Russia says goodbye to Lada Classic series of cars, and an era

Russia is ending its long love affair with a car that was once prized by the nation but has come to symbolise the decline of its automobile industry and, for some, the country itself. 

The decision by state car maker AvtoVAZ to halt production of the last models in the Lada Classic series this year after four decades is more than just the end of the road for an automobile. 

Although the outmoded box-like series of family cars is ridiculed abroad, many Russians consider it a last link with an era when they believed the Soviet Union could win the Cold War, and see its demise as a sign of Russia's diminished status. 

"It's a case of national affection. For many years in Soviet times the Classic was an unattainable dream for many men. It was very hard to get hold of one and people waited in queues for years," said Vyacheslav Lysakov, a member of parliament and the head of a motorists' association, Free Choice. 

"A lot of things from that (Soviet) time have already gone and the Classic was one of the remaining links." 

AvtoVAZ halted production last month of the seventh model in the series, the 2107, leaving only one Classic in production - the 2104 station wagon. The company said it was also "time to say goodbye" to that model at the end of this year. 

Lada is often the butt of jokes abroad because of its square shape and reputation for breaking down when you least want it to. One joke asks: How do you double the value of a Lada? Answer: By filling the tank. 

Jeremy Clarkson, host of the British TV car show Top Gear, memorably called the Lada 2107 "simply the worst car ever". Style-conscious young Russians would not be seen dead in one. 

But many middle-aged and elderly Russians regret the Classic's passing and see bad omens for the future. 

"It was the best-designed car in the world. You won't see a more beautiful car," Alexander Fyodorov, a 65-year-old architect, said as he strolled across Moscow's Red Square. 

"Russia has gone off course since then. The Russian auto industry has been destroyed. I blame it on 12 years of Putin," he said, gesturing towards the red walls and golden domes of the Kremlin where Russia's long-term ruler, Vladimir Putin, will start a new six-year term as president on May 7. 

More here.


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