30th March 2010

Our Cars–VAZ 2101 (Lada)

posted in Car News Articles |

Submitted by Kaloyan Ivanov

(Chris: Kaloyan is a new co-worker of mine on the Amazon Auto Parts & Accessories team; he originally hails from Bulgaria and as a result has a slightly different perspective on Car Lust.)

Car Lust has featured quite a few Bond cars, and technically the VAZ 2101 is one, since it appeared in The Living Daylights and Goldeneye. But really, I’d call it From Russia With Love. It would have been a big change of pace for James Bond, but as a child coming of age in Eastern Europe, this vehicle was a ubiquitous part of my childhood. As with many Europeans living on the other side of the Iron Curtain during the 1970s and the 1980s, the VAZ (known as the Lada when exported) conjures up memories of my youth.

The Lada was first introduced on Sept. 7, 1970 as the VAZ 2101–or, as many Russians know it, the Jiguli. Based on the 1966 Fiat 124, the VAZ 2101 had a 1.2-liter, 4-cylinder, 62-horsepower engine, a 4-speed manual transmission, and a weight of just more than 2,000 pounds.
It was an iconic car that practically flooded the Eastern European market. Once the Soviet auto manufacturer understood this vehicle’s popularity, it subsequently developed several new models.

In Bulgaria, the country of my birth, my father purchased the first model sometime in the early 1970s. Due to the high demand of this immensely beloved vehicle, would-be owners were placed on wait lists that spanned several years (usually about 5-7 years). My father was willing and fortunate to wait a mere five years for his number to be called; he still passionately recounts receiving the notification and going down to the dealership to make his claim.

As the popularity of the vehicle grew, so too did the demand for it. My father, disenchanted by the long waits, placed me on the wait list as soon as I was born, with the hope that my number would be called by the time I was 18. However, that wasn’t meant to be. The fall of the communist regime brought about new rules for the open market– as long as you could afford it, you could have your new vehicle that day!

It didn’t take long for the car to become a prominent member of our family. Our Jiguli was handled as delicately as a newborn baby. She was named Maria and was almost treated better than a live family member. My father washed her daily and detailed her monthly. No food or drinks were allowed in the car, and we had special seat covers to protect the upholstery for life.

Almost every summer we would take Maria on a two-day, 700-mile journey from Bulgaria to visit my grandmother in the U.S.S.R. Essentially, my sister and I would live in the backseat for two days on the road; it would almost seem like we never left home. This was before DVDs, CDs, video games and iPods; we had no form of entertainment, save for my sister singing non-stop, and simply reveled in the beauty of the ride. It was a memorable time, and VAZ has definitely shaped many of these memories. I got my license after learning to drive that car, and it was with Maria that I first hit 100 km/h (62 mph). In 2005, my father decided to sell our beloved car after almost 30 years in the family.

For some, the Jiguli was just an automobile; for me and maybe for some Car Lust readers, it was an experience to remember.
The VAZ 2101 was discontinued in 1984, to be replaced by more modern models; in 2004 the manufacturer, AutoVAZ, produced its 22-millionth vehicle, Lada 110 model.

Well, Mr. Bond, the VAZ 2101 isn’t exactly an Aston Martin DB5, but in its own way it had its character too.

The first photo is from OldRussianCars.com, the second is from AmericanDreamCars.com, and the third image is a screenshot from The Bourne Identity, courtesy of IMCDB, the Internet Movie Cars Database.

–Kaloyan Ivanov

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