Lada Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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Lada Home Country: Russia Russia

I really want to write a story about this manufacturer. But how? Although I do see some assets in Lada, maybe marketing is their biggest downfall, leading to people knowing nothing about them?

It starts with the names. Russian car manufacturers use strange letters as brand names, such as ZIL, ZAZ, VAZ. Lada was chosen as a marketing name for VAZ cars outside of Russia. It doesn’t become more straight forward with model names either, as Russians like to use long numbers. The Fiat 124 derived Lada 1200 was in Russia sold as the VAZ 2101, the facelift as VAZ 2105, the version with 1300cc engine as VAZ 21011 and the VAZ 21013 then was a VAZ 21011 with 1200cc engine – wouldn’t that make it a 2101 or 2105? I give up! Brand logo is meant to resemble a Viking ship, that I understand, Rover! Can’t be? OK, that actually makes sense. The name Lada is a word game, Ladia is a Russian tribe that sailed up and down the Moldova with Viking-type boats, hence the brand logo, drop the “i” and you have lada, the Russian word for darling. The logo is white on blue ground, though Lada rally cars I more remember in all white with no identification, while latest touring cars are all red for completely unknown reason.

Why cover them then, when I know nothing about them? Well, let’s try again. Lada first became famous in Europe with Fiat licence products. Now, Seat and Polski have done the same, but the Ladas seemed to have survived the longest. Indeed, the Lada 1200 & 1300 were Fiat 124 and Lada 1500, 1600 & Riva were Fiat 125, the main difference being the Ladas were made of thicker steel!

That means they were Fiat mass production technology made cheap and robust. And that made it interesting for amateur rally drivers with low budget. One of the names that jump to mind: Rudi Stohl in his early career wanted to do fantastic adventure rallies all over the globe. So rather than invest into a big power posh car he invested into travel. Sticking to a cheap and bullet proof Lada Rudi Stohl could for many years run a program of Safari, Acropolis, 1000 Lakes, etc..

Another car to show what Lada is about is the Niva. It is made since 1977 until today and in my personal mind it is better than many wannabe cars today. Sorry, I just don’t get the modern SUV trend. Most modern SUVs are cars that have a high centre of gravity and huge weight, therefore they handle crap, are not really fast, need loads of fuel (shouldn’t that be a contradiction in modern times?) and won’t have more interior space than a half decent estate car. If they would function off road I would understand, but they don’t! What’s the point of a high centre of gravity, huge, heavy SUV when all you do is run down the motorway or clog town centre car parks? And someone who really needs to go off road would never buy a VW Touareg or a BMW X5 or a Porsche Cayenne, they would go for something like a Land Rover. And if you can’t afford that but still need to go off road, wanna bet a Lada Niva does the job a lot better than a Touareg, X5 or Cayenne!

I mean, I already don’t get the name of the whole category. Sport utility vehicle, that’s a functional sports car, I love it and think immediately of a big tailgate V8 Rover SD1 or a Volvo 850 T5 Estate or an Australian Ute but not something very heavy with huge centre of gravity and no more space than an estate, probably even equipped with a 1.6 diesel. 95% of modern SUVs are neither sport nor utility and therefore they are uncool! Honestly what, pleeeaase, is sporty or functional about a Volkswagen Touareg, a Kia Spotarse, a Peugeot 4007? The Lada Niva at least is a UV, an utility vehicle!

In fact it is the modern times why I really wanted to write this Lada story. In 2003, boah, time is flying, that is 10 years already and I still think this car looks rather decent: A friend of mine was asked to try an S1600 car for Lada. The car was called the Lada 112 – again strange name, but originally it was the VAZ 2110 as saloon, 2111 as estate and 2112 as hatchback with European names having the first digit dropped. Today it is replaced by the Lada Priora, that however sadly has some silly, useless, characterless curved lines added and therefore is not really an improvement. For some reason the 110-112 remained very unknown on European markets. In rallying the car showed some promise, more than you would have expected, but Lada never had the means to really force an international program with it. The biggest surprise for me was how nice the car looked. OK, maybe rally modifications helped and interior was not the best, but especially the hatchback had a very clean, no-nonsense design with a closed front and a very flat rear tailgate, more like what you would expect on a Mondeo or Vectra on a Golf sized car. And in all honesty I would have preferred it to a VW Golf!

The point is also, today car manufacturers are trying to re-invent the wheel with silly things seemingly in desperation to offer customers something new. I know many examples of people who are of advanced age or simply need a second car and want nothing else from their car than a transport to carry shopping bags home from Tesco’s, they never drive further than 10km, all of which in slow town traffic. Why do these people need 27 air bags, ESP, traction control, electric everything, heated massage seats, bluetooth, sat-nav, air conditioning and state of the art 10-speaker CD & MP4 stereo? Apart from the fact that half of this stuff spoils your fun as a driver who enjoys driving. Problem is you can’t buy a car without all this stuff any more! And when a car manufacturer tells you it is standard equipment, well think for a moment, you are still paying for it! It makes your car more expensive, heavier and is yet more that can break down. And I do believe an ever rising number of people are P’d off with this! And I can prove it, because exactly that is the reason for Dacia’s sudden success. 20 years ago Dacia was an Eastern Block laughing matter, today Dacias are everywhere and appear to have many satisfied customers. It is a strange scenario, and partly, at least here in Germany, the motoring press is to blame. The trick behind modern Dacia is that Renault wanted to offer cheap cars for those customers that don’t want ESP, air/con, stereo, etc., but had they launched Renault models like this they would have been ripped apart by the press and have their name severely ruined as a result.

To be honest, I am still no fan of Dacia. I think their models Sandero and Duster are ugly. And what irony that Renault out of all of them bought 25% of Lada shares and made Lada stop making their Fiat 124 & 125 based classics as recent as 2012 and produce the Dacia MCV instead! For one it proves Dacia’s success, but for the other what a missed opportunity for Lada itself!

I don’t have many Lada models in this rally car database. And I fear I won’t get many in future either. To be honest, I wrote this Lada story more as social criticism than anything else.

Strangely funny is that when Lada did Fiat 124 based 1200s etc., we all laughed about them, but at least people talked about them. I honestly insist the Lada 112 was a gorgeous car. Yes, a bit cheap from some angles, but let’s not forget it was another 2000 Euros cheaper than a comparable Dacia. What I am saying is, the 112 had potential, it was a good basis and a good design, sell it for 2000 Euros more, invest the added money for better materials and interior and you have a good (some mechanical parts, as even the 150BHP 2.0 engine of the top version, actually came from Opel), decent looking and functional car for the Dacia price! Today Dacia is such a big success that PSA and VW are looking into starting their own cheap car brands, but somehow everybody has forgotten about Lada. Occasionally someone may vaguely remember them and immediately start laughing about them. But why? We used to laugh about Skoda and Dacia! I like Lada because I don’t live in a free country, if I buy anything else I am forced to buy ESP, stereo, air/con, even if I don’t want all this!

Lada Rally Cars

Model Class
Lada Lada 1500  Group 2