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The Carchive: The 1976 Ladas

Chris Haining July 29, 2016 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 9 Comments


It’s been a great week in the Hooniverse, and we’ve seen an awful lot of ongoing projects. Some are fixer-uppers, some are basket-cases and some are just so monumentally exciting as to defy any attempt at description. But only one of them is a Lada.

In honour of Kamil’s Soviet slingshot, we’re heading back to Togliatti and 1976, to have a look at some Ladas.

Images can be made more legible by clicking on them, though you may have to squint


“Be honest, the prices of even the most modest sized cars stripped of all but the bare essentials have been driving you to despair”

1970’s Britain was, for many, a bleak place. Money was in short supply, employment was a sought-after and rare phenomenon, and there was an awful lot of really shitty music about.

For most families, the ownership of a brand new car was an unimaginable dream. Indeed, my own parents owned a succession of shonky old Fords and Vauxhalls, all of which needed welding from an early age. Especially the Vauxhalls.


“A car with comforts, strength, safety and economy features no car should be without”

Then, all of a sudden, Lada arrived in the UK, and they would sell you a car that was almost the size of a Cortina, for just £1395.

It seemed almost too good to be true, but that was the deal and many, many people fell for the VAZ-2101’s charms.


“An interior designed for space and comfort, with room for 5 adults”

The list of equipment included fully adjustable, reclining, front seats. Not only that but a cigarette lighter, too.

The engine was the robust, simple old Fiat unit that went so comfortably with the simple, old Fiat bodywork. It could rattle out 62bhp, enough to send the Lada 1200 onto a wildly oscillating 91mph top speed.


“The Lada 1200 Saloon and Estate are also available in luxurious ES versions”

Luxury was the word. Well, a word. ES luxury involved a vinyl roof, a coachlining (that means a tape stripe), full carpeting, sound insulation, halogen headlamps, twin reversing lights and rear fog lamps. Hell, there was even a heated rear screen, and estate models came with a rear screen wiper.

It was a tempting package.

There was also a 1500 saloon if you really wanted Oligarch looks. This was based on the VAZ-2103 model, the ‘upscale’ Togliatti product, with a 75bhp engine enabling a terrifying 100mph top speed.

There was a wood-effect dashboard with a rev-counter, and in the trunk came all the reassurance of a 21-piece tool kit. Including a starting handle.

Lada disappeared from the UK market in the ’90s, and the cash-light of Britain were forced to buy second hand Sierras and Astras instead.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright probably belongs to the Russian mafia. I’ll be careful)

  • Van_Sarockin

    A butched up, poverty spec FIAT, for no money? Sound perfect. Maybe not quite as perfect as the Nivia, but still. Just take your wipers with you.

  • Sjalabais

    It’s interesting how the marketing above contains little of how Ladas are seen today. Tried a quick Google to the total sales numbers of this car in the UK (peaking in 1988 with a 2% market share at 33000 units), but got distracted by other articles and failed:

    “As a cheap five-seater, the Lada had few peers and if driving one on a motorway fast lane was an experience best left to seasoned masochists, much the same could be said of the Morris Marina. A Lada 1200 saloon cost as much as a Mini 1000 but came with a sizeable boot, room for five occupants and a standard equipment list that included a cigar lighter and laminated windscreen.

    By the end of the Seventies, the Lada became a part of the British automotive landscape, from rural minicabs to being given away to moderately traumatised-looking contestants on the TV show Sale of the Century.”

    Turns out, there’s also one Lada dealer left who’s happy about the Defender leaving the “old and rough 4×4”-market to the Russians only:

    • Manic_King

      Other Eastern Bloc cars? Skodas, Moskwiches (I know they tried as my relative had RHD one sent back from the UK after noone wanted it), Wartburgs maybe? I could imagine esp. Škoda put up some kind of fight.

      • Monkey10is

        …and of course the Yugo/Zastava.
        The Korean and then Malaysian manufacturers subsequently moved into this position in the market; Hyundai in the 1980s, then in the 1990s Kia, Proton and Perodua.

  • jim

    “and estate models came with a rear screen wiper.”

    Something that Mercedes (!) offered as a costly optional extra on some 80s models, together with a five-speed gearbox.

    • Rover 1

      From memory of mother’s not fondly recalled Lada wagon, AKA ‘The worst car ever made’, fitment of a rear wiper didn’t mean it worked. You’d think that in some sort of predelivery check, the’d have noticed the missing wiring.

  • desmo

    Lada engines were crap(*). Timing chain tensioners tended to fail (as a default). This might have been ok for people in the 70s in communist countries, who had time enough to take the whole car apart every few thousand kilometers. Definetely not for the Brits, or anyone else who needs a working car. And then there was the rust. I mean RUSS-RUST. For a reason there are only 7 (seven!) roadworthy Lada1200s left in UK. Source: https://www.howmanyleft.co.uk/?q=lada+1200

    (*) I doubt that this has changed. Second hand Fords and Opels are the better choice.

    • Sjalabais

      Very interesting, particularly the years 2001-2005 seem to have had a massive impact on most Lada products. The low quality steel produced in Russia might be the number 1 reason for why this industry never managed to produce really good cars. Shoddy production routines appear to have come in fits and waves – lots of stories about vehicles that were inop right from the factory.

  • Pete

    Horrible cars. My dad and his older brother owned a company dealing in car parts, and dealt a lot directlynwith car importers. The Ducth Lada importer had to repair all cars coming from Russia in one way or another, before they could be sold. New cars, straight from the factory…..