chicken on the hood. The things that will bring a smile to your face, eh?

  • avatar
    mankyman

    Great review!

    Brings back memories of riding in Lada taxis in Bulgaria in the 1990s. I remember it being underpowered, with skinny tires and skimpy interiors. Those Bulgarian taxi drivers thought they were in Formula 1, going around the streets of Sofia. My brother still drives one that is so ancient it has a fine covering of moss/lichen over parts of its exterior.

    The Lada also reminds me of the Sahin (pronounced Shaheen) I used to own in Turkey. The Shaheen was the Turkish version of the Fiat 131, produced until at least 2002. I couldn’t believe they were still making a 1970s car in 2002, but then the Indians are still making a car from 1955 – the Ambassador.

    Similarly underpowered, spartan interior, RWD, etc. It was slightly dangerous and challenging to get it up to highway speeds because of the Turkish roads. You felt as though you were on the ragged edge.

    Coming back to the US and driving a Grand AM GT felt like geting into a rocket ship.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    Great article, thanks for posting.

    Just one request, with the exception of the photos of the toolkit where it really makes sense, I’d prefer it if the photos weren’t combined/composited. Since this is about as close as I’ll ever come to seeing this car in person I’d prefer them to be larger individual pics.

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