Triple Test: Communist Cars

You may mock and jump on the soviet car-bashing bandwagon, but so-called older ‘communist cars’ have a bucket load of charm to offer for relatively little money. CCFS sent Calum Brown, Gillian Carmoodie and Sam Skelton out to defend their favourite.  Prepare yourselves…

Words and Video: Calum Brown, Sam Skelton and Gillian Carmoodie
Pictures: Gillian Carmoodie

 

It’s not everyday that you find yourself presented with three cars to cause so much argument. One is a Lada Samara, of which Calum claims ‘strikes the perfect balance between Soviet dependability and retro goodness’, the second is a Yugo 45 that has stolen Sam Skelton’s heart and the third is a Fiat 126 ‘Brown’, a car from Italy that Gillian Carmoodie insists is true to the communist spirit.

It’s long been a point of argument in the CCFS office, so when Morris Leslie Auction’s found one of each vehicle on their forecourt it was only right that we sent our three contributors out to put this argument to bed. We can only but apologise to Morris Leslie and Keith Murray for the squabbling.
 

Calum - The Lada Samara

It’s easy to open your ill-informed mouth and dispense with Lada jokes like Skelton does opinionated wind, but don’t heed to the moronic remarks he casts over my preferred Lada.  Although far from perfect, with ‘brakes’ capable of‘stopping’ the car and an interior that appears to have been crafted from prickly plastic trimmings straight off Katie Hopkin’s face – it offers everything you would expect from a soviet workhorse.  Unlike Sam’s varicose-vein-blue Yugo 45, the Samara is a genuine workhorse, and unlike Gillian’s Fiat 126, you can use the Lada in modern day life without soiling your underwear.

Tough, no-nonsense and devoid of any decadent electronics to go wrong during Donald Trump’s upcoming nuclear winter, the Samara easily ticks all the soviet boxes.

Is it a pleasure to be in the company of the Samara? In a strange way, it is.  Despite suffering a few shortcomings – the car’s basic charm wins the day. While the Fiat and Yugo violate several UN human rights with legroom issues alongside an intense smell of petrolchemicals, the Lada is the only car here that you would dare undertake a long journey or an errand with. You can see the Samara driving up a snowy mountain while towing several fallen trees and simultaneously being attacked by a bear, before driving across a frozen lake towards a solitary wood cabin carrying a year’s supply of fish. I can’t see the Fiat managing a speed bump, let alone an incline.  

I won’t deny that I like the other two cars here – but the Lada remains the only one to really feel like a soviet vehicle. It’s tough wearing, it’s bomb proof and it’s red. It’s also the fastest, the tightest on the bends and strikes a chord between retro 1990s looks with a soviet flair. It’s a fantastic vehicle – and the outright winner from our trio.

Sam - The Yugo 45

Calum has clearly got it wrong. The Samara is not the best communist car out of our trio – because my little Yugo is.  Granted, Lada’s first homespun family car is larger and certainly more powerful, but the Yugo retains that semi-Italianite feel of a small Fiat. It’s endearing – not as fun perhaps as a 126, but it makes you smile. I wasn’t a fan of the petrochemical smells from the cabin, but once I’d confirmed it was the plastics and not a fuel leak I grew more comfortable with it. And it might only have 45bhp, but it pulls cleanly without leaving a cloud of death behind it.

It’s fun to punt along – not the smoothest-riding nor the most confident in the bends but when you’re talking about a car that leaves you grinning from ear-to-ear none of those aspects matter.  I can see the point of Carmoodie’s 126 ‘Brown’ – it’s charming and cute and has the best special edition name ever. But it’s too small to use as an everyday car – and when communism is about giving to each according to his need, you have to question the market at which it could be targeted. Its lack of flexibility as a vehicle marks it down. As does the fact that Italy wasn’t a communist country in the 1970s – while the Fiat workforce was broadly socialist, it doesn’t actually make the 126 ‘Brown’ a communist car.

How Gillian can expect it to win a communist car challenge is beyond me. And as for the Lada, while it’s far from the worst I’ve ever driven, in this company the Italian and the semi-Italian outflank it. The Lada is roomy, but it also feels the flimsiest of our trio and the most likely to break. Strangely, it also feels too powerful for its own chassis, and stopping from anything above walking pace is truly terrifying. Frankly, the Lada comes a very distant third.

So – the Fiat is disqualified and the Lada is rubbish. The Yugo is therefore the winner and the only one that I want – and secretly, I do rather want it. But not as much as I want to see Brown explain convincingly as to why he’d pick that Lada.  
 

Gillian - The Fiat 126 'Brown'

I’m not going to attack like the boys – instead, provide a much more logical approach to championing the little Fiat 126. Firstly, while it may not set the road alight with rip-snorting performance, it feels like a little road rocket no matter the pace. 35mph is quite fast enough with it’s tiny cabin, but straight from the off the enjoyment factor is present.

It’s quirky, too – as I found when trying to use it. Despite the tiny size, some of the Fiat was a big mystery. ‘How do I even start it up?’ was my main thought as Calum and Sam cranked their soviet beasts into life. Keith Murray from the auction house had to jump in the passenger side to show me what to do – as it turns out, the starter rests under the handbrake.

The ride was somewhat noisy and bumpy – but it didn’t put me off. It was something of a hoot – even if I opted to take it easy when cornering, as it didn’t feel like it would take much to topple over. Yes, it may be underpowered in comparison to the larger two offerings but unlike the gruff Lada or rigid Yugo, the Fiat is sheer good fun and full of enthusiasm. Taking on every challenge with determined gusto – and isn’t that the communist spirit?

I can’t ignore that the Fiat isn’t really from a communist country, but it captures the spirit of Soviet willpower and fortitude without the haircurling stench of petrolchemicals from the Yugo and the scary attributes and image problem of the Lada. I know Calum and Sam will disagree, but feel you will not only understand, but agree with me wholeheartedly.

For me, the Fiat wins.

Verdict

Seeing as our team clearly can’t reach a viable conclusion, CCFS are left to pick up the pieces and regulate the result.

Looking at the ramblings of our trio, we can tell you that the Fiat is not a regular communist car. We can also tell you that Sam’s Yugo may appear the cleanest, but the square offering from Yugoslavia remains slower and less practical than the Lada. But the Lada is not winning that easily.

We have to look at it in a new way – what is Communism? In essence, it’s where the community owns all property and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs. Therefore – which car would the population be happiest to use?

We’ll leave that open to your opinion. 

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