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All About Lada

How a car in Moscow ended up in Detroit and other fascinating facts about the Lada 1200s
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Julian Azariah grew up in the Soviet Union. Yes, that state that had a run from 1922 to 1991, from Lenin to Gorbachev. Azariah has lived in Detroit for 30 years. He’d been working in the auto industry for 20. About five years ago he started thinking about what kind of car he’d like to have in his garage. He’s a fan of classic muscle cars. Mustangs. Camaros. But he wanted something different. And when he thought about a car that he’d seen on the streets when he was growing up, a car that his family never owned, he knew he wanted to get a Lada. A friend who lives in St. Petersburg found one for sale in Moscow, then he and Azariah started doing the complex work required to secure and ship the 1985 Lada 1200s to Detroit. Azariah got the car in his garage on August 1, 2015.

Lada 1200s


And on August 1, 2019, Azariah drove his Lada—it is a dark beige, a color that he says is referred to as “coffee and milk” back in Russia-to the studio of “Autoline After Hours.” As the car is powered by a 67-hp, 1,200-cc engine mated to a four-speed manual, Azariah notes that he didn’t drive on any freeways to get there.

Lada 1200s


The 34-year-old car is original, even riding on tires that were made in the U.S.S.R. and equipped with a radio that didn’t come with a speaker—apparently speakers weren’t installed in the factory but were an aftermarket purchase. In the U.S. one might say that the speaker was a “dealer-installed” option but there weren’t any dealers in the Soviet Union analogous to those here. Azariah says that people in the Soviet Union had to wait years for a car, and that while an engineer would make on the order of 300 rubles a month, a car like his Lada would go for just shy of 2,000 rubles.

Lada 1200s


AvtoVAZ produces Ladas—yes, there are still a range of Ladas being manufactured, sedans, wagons and SUVs. AvtoVAZ was established in 1966 as a joint venture between Fiat and the Soviet Department of Foreign Trade. The VAZ-2101, the model that Azariah’s is based on, was launched in 1970.

(AvtoVAZ is now owned by Renault.)

Lada 1200s


Although the car is based on the Fiat 124, Azariah explains that there was a considerable amount of Soviet engineering applied to the platform, including a new powertrain, as well as countermeasures to address the less-than smooth road surfaces that drivers encountered outside of cities: the gauge of the steel for the body was increased; the suspension was beefed up.

The story of this Lada is really quite interesting even if you’re not particularly keen on classic cars or even cars for that matter as you can get a sense of what cars were like in an entirely different place in an entirely different time.

Also on the show, Autoline’s John McElroy, Jason Fogelson of Ride.tech and I discuss a variety of other subjects, including whether BMW is in trouble (according to Automobile magazine it is likely cutting a number of models; the CEO announced his resignation; it is going to start charging $80 per year for Apple CarPlay); whether the two major U.S. ride hailing companies, Uber and Lyft, are in trouble; and, on an up note, two recent Cannonball Run records—both set in Tesla Model 3s.

And you can see it all here.