5 Eastern European cars that sort-of conquered the world
Little known fact: The Soviet Union produced many things of quality. As anyone who grew up in this country of abundance and plenty knows, the USSR was home to a booming and automotive industry which produced many firsts. These momentous feats of engineering included the world’s first car to be fixable with garden tools, as well as Ukraine’s visionary predecessor to the BMW 1 Series.
VAZ 2105 (LADA Riva)
Unlike the Germans who pride themselves on innovation, the good folk at LADA have done pretty much fuck all with the VAZ 2105 (or LADA Riva as it was sold as in the West) since its launch in 1979. The 2105 is still neither good-looking nor particularly safe. But as the person writing this knows, it is easily fixable with a hammer, spade, or any other garden tool. More than 40 years on, the “Pyatorka” or “little five” still has bags of character, and is also extremely light and rear-wheel-drive. If you aren’t a wanker, this is a serious alternative to the BMW 3 Series.
Positively awful in every way, the Trabant or ‘Trabby’ was the must-have car in Soviet-influenced East Germany. By that we mean “was pretty much the only car available” in the GDR. Made from a duroplast body, the Trabant was powered by a tiny transverse engine. Later models also rejected any heady Western ideas such as safety, and Trabant decided to get rid of the tachometer, fuel-filler cap, rear seatbelts, and indicators. Like the LADA, it has gained a cult following amongst tuning enthusiasts and classic rallying enthusiasts since the collapse of communism.
Given his standing as a man of impeccable taste, refinement, and strong moral character, who are we to exclude ‘Putin’s Choice’ from this list? The Senat is Russia’s answer to the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series and is the creation of by state-owned car manufacturer NAMI who claim their flagship model has received development input from Porsche Engineering and Bosch. Given the Russian government’s reputation as a reliable and truthful source of information, who are we to question that?
Poland’s contribution to the automotive world, the FSO Polonez was built in Warsaw using FIAT mechanicals and its production ran from 1980 to as recent as 2002. Yet despite all of the quality you would associate to come with a vehicle developed in communist Poland, it was the only Eastern European car from that period to pass European Union and United States safety tests, meaning it could be exported globally. In addition to the family hatch model, the Polonez spawned coupe, saloon, truck and even ambulance variants We’re running out of space now, so just look it up. You’re welcome.
Produced between 1960 to 1994, the Zaporozhets was produced by ZAZ in Ukraine. The ‘Zapo’ was made for international export, but it didn’t really fly with Western audiences. Given the most powerful version had a mighty 40 horses under its hood AND a radio as standard, we can’t think why. However, its rugged, simple mechanical nature made it a favourite in the Eastern Bloc and given its rear-wheel-drive nature, it’s pretty much an early version of the BMW 1 Series. A visionary piece of machinery, however, you choose to look at it.
An interesting fact: do you know that BMW is one the most popular car brands in eastern Europe amongst young people.