Welcome to Soviet Saturday where I discuss greatest automotive legends from the Soviet era in diecast form.
Today I will show you the people’s car also known as a Lada or Zhiguli.
In early 1960s, USSR had only one car company making cars for regular people, the Moskvitch. Sure, there was also Volga but only oligarths could get their hands on those. It was right around the time that demand for cars rose exponentially. Moskvitch couldn’t keep up with demand. As a result there were long waiting lists for cars. Some people waited up to 3 years before they got their hands on a new car.
In 1966 Soviet government made a decision to buy a vehicle from the capitalists along with a factory to manufacture it.
Soviet engineers had several cars in mind such as Ford, Peugeot and Renault but Russian government insisted they look at a Fiat instead.
Upon initial tests on Russian road Fiat showed poor results. It couldn’t handle the abuse. Just about everything was falling apart. Steering, suspension, drivetrain, etc. Italians used very thin sheet metal which cracked and teared like paper.
When engineers went to the government with their test results they were quickly silenced by Brezhnev himself. The decision to buy a Fiat was already made. The tests were just for show. The engineers were actually recommending Renault 16 as it was better than the Fiat in just about every aspect. It was more modern and had front wheel drive as opposed to Fiat which was already aged at that point.
Once the choice was made to use a Fiat, Russian engineers had to improve on a car to make it suitable for Soviet conditions. Many things were changed. Redesigned engine, modernized brakes, body panels made of thicker steel and hundreds of other changes. The improvements made by Soviet engineers were implemented by Italians on a Fiat 124.
Along with the car, Soviets built a new assembly plant in small town of Togliatti. The assembly line and most of the machinery was Italian.
First VAZ 2101 rolled off the assembly line on April 22, 1970. It was Lenin’s 100th birthday.
Initially Russians hated just about everything about the car because it was very different from a Moskvitch. As time went on, Lada was proven to be a much better car. It was more reliable and quicker than the Moskvitch even though it had less power. Speaking of power, Lada had a 4 cylinder engine which produced 64 horsepower. Like most other Soviet cars it had a manual gearbox and was rear wheel drive.
VAZ-2101 was built from 1970 to 1988. I don’t have the exact production number but many, many, many cars were built. It was the most popular car in USSR and Russia and was successfully exported all over the world. When the factory opened they were popping out 2000 cars each day. My grandfather had one. It was actually the very first car I ever drove. I even saw several for sale in Canada and in the mid 90's I recall seeing Lada offices in Toronto.
The diecasts of these cars were as popular as real cars. I have a few different ones here in 1/43 scale. A couple of early Soviet models, one of which is numbered and a couple of Chinese repops.
There is also a 1/18 scale model available which I’ve been trying to find but they are selling for quite a bit of money.
I am contemplating whether or not to repaint the blue one because the chipped hood is driving me nuts. It is a numbered model which is rarer than the rest but it’s still not worth very much because they are very common. Decisions, decisions.