Before the stampede of luxury horsepower you find in Moscow today one car ruled Russia’s roads: the classic, boxy Lada. Now the old Soviet workhorse has finally been put out to pasture. The last ones rolled off the assembly line in September, including this one we took for a test drive at a Moscow dealership, making it one of the last classic Ladas ever produced.
The car never made it to the United States but it was hugely popular around Europe, Latin America and, of course, at home, where it was the only car available as a status symbol during the Soviet days. Over 18 million of them were sold around the world, making it one of the most popular cars in history.
Looking at its dated design, it’s hard to imagine the car is actually the 2012 model since the exterior is nearly identical to the model that debuted in 1980.
The design was actually based on a 1960s Fiat, but other than a couple of minor changes over the years, Lada didn’t really do much with it. But there’s a reason this car was so successful. It was really cheap to buy and cheap to fix. That was a good thing, considering the car’s reliability was infamously poor.
Today the classic Lada still has its boxy headlights, metal bumper, four doors and a set of tires. And that’s about it. Under the hood it has a 1.7 liter 4 cylinder engine that pumps out 73 horsepower. It tops out at 90 miles per hour, and it goes 0-60 in a lethargic 17 seconds.
The doors are a bit tricky; it requires a few attempts to get the flexible plastic handles to open. And the interior isn’t much better. Inside the car it’s just as basic, with plastic and metal bits sticking out. There’s no satellite navigation, no air conditioning, not even a radio. You do get a cigarette lighter and a steering wheel, but no power steering.
But what do you expect from a car that only costs $8,000? You still see plenty of them on the road in Russia today and customers are jumping for the last ones. The dealer we visited expected his last shipment of classic Ladas to be gone in a week.
But there’s still one important question, how does it drive? The answer reminds me of an old joke: What’s the difference between a Lada and a golf ball? You can drive a golf ball 200 yards.