- The Lada Riva: the punchline to a thousand jokes across the nation, if not the world.

The Lada That Changed Me

How a dilapidated Russian estate car developed my motoring taste.

6w ago

Why is it that we tend to love the underdog? In most cases they tend to be vastly inferior to their rivals in every way, yet there's something about them that makes us smile, maybe even fall in love.

But that's often not the case for cars. Sure, there's some exceptions - the Volkswagen Beetle, for instance, or my favourite car of all time: the Citroen 2CV. However, whilst some underdogs age like fine wine, others remain consistent ugly ducklings.

However, for me, that's hardly ever the case. Whilst I can't bring myself to say I'd happily own any car ever built, given the opportunity, I'd definitely give one a drive. And that mentality entered my brain the first time I saw a certain car. A car that was pretty dated when it was new, and practically archaic by the time production ended. It's sticker price was low, and it's performance and economy figures were even lower.

It all happened back in the summer of 2009. I was only 7 at the time, well '7 and three quarters' in my head, and regularly visiting my grandparents. Mostly as a way to stop me from staring at the TV all day, my grandad would often take me on bike rides to the local park. I'd always enjoy going but the day that we took a different route there was the day my highlight of the trip changed.

You see, whilst riding along a seemingly unremarkable street, I spotted something of potential interest parked on a driveway hidden under the shade of a tree. It was old, it was brown, it was rather ran down. It was, in fact, a car I'd never seen before.

Excitedly, I turned to my grandad and insisted we crossed the road to check it out, and as we approached it the penny dropped. It was a Lada Riva. Specifically a two-tone brown (that's brown paint and brown rust) Riva 1.5 Estate. Essentially, it was the height of uncool and, whilst I'd never seen one before, even young me knew that.

Whether it was my grandad telling me they were rubbish, or me finding a page online full of jokes on the little Soviet car, somewhere I'd learnt that the Lada was terrible because everyone said they were. And this one hardly looked like a prize. The iron-curtain bodywork was covered with a fine combination of dirt and moss, the tyres were totally devoid of air and the interior was filled with random household junk.

Clearly it hadn't ventured anywhere in many years but, if it was so terrible, why on earth had the owner not scrapped it along with all the other Ladas that seemingly were no longer around? To me, clearly this otherwise despised set of wheels had some sentimental value to whoever owned it.

And, looking back, it recently dawned on me that it has sentimental value to me as well. Every time my grandad and I went on a bike ride after that day, we stopped and stared at the Lada. Well, we did on every bike trip until about 2011 when suddenly, out of nowhere, it disappeared.

I still remember how my heart sank as I first saw a vacant space on the driveway, knowing that it was almost certain that the rusty Russian had made its last ever trip. Britain now had one less Lada to laugh at.

It wasn't until then that I realised just how finite some cars are. Sure, if a car had a high status back in the day, chances are you'll still find plenty years after production ceased. But, when a car's seen as a bit mundane, by the time it's about a decade old, it's about as welcome as, well, an old Lada neglecting attention on a driveway. And since then, nothing has excited me more than spotting a supposedly "dull" family car of the 70s or 80s.

Whilst I still drive a, relatively, modern Citroen C1 right now, my intention in life is to own, and potentially restore, plenty of weird and wonderful family cars that said families long stopped caring for - I guess it's my calling!

Join In

Comments (16)

  • Wonderful.

      1 month ago
  • Cool story, thanks for sharing

      1 month ago
  • When I was a kid (in the 1970s) my mum had one of these. It’s the Fiat124 that the Riva was based on. It was a great car with a revvy 1300cc engine. Regularly used to take us from London to Newcastle and back. It was rusty but reliable and we loved it. Love your story.

      1 month ago
    • Thank you very much! From what I've heard the Fiat 124 was a very advanced family car when it was new. But the Soviets had to simplify quite a few aspects of it. Glad you liked your mum's one!

        1 month ago
  • OK Mortimer, here’s the deal...I’ve been trying to entice sponsors to pay real money for me to drive a 2CV across Canada from PEI to BC. But now you have gone and linked the fashionable 2CV with, of all things, a Lada Riva! Now I’ve got to get one of them and drive BACK from BC to PEI! I just don’t know if I can take the automotive spotlight so long.

      1 month ago
    • Oh dear! I better not write any other stories for a while. Although at least you'll be much warmer in your Lada.

        1 month ago
    • I enjoyed rattling your cage. BTW where did you find that ironic picture of the 2CV Sport is that a wing on the roof?

        1 month ago
  • Someone who thinks like I do alas! I think it is possible to see positives in even the 'worst' of cars. Yes the Allegro had issues but by the end of the production run it had matured well. People always say how bad british leyland cars were but forget that they were often no worse, if not better than, equivalent ford products. I am a sucker for the weird quirky and unloved, I insisted my first car had to be a classic, and after learning to drive in a Ginetta G26, bought a Volvo 480 and restored it. Just got to be open minded. I would love to get an Eastern Block car at some point, a UK spec Lada Samara would be nice

      1 month ago
    • Fantastic to hear you're a classic owner. Sadly I'm yet to be one, although I'm looking to buy a Citroen AX after the lockdown. The Allegro's a great example of a 'bad car' that was far from all bad. The issue was in it's first year the teething...

      Read more
        1 month ago
    • Yeah from what I hear the European models were actually quite decent and competitive. The AX Is always lovely to see, especially if you can find a GT

        1 month ago