What do you call a second hand Skoda?

Answer: a bargain. Cars from the developing world may be seen as cheap jokes, but can you afford to laugh off an immaculate used model costing just pounds 500? By James Ruppert
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A what? From where? That's the reaction of many customers offered a vehicle which originated in a far-off country with no previous reputation for producing quality cars. The importers of these vehicles get around such obstacles with one simple step. They make the cars very cheap.

A combination of a low retail price and a very generous standard equipment package makes up for all sorts of shortfalls in reputation, making a brand new car from a developing country very good value. But what about the second-hand market? Lack of pedigree seriously knocks the value for six - which means that the real winners are the second owners.

At their best, cars from the developing world are based on decent second-hand European or Japanese models. Atvery worst, the third- world car is a Lada.

You may have heard about Ladas being bought here by Russian merchant seamen for outrageous sums and repatriated to the mother country. It's all true - there is a healthy market in Ladas up to 10 years old. Rather than getting pounds 25 from a salvage yard, you might just get pounds 250 from an exporter.

Sending Ladas back to where they came from is a good solution. Driving these tanks is not recommended. They may have a certain rugged charm, but essentially the Riva models are redundant, Sixties-style Fiat 124s. The subsequent Samara model was styled like a "modern", (well, Seventies) car, but don't let that impress you; they are crude, too.

The Polish-built FSOs are also based on Fiats, this time a 125 with even more prehistoric mechanicals. An attempt to re-body and rename it the Caro has not fooled many buyers. In the same category is the Yugo from former Yugoslavia. It may not be built anymore, but it lives on in the banger section of the classified ads. Yet another regurgitated Fiat, it is cheap, not very cheerful and surprisingly costly to put right.

The shining exception to the general rule that Eastern Bloc cars were crummy is Skoda, the butt of as many jokes as Lada, but a maker of well- engineered cars.

Mainstay of the range since the Sixties was the rear-engined Estelle, touted as a four-door Porsche 911, sharing the same dicey handling but at a fraction of cost. Skoda's great leap forward was the Favorit. It was simple, pretty, cheap and performed well. Volkswagen then bought the company, and this did wonders for the models and the marque.

For some of the very best cars from the developing world, look at the Far East. The Pacific Basin produces a range of resuscitated Japanese cars; buyers get the best of both worlds - low-wage economies producing high-quality cars.

Korea has long been a source of such products. Hyundai has teamed Eastern and Western technology, from the Ford to Mitsubishi, coming up with the competent Pony. Kia has been reviving old Mazdas. Yet the Asia Rocsta, as an attempt to clone the Jeep, is a disappointment. Another such attempt was in India, where the Mahindra had similar shortcomings. In Malaysia, Proton has been making its version of the old Mitsubishi Lancer a success with a combination of long warranties and low prices.

In search of good second-hand cars from the developing world, I tried dealer outlets first. Cecil & Larter in Bury St Edmunds had a selection. In the under pounds 4,000 section, a J-registered Kia Pride caught my eye. Previously incarnated as a Mazda 121, this is a harmless and well-built shopping hatchback. The pounds 3,195 cost was not a giveaway, just a highly negotiable price. A bigger Kia in the shape of a Mentor was on offer with a N-plate and 5,000 miles. The price was pounds 7,395 as against pounds 9,000 for a brand new one. And there were several Hyundai Lantras. These Mitsubishi- based vehicles are utterly reliable, if uninspiring. Prices started at a reasonable pounds 5,995 for an L-registered, 25,000-mile example.

Going private for Pacific Basin bargains, you discover there are not that many - owners hold on to the cars until depreciation is no longer an issue. I did track down a 1991 Proton Aerodeck which had been garaged and well cared for. It cost pounds 3,250 but when pushed, the seller would have taken under pounds 3,000. If all you want from a car is reliability and five-door practicality at a reasonable price, this is it.

At the other end of the scale, I spotted a 1990 Lada Riva 1500 estate in immaculate condition on a small-dealer forecourt. It had just 23,000 miles on the clock and looked almost tempting at pounds l,695.

Finally, I answered a local advertisement for a Skoda Rapid Coupe, the poor man's Porsche. The seller wanted pounds 1,000. My trade price guide said pounds 670. I offered pounds 500. There was no hesitation.

Contact Cecil & Larter on 01284 701454.

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