Ever since England failed to qualify for the ’94 World Cup, 99.9 percent of all UK Ladas have been scrapped. Already bored of football? Save a Lada instead!
The FIFA World Cup is due to kick off tomorrow, but for those who find football a mere showcase for hairstyles and egos, there’s something far more wholesome to undertake. While Moscow witnesses the kick-off, you can get in the Russian spirit with a genuine Soviet legend – the Lada.
Second purely to vodka as a Russian diet staple, the Lada is as stereotypical of the culture as a blond-highlighted footballer or crooked manager. Yet unlike the dramatic and prancing acts presented by your average striker, goal keeper or captain, this stalwart automobile merely chugs through life without protest.
Capable of crossing a frozen lake, carrying two tonnes of fish and being attacked by a bear – often all at the same time – the Lada also has a wicked sense of humour. It’s the butt of reliability jokes from every cut-price 1980s comedian – yet the only sin here is how few of them remain on UK roads.
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In fact, back in 1994 – the last time England failed to qualify for the World Cup – over 134,000 Russian-built Ladas were registered for use on British soil. Today, that number has taken a shocking downwards spiral; only 179 remain. That’s a drop of 99.9 percent.
Although the car’s square bulk and immense frame could easily shrug off a Trump-North Korea nuclear winter, between 1994 and 2005 the number of licenced Ladas fell from 134,297 to little under 3000. A tarnished image and all the second-hand market appeal of a crusty septic tank witnessed swathes of unloved examples fall into the oily palm of local scrap merchants. These cars also rusted faster than they could hit 0-60mph from a standstill.
First built behind the Iron Curtain in 1970 by Russian car giant AvtoVAZ, the Lada spawned a lampooned culture – proving that not all publicity was good publicity. Even though snobs and journalists picked gaping holes in Lada’s image, the car’s popularity found the 1966 Fiat 124 saloon-derived design breaching the 20 million vehicle sales mark worldwide.
Those boxy looks and drab colours didn’t deter a dedicated fan following. Almost two-thirds of Ladas went on to be sold outside Russia, with more than 300,000 selling in Britain between 1977 and 1997.
Where are they?
So where the hell are they all? Although still a popular sight in Russia, the Lada is now largely extinct on British roads. Tighter carbon emissions killed sales stone dead, and the brand was ejected from the UK market in 1996 after failing to hit rigorous green requirements.
Some rest upon the bed of the North Sea, bought from Aberdeen by Russian sailors and fishermen to be cannibalised for parts. Seeing no reason to take the corroding hulks back to their homeland as well as the coveted spares, the seamen unceremoniously dumped the unwanted remains overboard.
Don’t fret at the model’s scarcity now, however. For the first time since the height of its popularity during the early 1990s, the number of licenced Ladas on UK roads has risen – albeit from a very low base. The claimed causes of such an increase are small numbers of new imports (they are still made in Russia) and new-found classic car status.
In the first quarter of 2017, the number of licenced Ladas on UK roads stood at 165. That had increased to 179 by the start of this year. That’s not to say only 179 remain, however; nearly 700 are registered as SORN, or ‘off the road’, with countless others hiding in hedgerows and barns, having escaped the DVLA’s consensus.
With values of rare, everyday heroes on the steady march, it’s only a matter of time before the Lada enjoys its second wind.
Alex Buttle, director of car-buying comparison website Motorway.co.uk commented: ‘The Lada is not quite empty, but with fewer than 200 now eligible to drive on UK roads, it has become seriously rare. And with the eyes of the world on Russia for the next few months, has the Lada’s time come? Nostalgia for Ladas is growing, and scarcity will drive up prices. Savvy classic car buyers should consider getting one while they still can.’
We can’t help but agree…