The United States has a long history in car manufacturing. After all, we are among the pioneers in the industry. And yet, we often seem to forget that other countries have also tried to stake their claim on the car market. Some have succeeded, others have fallen into obscurity. But people are now starting to dig up these forgotten gems. That is how we landed the job of transporting a 1978 Lada from Bulgaria, halfway across the globe.
Before we get to the story of how we pulled that off, you need to understand why this car is so amazing. If you have not even heard about the Soviet Lada (or Zhiguli, as it is known domestically), it will not be surprising. These cars were quite popular back in the day, but not in the States. Even so, they have left quite a huge mark across the Eastern Bloc (and even Canada), with many of them being driven even to this date! Let’s see what made the Lada so special!
The history of Lada
It all began in the mid 60’s when two countries decided to collaborate on a new vehicle project. The Italian Fiat 124 was to be adapted to face the rough Russian conditions – namely the cold weather and what would pass for roads back then. The relationship between the Italian manufacturer and USSR is a history lesson for another time. But what started as a collaboration, soon ended up as mainly a Soviet endeavor.
In 1970, the Russian manufacturer AvtoVAZ began the production of what would become the first Zhiguli and later Lada for the international market. The design was a supposed improvement over Fiat 124, with a more robust body, better brakes, and a whole new engine. Over the next couple of decades, the Soviets managed to improve the design even further. Aside from the initial sedan, they also developed station wagons, 4x4s, and even a sports car.
The Zhiguli vehicles were a great success in the Soviet Union. A major positive was the fact that virtually anybody with just a little knowledge could repair them. The manufacturer did not want people to get stuck on a vast open road due to a breakdown. See, in a country where you may not meet a single soul in a few hundred mile radius, such an accident may be a death sentence.
But despite the fact that Lada was pretty much tailor-made for Soviet conditions, the USSR wanted to reach a broader market. And it was this effort that actually makes the vehicle so iconic in the Eastern Bloc today.
Behind the curtain
The problem with Lada (and most other USSR vehicles) was not that it could not sell. Actually, The Soviet Union managed to push their vehicles abroad quite well. So well in fact, that not much of them were left for Eastern Europeans to enjoy.
The Lada was one of the few cars that people in countries like Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia could ever afford. There were some other Soviet-made alternatives, but nevertheless, the options were not that many. Yet lack of choice was the least of their worries. What was an actual issue was the waiting time to score a vehicle in one of these countries.
How long would you wait for a car after ordering it? A month? Three? What about a year? Well, people in Eastern Europe had to wait a bit longer – 20 whole years. It may sound ridiculous and far-fetched, but it is the actual truth. You could have had the money to purchase 10 Ladas, but that did not matter. You had to order the car and wait. Twenty. Whole. Years.
This is why most Soviet vehicles, along with the Lada, remain so iconic to many people in those countries. Once they got their hands on one it was a treasure for their entire neighborhood. You will not find a person there who does not have a story to share about their parent’s or grandparent’s Lada, Moskvitch or Volga.
But while Eastern Europeans were coping with high waiting times, Lada exports all over the world were growing. By the 1980’s the USSR-made car was popular due to its low price and fair reliability. It was sold in more than 40 countries over the world, reaching places like New Zealand and Australia. Even now some old models of the brand can be found in Brazil, Cuba and other places.
Lada and the Modern Age
Despite the fact that the production of Lada continued well into the 90’s and even the 2000’s, it is no secret that the manufacturer faced quite tough odds. There were not any major changes to the lineup since the early 90’s and even the designs remained untouched. For a while, it still managed to sell well in South America and some places in Asia, but there was no major success in the books. Until recently.
The Lada brand is now in a weird place. On the one hand, a lot of the older vehicles are now becoming classics, and collectors are buying them from all over the world. On the other hand, following a 2015 restructuring, Lada is now releasing renewed models in cooperation with Renault and Nissan.
Without a doubt, the new models do not have much to do with the ones that are now history. However, the Lada Niva, Russia’s famous off-road vehicle and arguably the most iconic of all Lada models, is now manufactured again with virtually the same design. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Whatever the future may hold for the new models, the fact remains that the old ones have their place in history. They may not be the most famous, and they may even be the butt of quite a few jokes, but they have still left their mark. And because of that, one Lada car from a small town in the mountains of Bulgaria saw half the world while traveling to meet its new owner. It was an adventure that is worth a story!
The journey to the other side of the world
The story begins in the small town of Rakitovo – a beautiful place in the mountains of Bulgaria. We collected the 1978 Lada VAZ 2101 from there. But before we took care of that job, we asked the owner a bit about its story. He told us that the original owner had sold the car to him 3 years ago, after spending almost 40 years taking great care of it. That is among the most interesting things – while other folks around have such cars rusting in their garage or the local vehicle dump, this person cherished his Lada and preserved its good looks for almost 40 years. But why would someone do this?
As we mentioned, getting such a vehicle was quite the accomplishment back in the day. So for the original owner, this car was something more than a simple automobile. It was the physical representation of his time spent waiting and all his savings. So he treated it with respect. He only used it on the weekends for a ride around town or some of the big cities, such as Plovdiv.
Plovdiv is in fact about to be the European capital of culture in 2019. But it is also the place, from which the Lada was initially bought. And more precisely – a Corecom store there. While this likely means nothing to you, it is quite the iconic place for people in Bulgaria. In short, Corecoms were places where you could buy western imports or special wares from USSR. The funny (or sad) thing is that most people could not shop there – it was mainly reserved for people of the communist elite or very few other authorized personnel.
One of the few things that you could actually buy as a regular citizen was the aforementioned Lada VAZ 2101. But as we said, you had to wait up to 20 years if wanted one. And while we did not get exactly how long the original owner waited to buy it, we learned that it was quite a lot.
Fast forward to the present day, where we found ourselves with a vehicle of particular value. After 3 years of belonging to its second owner, the 39-year-old vehicle was about to embark on journey across the globe.
In preparation for the voyage
Before we could embark on the longer part of the journey, we had to take the car for a maintenance check. So from the town of Rakitovo, we took it to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Along the road, it received quite a few glances because of the great condition, in which it was kept. It is quite likely that the people there are not used to seeing sparkling Ladas.
In Sofia, the car went under a maintenance check to make sure we can get to the States in one piece. The people in the capital treated our vehicle as a monument on wheels. They stopped and stared, reminiscing about the old communist days.
Even though we had a lot of fun talking with the locals about the car and its history, we had to do our job. So after a brief time spent at the vehicle repair shop, the Lada was ready for the next part of its journey – the port of Bremerhaven.
On a ship it goes!
The entire process of shipping a car from Europe to the States seems quite difficult and bothersome to most people. But do not be discouraged! If you want to import a car, it is not that hard. In a few days’ time, we managed to find a carrier to take the Lada from Bulgaria to Germany. That trip took about 3 days.
There are actually a few things, without which the vehicle cannot ship. Once at the port, the authorities there will require certain documentation such as registration, bill of lading, bill of sale and other expected papers. Plus the car has to be empty – no free hanging items are allowed to be in it, including personal belongings. A lot of companies also wash the car before getting it on a ship. So when you are looking to transport it, you have to make sure the windows are tightly closed.
But to continue, our experience with the entire voyage was a breeze. The Lada took about 3 weeks to get transported from the port of Bremerhaven to the one in Baltimore. There were no problems (e.g. scratches or other damage) and we were extremely pleased with the entire trip.
And a few stops in the States
However, the most interesting thing about importing a car to the States is not the journey itself. If you want to buy yourself a car from overseas, there are strict rules and regulations that need to be addressed. Well, unless the car is older than 25 years! While it is almost impossible to import new cars into the States, as they do not meet the regulations and standards here, older cars get a pass. You can learn more about that at the US Customs and Border Protection website.
So since the Lada is obviously older than 25, we managed to import it without trouble. And from Baltimore, it went to a yard in Maryland for a couple of days. Then it was shipped to us in Chicago, where it spent a good few months. We showed it around, drawing interested looks and we had our friends see it as well.
After all this, the time came for us to sell the great car to a Lada enthusiast from Salem, Oregon. Thus he got himself a 40-year-old USSR vehicle that traveled from Bulgaria all the way to Oregon. We congratulate him on this new addition to his collection and commend him for preserving such pieces of history.
If you too want to get yourself a vehicle from across the globe, we from Corsia Logistics can give you a hand with the entire process. Reach out to us to learn more about the international car shipping process!