We’ve all seen movies set in the perpetually grey, bitterly cold Soviet Union (later Hollywood films featuring Russia were apparently allowed to show sunlight), but if you lived north of the border a few decades ago, it wasn’t just the weather that looked familiar.
Lada Canada imported Iron Curtain cars for two decades (1979 to 1997), offering rudimentary, pinko automobiles to Canadian cheapskates for very few kopeks. Your author recalls entering the high school library at the dawn of the internet age and slowly booting up the Lada Canada website, where a five-door Samara was advertised for $4,995. Few of these showed up on local roads, as Hyundai offered slightly better no-cost transportation options.
However, there was one Lada vehicle that can truly be considered a classic, and it’s the one everyone remembers best. Sadly, after more than 40 years of production, the virtually unchanged Niva (now known simply as the 4×4) seems destined, like the Berlin Wall, to pass into history.
The relationship between the United States and Russia over the past hundred years or so would put any soap-opera romance to shame. Russia was the enemy in the 1930s, then it was an ally, then it was the enemy. When I was a kid in the ’70s, the Soviet Union was absolutely the enemy and we all expected that someday there would be war between the countries. Despite a concerned media effort to paint McCarthy, Nixon, et al as panicked morons swinging at shadows, most of us figured the Soviet Union did, in fact, regularly attempt to interfere in American affairs. (Turns out McCarthy was as right as he was wrong, maybe more so.) Sure, you had the committed leftists who were willing to take a “honeymoon” there, but they were few and far between.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia-US relations enjoyed a thaw. It didn’t last. Now the same political left that excused Stalin’s purges is clutching its pearls over Crimea, while the right-wingers who used to seriously discuss a nuclear-equipped preemptive strike against Moscow see Mr. Putin as a sort of fun-loving, horse-riding fellow who has the guts to drive an F1 car in wet conditions.
This is the sort of stark dichotomy that tends to cause trouble if left untended. Luckily, there’s something that can be done about it.
When I went to Iceland to abuse some Subarus, I managed to visit a couple of Reykjavik junkyards and poke around a bit. In addition to the weird-to-American-eyes French cars and puzzling quantities of 1990s Chrysler products, I found this VAZ-2121 aka Lada Niva 3-door wedged nose-to-tail with a green Megane.
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