Is the humble Lada now a classic car?

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Media captionThe Lada owner who'd turn down a Ferrari

The classic car speeds through the English countryside, a lovingly-maintained example of motoring heritage.

It rounds a left-hand bend, negotiates a tight right corner, and gracefully dips out of view, a petrol-fuelled gazelle.

This is a collectable automobile that has seen its value soar in recent years. Proud owner Ed Hughes is a very happy man.

Yet the 45-year-old's set of wheels isn't what most people would imagine when they think of a classic car. It isn't a vintage Ferrari, Lamborghini or Jaguar, for example.

Instead, it's a 1994 Lada Riva, the boxy, four-door Russian runabout that regularly features in "worst cars of all time" lists.

Mr Hughes' example has a 1.5 litre engine, 80,000 miles on the clock, and a top speed of 95mph (153 km/h). And he loves Ladas so much that he owns five of them.

Image caption Ed Hughes owns a collection of "Eastern European motoring delicacies"

While some might scoff at the suggestion that a Lada Riva is a classic car, it does in fact meet the generally agreed criteria - it is an old car that is no longer in production, and there is enough interest in the vehicle for it now to be collectable rather than scrapped.

And like any classic car worth its salt, there is money to be made, although not Ferrari-style tens of millions. Mr Hughes bought his red Riva 14 years ago for £50. It's now worth £2,000.

As the global classic car industry continues to grow strongly, an increasing number of previously unheralded cars are now being avidly collected. But why the Lada Riva?

'Fashion statement'

Mr Hughes, who gave up a career in teaching to write full-time for Practical Classics magazine, admits that Ladas were "deeply unfashionable" for years. But as his father had owned a few of the Soviet cars when he was growing up, Mr Hughes says "he'd always liked them".

So in the late 1990s he started buying Ladas, including the Riva, which was available in the UK from 1983 to 1997.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption When most people think of classic cars, they imagine Ferraris not Ladas

"As happens with old cars, people were throwing them away as their value decreased, and I started rescuing some of the nicer models," says Mr Hughes.

"What they lack in fit and finish they make up for in being quite well built mechanically."

Mr Hughes says there are two main reasons for the big rise in the value of Ladas in the UK in recent years.

"Firstly, a new generation of people in their 20s and 30s like the car's shape - there is nothing like it on the road. They've now become a fashion statement."

Image caption Dave Richards says it is vital to seek help before buying a classic car

Secondly, they are being snapped up to be exported back to Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

Mr Hughes explains: "There's a small but avid market for Ladas in Eastern Europe, specifically for nice right-hand drive models made for export to Britain.

"Hungarians go berserk for them [in particular] because they think it's utterly amazing they were built for sale to the 'capitalist West' as it were."

In addition to his five Ladas, Mr Hughes' collection of "Eastern European motoring delicacies" includes three Wartburgs and a Trabant from former East Germany; a Moskvich from Russia; and a Zaporozhets and a Tavria from Ukraine. He also has "a half-share" in a Izh Oda, also from Russia.

Mr Hughes says he wouldn't swap his collection for a Ferrari, because he argues that anyone with a "big enough chequebook" can pick up an old example of the Italian sports car, while it "requires a bit more skill, care, and so on, to own a fleet of motoring's less-loved specimens".

'Limited supply'

Motoring journalist Dave Richards says that the big increase in the number of formerly "prosaic" or ordinary cars now considered to be classics certainly isn't limited to former Soviet vehicles.

Instead, he says that cars such as old Ford Cortinas and Capris, the original Mini, and even the Austin Maxi, are in big demand. Plus the Citroen 2CV and the original VW Beetle.

Image caption Older VW Beetles have long been coveted

"Many of these cars are practically extinct now, you hardly ever see them on the road, but there is a real demand for those that are still out there... this limited supply means that prices are being driven ever upwards," says Mr Richards, who is also co-owner of car restoration business Project Shop, based near the Oxfordshire town of Bicester.

The company makes a good living restoring classic cars to their former glory.

At the UK branch of US car giant Ford, it celebrates its old cars in a quiet corner of its factory in Dagenham, east London.

Its Ford Heritage Collection is an Aladdin's Cave of more than 100 Ford cars from the past 80-plus years.

The jewel in the crown is a Ford Escort 1850GT, which won the first London-to-Mexico rally in 1970.

Ivan Bartholomeusz, who helps to look after the collection, estimates that this car is worth at least £500,000.

Yet the museum of cars is also home to Ford Fiestas from the 1990s.

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Image caption Ford Capris are now much in demand

Mr Bartholomeusz says that the best Ford Cortinas made in the first half of the 1970s can now sell for £18,000, but back in the 1980s were worth as little as £100.

However, Mr Richards cautions that there is still some risk to buying a classic car, be it a Lada, Ford or Ferrari.

"Don't trust your own judgement," he says. "Instead, elicit the help of a car club who might know the vehicle in question, or take someone from that club with you to look at that car.

"This is better than saddling yourself with a car that could cost you a packet."

Of course, owning a classic car isn't just about money; some people do it for the sheer fun.

Bronwyn Burrell was 25 when she took part in the same 1970 London-to-Mexico rally as the feted Escort, co-piloting an Austin Maxi.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bronwyn Burrell, pictured here in 1964, took up motorsport in the 1960s

After a 47-year hiatus she's now taking the very same Maxi racing again, and is due to take part in the London-to-Lisbon classic car rally later this month.

Ms Burrell says: "It's such good fun, a really exhilarating drive. It's just like I'm 25 again, reliving my youth.

"I wouldn't sell the Maxi unless I had to. As far as I'm concerned she's priceless."

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