Chips off the old Bloc

Lo-tech Ladas, Skodas and Yugos are dirt cheap but, as James Ruppert found out when he bought into the bargain basement, they're still overpriced

What was so special about 25 November 1996? It's a date that may well go down in history as the last time a Lada was imported into Britain. Presumably, they got sick and tired of all those lame Lada jokes. Owner: I just got a new windscreen wiper for my Lada. Friend: Sounds like a fair swap to me... boom, boom.

Yet the Great British car-buying public has always been strangely partial to new cars built in the former Eastern Bloc countries, and some third- world locations. These cars which have just one redeeming feature: they're dirt cheap. Otherwise there was not much to recommend them.

Apart from a temptingly low price what all these cars have in common, be they Russian Ladas, former Yugoslavian Yugos, Korean Kias, or Malaysian Protons, is out-of-date technology bought wholesale from the West or Japan, with a reasonable level of standard equipment. After just a few years many of these cars are almost worthless, which should mean that the canny used-car buyer with a tiny budget can pick up a bargain. But would that be wise?

The facts are in black and white in the CAP Black Book. This is a price guide published exclusively and confidentially for the motor trade and the figures for these automotive orphans are very revealing. A Lada Samara 1300L bought new in 1988 for pounds 4,295 is now worth just pounds 30 as a bottom trade price. A 1992 Yugo Sana, which cost pounds 5,790 new, might be bought from a sobbing owner for a paltry pounds 70. These are the extremes, but they underline the point.

I can own up to having direct, depressing experience of a Polish-built FSO, a close relative of the Lada but worse. Then, for the purposes of research, I bought an pounds 80 car a few years ago to see what it would be like. The experience was dreadful: a catalogue of rust and breakdowns, which proved that bottom of the price barrel purchases are pointless when buying old commies.

Up that two-digit budget to a four-figure one and things start to get interesting. I answered a private ad for a Lada Riva Estate. It cost pounds 5,000 when the old couple bought it back in 1993. A dealer had offered them no more than pounds 1,000, but they would take an unlucky pounds 1,300. It was immaculate, having been garaged, regularly waxed and the seats protected for posterity with awful furry covers. It may have been showroom condition, but a drive around the (eastern) block soon reminded me of the car's drawback: it's a fossilised Sixities Fiat. Heavy steering, sluggish engine and all-round crudity are seriously off putting. As a tidy, absurdly cheap workhorse that could be run into the ground and then thrown away, it had to be contender, but this was not be a comfortable motoring companion.

It pays to look further east for the real second-hand bargains. Now it is the emerging tiger economies of Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia which satisfy the strong demand for cheap, well-equipped and reliable cars - just like Japan did back in the Seventies. They are using the same technology, too - old Japanese cars, rebadged and relaunched in Europe. And after a few years they are still very much intact.

The original Proton saloons and hatchbacks were actually well proven Mitsubishi Lancers, but built in Malaysia. For about pounds 2,000 it is possible to buy early Nineties 1.5 models which have power steering. Find an SE model Iike I did in the local paper's classified ads and it even has air conditioning, which works. There may have been 80,000 miles on the clock, but the car was in excellent condition and felt as if it would last another 80,000 miles.

If I wanted a small-town car, a Korean-built Kia Pride might be the answer. I looked at a 1992 car on a dealer's forecourt for pounds 2,000. You would pay more than pounds l,300 more for a less well equipped 1992 Ford Fiesta. The Kia is actually a rebadged Mazda 121 and although it now looks a bit dated, the package is practical and hard to fault at this price.

Of the cars from the former Eastern Bloc, I could not recommend a Lada, FSO, or Yugo to anyone. But Skodas have always been good - the Favorit in particular is worth buying. Yet what the Far Eastern cars have over their bleak East European counterparts is more modern Eighties technology, a reassuring dullness and utter reliability. Just the qualities you need in a cheap, second-hand car That's why I would have no hesitation in buying a Kia Pride, Proton or Hyundai X2.

Meanwhile, the fate of Lada hangs in the balance. Within the next few days a decision will be made as to whether imports recommence. Apparently, and this is no joke, a company is interested in buying the Lada concession.

More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Commercial Litigation NQ+

    Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...


    Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

    Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

    Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

    £90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

    Day In a Page

    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?