Product Type: Lada cars
Newest Review: ... and ran for another 12 months before I traded it in for a 1500GLS. By this time Lada were fitting an eco carb which was I have to admit rub... more
Life with three Ladas
Member Name: r_welfare
Date: 01/07/02, updated on 01/07/02 (477 review reads)
Advantages: Cheap, reliable, safe
Disadvantages: Non-essential bits fall off, depreciate like crazy, THAT image
This is the first opinion I've written of cars I haven't owned, or driven properly. But I feel nostalgic reading other people's reviews of these Russian relics, so I have been moved to put finger to keyboard, as it were.
When I was growing up, my parents were (and still are) amazingly tight with their money. Not towards me or my brother, just in terms of spending on themselves. My dad has always had company cars, but after my little brother came along my mum needed some transport to ferry the family around, for short distances. We always had the backup of the old man's Avenger/Marina/Cortina/Ital/Sierra for longer trips.
Now, sensible folks would have bought an old Mini, Escort or even something French (as people were starting to break down their resistance to secondhand foreign cars - this was about 1981), but my grandfather had an acquiantance who was in the motor trade, and I mean really dodgy "under-the-arches" stuff. He had a 1977 Lada 1200 Estate, on an S-plate, for sale. My dad bought it, reasoning it was a lot cheaper than any other car of the same age, and better for getting the kids in.
My earliest memories of being at our current house, with the luxury of a built-in garage and driveway at the front, was of my father touching up the rust and swearing at it. It was dead easy to work on, he told me later. It would run on 2-star fuel, which was the cheapest you could get in the days we were all happy to get brainache from the lead, and didn't let us down. The interior was seriously basic, though, and the black vinyl seats would burn your legs in summer. There was plenty of room for our dog in the back. I vividly remember the steering wheel had an inner chrome ring for the horn, in the manner of 50s and 60s cars.
Anyhow, my folks must have been smitten and, because the village garage had a Lada franchise, my mum got her second car in April of 1986, her first new one and, to top it all, it was of
course another Lada. This time we got a Riva 1200L saloon in bright red with a tan vinyl interior. C125 RDP as I recall.
Anyway, this too was reliable, but slower than slow, and the interior build quality was totally lacking, in the manner of the previous one. However they are no doubt great cars for those who do their own servicing, especially as the owner's handbook is possibly the most comprehensive I have ever seen and tells you how to do all manner of roadside repairs. My parents always got it serviced at the local dealer so it was irrelevant to them. The only modification they made was to buy a set of really ugly hubcaps, the centres of which used to fly off with alarming regularity.
The abiding memory of this car is the day in mid-1988 when my dad changed jobs and had to take his old company car, a C-reg Ford Sierra, back to the office. The car wouldn't start, so we towed it into the centre of Reading with the trusty old Lada. The looks on people's faces!
The Riva also survived a low-speed ramming from a Transit minibus, and actually came off better. The metal on these cars certainly is thick.
In 1990, despite the car having only done about 8,000 miles, my parents once again decided it was time for a change. At that time Lada UK were running a national newspaper advert for the "Select" range. You could get a 1300 Riva Select for £3,333, or the new 1100 Samara Select for £4,444. My dad bought the Samara, in white, for my mum's birthday, and parked it on the driveway with a ribbon round it. Up until that point, my mother had never test-driven a car she had bought, much less haggled over the price. Luckily her eldest son has not inherited these traits...
The Samara was an altogether better car than the Riva, but still a way behind the more modern competition. What was more worrying was that Skoda, who had recently released the Favorit, were slowly pulling themselves up the market, and had
a much better car to be honest. My dad fitted a Goodmans stereo from Argos, which was (predictably) crap, but at last broke up the tedium of a journey in the thing. The nylon seat trim was very itchy. Once again, the interior build quality was terrible, with sharp flashings on the plastic mouldings, and small bits like air vents and speaker grilles would regularly fall off. But once again it never let us down.
By this time, though, both me and my brother would get fed up of being seen in the thing. I actually forwent lifts to and from school (about 2 miles each way) and walked. In 1993, when I was 16, I for one had had enough, and managed to persuade my parents that, as I was going to be learning to drive in less than a year, I was not going to be driving "the tank". Slightly selfish I suppose, but for once my parents saw the light and agreed with me. They looked at a basic Citroen AX brand new, which they liked, but couldn't raise more than £1,200 in part-exchange for the Samara, despite it being only 3 years old with less than 6,000 miles on the clock. Although cheap to buy, these cars depreciate like crazy.
In the end we came full circle, as the local Lada dealer, where my mother had bought her two previous cars, had a choice of two Rover Metro 1.1S 5-doors, both nine months old, both with 6,000 miles on the clock, both with metallic paint, and both up for £5,995, a saving of £3k on new. My mum took a test drive (her first ever!) in the grey one, but didn't like the beige interior, so we bought the silver one with a grey interior. I was dead chuffed. The Samara was part-exchanged for £1,750, put up on the forecourt for £2,995 the next day, and was gone by the end of the same week.
Nearly ten years later and we still have the Metro (and it's only just reached 45,000 miles!). Ladas, of course, stopped being sold in this country in about 1996 when they could no longer conform to emissions constraints. There was talk o
f using GM fuel injection systems to get round this, but it never happened - probably because marques like Kia, Proton and Skoda took their market with better cars. Our local dealer brought in Protons as a sideline to the Lada franchise, then switched recently to Hyundais.
My father still speaks with reverence about the Ladas (especially as you never see them anymore), citing the fact that they were a much safer bet than a secondhand car in the old days. Nowadays though cars are generally better-built and more reliable, but people like my parents will always go for a cheap new car to minimise risks. My mother, despite driving the heavy Ladas for many years, now refuses to drive anything bigger than her beloved Metro. How times change...