By on November 28, 2017

Image: 1988 Lada Samara

We’ve featured a communist-built car before on Rare Rides; it was an old Czech-made Skoda 120, located in Canada. A specialized importer group brought many cars just like the Skoda into Canada in the 1980s, supplying bare bones Soviet Bloc vehicles to frugal Canadians living in Quebec and some other places.

Today’s Rare Ride was never part of LadaCanada, and lived its life abroad until very recently. Made in Russia, sold in Belgium, and imported to America, it’s a Lada Samara.

The Lada Samara was known by no less than 18 different names during its life. Demand ensured the Samara remained in production for 29 years — 1984 to 2013. Much like the Traction Avant we featured recently, the front-drive Samara was available in many different bodystyles: hatchbacks of various door configurations, sedans, vans, SUVs, and even convertibles. Seven versions in total, if you leave out the rear-engined rally car.

Power arrived from four-cylinder engines ranging from 1.1 to 1.5 liters of displacement.

Image: 1988 Lada SamaraThe Samara was a big step forward for its manufacturer, AvtoVAZ. It was only the second vehicle from the company to feature new, original architecture, and the first available in front-wheel drive. Previous models developed by AvtoVAZ relied on existing Fiat mechanicals.

Image: 1988 Lada SamaraAvtoVAZ had the Fiat 124 in mind when creating the Samara, as the Fiat was a very successful and affordable family vehicle during its original production run (1966 to 1974). It’s worth noting that the 124 was the basis for many vehicles around the globe.

Image: 1988 Lada SamaraStarting with an AvtoVAZ-Fiat tie-up in 1966, the 124 would continue on for several decades as various VAZ and Lada vehicles, culminating in the Lada Riva, which remained in production until 2012.

Image: 1988 Lada SamaraLocated at a dealer in Utah and labeled as a 1987 Porsche 924, the ad contains various erroneous information which should be ignored. The one valid piece of information contained therein is the price, which is just $3,500. Affordable and uncommon, you can have your own Rare Ride on the cheap.

Have a Rare Ride to submit, be it Lada Riva or something else? Send it to [email protected]

[Images via seller]

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57 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Beige 1988 Lada Samara Is Neither Sporty Nor Luxurious...”


  • avatar
    Corollaman

    And you’d better make friends with a Cuban mechanic who could take parts from other cars and adapt them for this thing.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    To paraphrase Indiana Jones, that car belongs in a museum.

    I don’t know *which* museum.

    I was hoping it was a Canadian model and I would have asked if had fuel injection or a carburetor.

    The asking price is, how do you say it in Amerika, hilariouski.

    I bet the for sale website doesn’t have Lada as a choice of make, or for that matter “other.” Not sure why they’d pick Porsche, but hey why not if you have to pick something.

    (Did you mean to say Lada “Niva” in the last line?)

    • 0 avatar

      Nope. The Riva sedan is the ultimate version of the Fiat 124. Produced around the world by various companies, I believe it’s one of the longest lived sedan platforms ever, if not the longest.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Fun fact – Porsche did a bit of engineering work on the Samara engine (Wikipedia says just the head, but still). I doubt that’s the reason it’s listed as a Porsche, but who knows?

      And at least in the Canadian market, these were carburated pretty much right up to the end (’97), I believe.

      And yes, considering just 5 years ago, $3500 would buy you a genuine Samara rally car, that much for an average plebian example is… optimistic.
      https://bringatrailer.com/2012/08/23/rally-sputnik-1991-lada-samara-factory-car/

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        Yeah, the Porsche engineering connection was all I could come up with.

        • 0 avatar
          Guitar man

          The Samara was sold in Canada principally to Russians, who then shipped them to Siberia. The reason being that they were difficult to obtain in Russia itself.

          The last models had throttle body EFI. Porsche also designed engines for Daewoo, Harley-Davidson, Proton and Chery as well as the electric motor on the Sinclair C5 (actually a washing machine motor made by Hoover).

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      It should be on a plinth somewhere as a warning from history.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    This thing reminds me of an older Corolla hatchback from the 70’s

  • avatar
    slavuta

    This was first FWD Russian car and they didn’t made good CV Joins. This is achilles’s hill of Samara of the first 10 or so years. But I don’t know, may be modern replacement parts of acceptable quality. I still think VAZ 2106 was better car

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I knew someone who had one of these. There aren’t words for how bad a car it truly was.

    If this one is still running, it must either a) an example of that 0.1% that was done right, or b) maintained by a sick, sick person.

  • avatar
    EspritdeFacelVega

    A cherished memory is sliding behind the wheel of one of these at the 1990 Ottawa Auto Show and noticing the sun visors didn’t actually block out the light…

  • avatar
    chris724

    What a strange grill this thing has!

  • avatar
    gtem

    “AvtoVAZ had the Fiat 124 in mind when creating the Samara, as the Fiat was a very successful and affordable family vehicle during its original production run (1966 to 1974). It’s worth noting that the 124 was the basis for many vehicles around the globe.”

    Are you saying the FWD Samara wanted to capture the success of the prior RWD Fiat 124 that the earlier RWD Ladas were based on? I’m a bit confused.

    • 0 avatar

      It was the affordable family car (from Fiat), which Lada had never managed to do on their own. This was their first attempt at such a family-friendly design, albeit FWD.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Fair enough. It’s interesting to note than prior to selecting the Fiat 124 as the basis for a family car in the late 60s, Peugeot’s then revolutionary 304 FWD hatchback was considered (from what I’ve read). Ultimately the more conventional RWD 3-box Fiat 124 was used as the template for a ruggedized Russian-road friendly variant. A decade later they finally commit to the FWD hatchback approach.

        I’ve ridden in a number of these, as well as their somewhat modernized “Samara II” successors. They are indeed a leap forward in driving dynamics from the Fiat based RWD “classics.” But like those earlier RWD cars, they are remarkably capable offroad, with ground clearance in the 7.5-8 inch range from the factory (minus a bit for a steel engine skid plate). They also ride quite well, with a surprising amount of wheel travel, as all Russian designs tend to have. I remember my uncle giving us a ride from the airport in Moscow, zipping along at 140kph in 4th gear to keep it “on the boil” with 6 people inside the car (Uncle, aunt, mom, dad, my brother and me). 5th gear was quite tall IIRC, especially for a 75hp engine.

        Nowadays they occupy the dirt cheap bottom feeder niche, hacked up and ran to death by young guys, tinted out and stuffed full of subwoofers. Sort of a Russian J-body.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      The Samara was intended for export since the Riva failed to comply with safety standards in most countries, including Canada. It wasn’t actually that popular in Russia itself because it was erroneously believed to be less safe then the Riva, the latter which was “solid” in the parts of the car that should have collapsed in a crash.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        I don’t know where you’re getting this from, the Samara was fantastically popular, just fairly pricey and production constrained when it came out. You yourself wrote above about Samaras getting repatriated by Russians who came and scooped up their unloved orphans from Canada as well as Europe.

        As a country that just recently started to begrudgingly wear seatbelts, the theory that people were worried about safety in an accident in a Samara vs old Fiat based Zhiguli sounds like nonsense.

        Nor were they conceived with export markets in mind as the primary focus. Just wrong on all points then.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I like it. Looks far better done than the Yugo I recently ran across.

    https://charlotte.craigslist.org/cto/d/1988-yugo-gv-get-it-now/6398452239.html

    The dash, etc looks downright world class compared to the Yugo.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I followed the Craigslist link and found this priceless ad copy:

      “I thought it was sold, (3 times now) but the buyer(s) never showed up…”

      Probably played him the Trololo song as they drove down the street.

      And I’m loving the pic of all the various replacement parts he’s tossing in…there’s no end to Yugo comedy.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Yeah, people love to jingle your chain, make you think they’re coming to buy it FOR SURE, then you never hear from them again.

        I’ve never, never felt the need to call up a car owner, tell him how interested I am and that I *will* buy it, and then totally flake out. I just don’t comprehend that mentality.

        When I contact someone, I will only tell them I’m coming if I’m truly coming. If something else comes up, I’ll call or text to explain. Its just common courtesy (that should be a lot more common).

        I also found a decent Yugo parts car, not too far away. I am somewhat interested in them, if only for the novelty of it.

        I had one for a short time (a matter of a few hours). A tie rod broke and rendered it undrivable. I abandoned it.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          “A few hours.” Awesome!

          I took a between-jobs gig selling cars in the late ’80s, and the dealership I worked at sold Yugos. They were some ridiculous flat commissin (something like $500, as I recall) to anyone who could sell one. I tried…once. Took a guy on a test drive, and while were out in traffic, he turned the A/C on. It died right there.

          Just an awesome vehicle…and perfect for the times, if you think about it. It certainly proved Reagan’s “communism sucks” argument.

  • avatar
    gtem

    These things were highly desirable in Russia when they first came out, imagine in a sea of circa 60s-70s based sedans seeing THIS. A modern looking hatchback with sharp handling and brisk acceleration (again, relative to the market).

    This movie from the budding Russian movie industry at the time captures the Samara perfectly:
    https://youtu.be/NeqdUN_-vnA?t=600

    The context is that the driver is a stuntman who runs cars for shady people. The Samara was an aspirational sporty car at the time.

    When the fuel injected sedan variant came out in the mid 90s (factory designation 21099, known as a “99” in common parlance) it was a real pocket rocket. People were getting car jacked and killed over these things in the 90s, they are also associated with lower end mobsters and hoods as their ride of choice.

  • avatar
    hamish42

    Under our Anti-Littering Campaign every Lada sold in Metropolitan Toronto carried a bushel basket and a broom to pick up the pieces which fell off.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    That looks like a perfectly respectable interior that would not have been out of place in a similar-vintage Ford product.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Love that Dutch ad…the headline translates to “The surprise is complete”.

    I think they should have made a TV ad using the “surprise” theme that went something like this:

    Exterior Dutch street, Day. Dutch guys 1 and 2 approach the shiny new Lada.

    Dutch guy 1: Hey, let’s go get a beer.
    Dutch guy 2: OK, let’s go.

    (They both get into the Lada. Dutch guy 1 tries to start it, but it makes a pathetic whinnying noise and quits. He tries again, and the car sputters to life.)

    Dutch guy 1: Well, f**k me – it actually started this time.
    Dutch guy 2: Surprise!

  • avatar
    tonyola

    I’ve seen a few Ladas here in Florida over the years, invariably with Canadian plates. What amazes me is that these cars apparently managed to make the trip under their own power – a risky move since parts and service would have been unavailable once the brave travellers crossed the border. However, I’ve been told on other sties that when Ladas were good, they were very good, but when they were bad (as was probably more often the case), they were very, very bad.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Supposedly they were built so any Russian with the proverbial basic toolkit could keep them running, so….

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      The general mindset one must approach with a Lada is that the ownership experience was very much hands-on, and it started right when you brought the car home from the dealership, in the form of checking and correcting factory defects. There is an understanding of a car “ripening” in the owner’s possession as it is broken in and things are attended to. With this very deep mechanical familiarity, they can indeed be fairly trustworthy cars, and with spare parts on hand yes can be repaired in expedient situations. I would indeed worry about part availability on a long trip in the US, although many Lada owners who grew up in the command economy of the Soviet Union are also masters of adapting things to work or fit on the fly.

      • 0 avatar

        Please use Lada part: Duct Tape 231 (DT231)

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          And unlike modern western designs, they were manufactured in a way that made it relatively easy for shade tree mechanics to work on them.

          Perhaps not ‘reliable’ but ‘robust’ might be the way to describe them?

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Corey, Soviet/Russian stuff is held together with blue electrical tape exclusively it seems :p Although perhaps duct tape has finally made it into common circulation.

          Arthur yes I’d say rugged and repairable are the best way to look at it. This mentality applies even more so to things like UAZ 4wds and the big 6×6 Urals and Zils. I’d trust a Land Cruiser more to take me on an adventure across Siberia, but in a remote village in Altai, you’ll have a much easier time finding parts for an UAZ. That and even a headgasket replacement is a road-side 1 hour job on an older carb’d model with the OHV cast iron Volga mill.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    They’d better fix that ad copy lest the buyer get really PO’d when he finds out that it’s not a real 924!

    • 0 avatar
      The ultimate family-friendly hybrid vehicle is finally here.

      “…the ad contains various erroneous information which should be ignored…”
      Actually, the ad contains more lies than truth. So any potential buyer shouldn’t take comfort in the claim that it has 60,000 miles on it. Either it’s a miracle that it ever made it that far, or it make it farther, and the odometer was rolled back.
      Ironically, there’s a link for a Carfax report. That out to contain a few gems, too, if it even exists.
      Maybe all the blatant untruths are there intentionally, in order to keep away anyone not gullible enough to buy a Lada.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Was the Yugo based on this?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Put it in “H”!

  • avatar

    I had exactly this three door Lada even same color in 90s only with gray interior. It’s called Lada Sputnik. Samara was a 5 door. I bought it used for $4000. Do not ask me how many repairs I made, but it was fun project. I even disassembled interior took out seats and so on fighting rust. I kept it for 2 years only because was fed up with it stalling on the freeway 100km from home and felt it is rusting away in all directions. I sold it guess what – for $4000 and bought Toyota, also used.

    BTW it has nothing to do with FIAT 124. I was a fresh design. Engine was partially designed by Porsche.

  • avatar
    Mitchell Leitman

    I remember how the Hyundai Pony and Stellar ate the Ladas for lunch in the Canadian market (maybe not the Niva, though I always preferred the Suzuki SJ10). I keep hoping that with CETA we’ll get some interesting cars that don’t find their way to the US market (more M-B B250s please!).

  • avatar
    dal20402

    It seems like the 3-door hatchbacks as featured here are the protagonists in a decent portion of Russian dashcam videos of reckless driving.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    In the restricted Soviet market with no USD in circulation and no foreign cars for sale, Lada 2109 and Moskvich 2121 were true breakthroughs. After Lada 2103 or 2107, the Samara was just amazing in how it drove through the snow and how quiet it was. But you had to watch out for Armenian gangs in Moscow at the car market ripping you off when you tried to sell used one. Don’t give up the keys till you have the money.

  • avatar
    skloon

    In the early 90s I had a Riva and my friends sister had one of these- the Riva was infinitely better although that isnt saying much


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