The Lada is a cult car. Known for its aesthetic, resilience, and tough nature, some would call it the safest car in the world. In the following Russian dashcam footage, that hardy reputation is only furthered. It shows Russian traffic police attempting to break the window of a white Lada during a traffic stop. After failing, a car chase erupts through the Russian streets.
When the Lada is cornered by the Russian police car, a bigger group of cops make a second attempt to break into the Lada, only to fail again despite one cap in a Russian bulletproof vest use his colleagues for support as he drop kicks the window. It’s fair to say that the Russian police are no joke when it comes to applying force to apprehend a suspect, thus, is the humble Lada amongst the safest cars in the world? For this fugitive driver, it certainly was at the time.
The Safest Car in the World? – The Russian Lada
From Lenin to the Hammer and Sickle, the Soviet Union produced many iconic and memorable images to those in the West. One of the most prominent, however, was the humble Lada. First appearing in 1973, the Lada soon gained a reputation for being affordable, tough, easy to maintain, and value for money. The brand is still running strong today, and for good reason.
The Lada brand comes from the Slavic word Lada / судно which translates to a small type of boat which is visible in the Lada logo. Ladas are manufactured by AvtoVAZ which was formed in the mid-1960s through a cooperative deal between the Soviet Department of Foreign Trade (Vneshtorg) and Fiat.
In 1970, the AvtoVAZ began production of the VAZ-2101. This vehicle, with strengthened parts and heavy steel panels was essentially a tougher variant of the Fiat 124 sedan. It was ideal for the tough winters and even tougher roads of the USSR, where it was marketed as “Zhiguli” after the Russian mountain range in Samara Oblast. This early Lada soon earned the nickname of “Kopeyka” which translates to the smallest Soviet coin worth 1/100 of a Soviet Russian Ruble.
The “Zhiguli” was able to handle tough Russian road trips due to being fitted with substantial drum brakes. In addition, it was given reliable, modernized suspensions at the front and back of the car as well as increased ground clearance, a more modern transmission, and recessed door handles. The design of the first Lada was carried out by a cooperative of engineers from the Soviet Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engines Institute (abbreviated as NAMI).
This team of Soviet Russian and Italian designers symbolized a true example of East meets West as they worked together in Turin and Tolyatti. The latter city was fitting for such cooperation as it was named after the Italian communist politician Palmiro Togliatti. By springtime in 1970, AvtoVAZ was able to boast its own team of experienced designers and engineers and worked independently.
Whilst it was known as the “Zhiguli” in the USSR, for overseas export the VAZ-2101 was branded as the Lada. The reason being is that Zhiguli was an awkward word for westerners to pronounce and was also mocked due to its close resemblance to the English word Gigolo which means a male prostitute. That’s why the vehicle today is most commonly known as the Lada. In Western Europe, Canada, South America, and even New Zealand, the Lada soon found a place in the hearts of consumers seeking a car that provided a cheap alternative to local car brands.
“What do you call a convertible lada? a skip!”– A common joke amongst Lada critics in the West.
As a result of the major lack of car mechanics for average citizens in the Soviet Union, the aim of the Lada was for maintenance to be handled by the owner of the car. When traveling around the former USSR today, you can often see remains of DIY auto repair stations on the sides of the road.
Outside of the Soviet Union, those who were not in the camp of people admiring the Lada were often mocking it for its cheap and no-frills construction. Few could deny, however, the car’s solid reputation as a strong, reliable, and unpretentious vehicle for drivers seeking to drive on a budget.
Still a powerhouse auto manufacturer today, Lada is still headquartered in the Russian city of Tolyatti. The Lada is a relentless feature on the roads across the entirety of the former Soviet Union and ex-communist countries as well as former satellite states such as East Germany and the Czech Republic. The Lada today is also built under license in various other countries outside of Russia.
These days, the vehicle is not just for civilian use. In various parts of Eastern Europe to Africa and beyond, the trusty Lada can be seen utilized as taxis, police cars, and various other public service or civil defense vehicles. But is it the safest car in the world? Unfortunately not. That title has been taken by the Genisis car brand of South Korea which recently came 1st on a list of the 14 safest cars on earth.