As the news broke that Russian automaker AvtoVAZ was finally dropping its Lada Classic, car-watchers the world over cried out as one:
"What? They still make those things?"
Turns out they do, at least in the form of the 2104 station wagon, and only until the end of this year. Production of the Classic sedan ended in April.
Forty-two years after the first Lada 2101 was built in a huge factory on the banks of the Volga River – and 46 years after the introduction of the Fiat 124 that would be the template for the Lada – AvtoVAZ says it is "time to say goodbye" to the square little soldier. From 1970 until today, close to 18 million Classic series Ladas have been sold around the world.
And about the same number of jokes have been made about the car's buzzy ride and shoddy construction.
I remember the Lada's arrival in Canada in 1980. Its list price of $4,288, or $300 less than a Ford Pinto, won the attention of bargain-hunters, but its rusting fenders and frequent electric problems soon earned derision. It was a cheap car and treated that way, and didn't last long.
In Russia, a Lada cost big roubles, and prospective owners could wait years for delivery. Naturally, they took care of their Ladas, and learned what was needed to keep them going. Once "sorted," as the British would say (the Brits knowing plenty about "sorting" auto electric systems), the cars proved quite durable.
Outside Russia, perhaps nowhere in the world is the Lada more common than in Cuba. Thousands made their way to the island for use as taxi cabs and government vehicles in the years when Cuba was the Soviet Union's Western Hemisphere pet project.
Many remain in service — often smart-looking with custom paint jobs and aftermarket alloy rims — while others have given up their drivetrains and other parts so that the island's American cars of a still earlier era can drive on.
One Smokin' Lada