James May's Cars of the People (2014) s01e01 Episode Script

Episode 1

1 In the early days of the car, it was believed that the spread of this new motoring fad would be limited by our ability to train chauffeurs and supply leather for the upholstery.
Only the rich would have cars.
The rest of us just walked on.
But we, the shuffling masses, had seen the cars.
And we saw that they were good.
This is the story of how motoring came to the masses how dictatorships and democracies alike pursued the dream of cars for all .
.
of red herrings, seen here in green, and automotive cul-de-sacs, of shattered dreams and the fall of the mighty.
This is how we fell in love with our wheels.
Also, this happens.
'This week, totalitarian transport - 'the people's cars of the state 'and how some were more equal than others.
' Ow! 'But first, it's time to slay a sacred cow.
' The term "people's car" is a very emotive one amongst car historians, and most of them would tell you that it all started with this, the Ford Model T.
But then again, wasn't it Henry Ford who said, "History is more or less bunk"? And I agree with him.
Adolf Hitler was not an engineer.
He was more of a wildlife enthusiast.
"You only have to look at nature," he is alleged to have said, "to see what streamlining is.
" Herr Hitler sagte, mein Auto sollte wie ein Kafer aussehen.
Mr Hitler said, my car should look like a beetle.
For me, the Beetle is where the true story of the people's car begins, and because it was a social initiative, not a business one.
Today, the Beetle is the world's most recognisable car.
Over 21 million were made, and it's the only car to have its own Hollywood movie franchise.
But the Love Bug has a dark side.
The Beetle's beginnings were mired in scandal, deceit, theft and, let's not beat about the bush here, crimes against humanity.
And like no other car in history, the Beetle played a unique political role in increasing a dictator's control over the lives of his people.
To begin with, the Beetle wasn't even called a Volkswagen.
It was called the Kraft durch Freude Wagen - the strength through joy car.
Kraft durch Freude was Hitler's ministry of family leisure activities.
It was created to promote the joys of living under a Nazi regime.
The KdF operated on a massive scale.
It built Titanic-sized cruise liners .
.
vast holiday complexes, and laid on free trips for the honest German family.
There were even nationwide keep-fit clubs.
A little bit of morning exercise with just a subtle hint of bunting.
I don't want a holiday in the sun Hitler thought there should be a car as well.
That would bring the state right into the heart of everyday family life.
The man entrusted with its design, legendary engineer Dr Ferdinand Porsche.
He's the one with the tache.
The KdF car would be built in a vast new factory - the Volkswagenwerk in Saxony, and should, above all, be affordable for the average German worker.
And this is what he came up with - the original Kraft durch Freude Wagen.
And when I say original, I mean very original.
This is the oldest running Beetle in the world.
It's prototype number six, and it was built by Dr Porsche in his Stuttgart workshop so strictly speaking, since the Volkswagen factory hadn't been finished yet, this is a Porsche.
When you look at an original prototype like this, you can see exactly what Hitler was on about.
It should look like a beetle and it does, it does look like a beetle.
Operate the semaphore indicators.
Now, obviously, it isn't fast, it is actually quite noisy, the steering is a bit wayward, if somebody comes past in an Audi at 150, I definitely feel it.
But, at the time, the KdF-Wagen was quite something, especially if you'd never been in a car.
The hard-up German public were utterly seduced by the promise of owning their very own car.
After all, the Beetle was good enough for the party bosses, who, predictably, got the first ones.
This actual KdF-Wagen I'm driving went on to be the personal car of Dr Robert Ley who was head of the Kraft durch Freude movement.
And, in essence, he was the minister for fun.
Robert Ley was one of Hitler's earliest supporters and his KdF was instrumental in keeping the German worker sweet with the Nazi regime.
But, when he was not running his vast empire of cruise liners and holiday camps, he was involved in camps of a very different kind.
His slave labour activities resulted in the deaths of thousands.
He was going to be tried for war crimes along with the rest of them, but he managed to hang himself in his cell before Albert Pierrepoint could do the job for him.
This is genuinely disturbing.
I've driven a lot of strange cars but I've never been in one that's a genuine instrument of evil.
Apart from the G-Wiz.
I'd just like to make it clear I'm very interested in his car, but I don't share any political views with Dr Robert Ley.
And the reason I can't help but like the car is because it's beautifully well thought out.
The engine, as we know from that joke about the nun who thought hers had been stolen - is in the back.
That means that all the noise and all the fumes it produces are left behind.
And, because there was no engine in the front, the nose could be rounded off.
The whole car approached the ideal streamlined half of a teardrop shape, and streamlining was all the rage in the 1930s.
But the KdF-Wagen wasn't designed to be occupied by a solitary German officer.
THEY SING Much better.
This is what Hitler built his Beetle for - the long-haul Nazi family holiday.
THEY ALL SING It wasn't just the car itself, but the entire lifestyle around it that Hitler and the KdF envisaged.
The Aryan family would have as many children as possible so the car would be suited to a family of five.
They would drive in comfort at 100kmh along the Autobahn for four hours between stops until they reached one of the pre-determined KdF resorts.
What could be better? The holiday atmosphere began as soon as you climbed aboard.
This is Prora, a 20,000-bed holiday camp on the Baltic island of Rugen.
The Nazis got the idea from Butlins .
.
including the communal showers.
By putting away a few pfennigs a week, you could stay in your well-appointed KdF seaside apartment equipped with your very own KdF radio.
HITLER SPEECH PLAYS ON RADIO And by putting away a little more, you too could arrive there in Darth Vader's helmet.
Stylish, affordable, totalitarian.
The car cost 990 Reichsmarks.
The typical working German family earned around 32 marks a week.
So, the rule was - Funf Mark die woche musst du sparen, willst Du im eigenen Wagen fahren.
"Five marks a week must you put aside, "if in your own car you wish to ride.
" So, savers bought these five marks stamps and stuck them in this Sparkarte, a savings card.
When the card was full, you could have your car.
But if you defaulted on just one of these weekly payments, the whole thing was forfeit.
But, really, five marks a week was easy.
Even children could contribute to the family car with one of these KdF-Wagen savings tins.
Look at this thing.
It is rather beautiful, isn't it? The savings plan and the lavish marketing driving it proved irresistible.
By 1938, when the giant Volkswagen factory finally came on line, millions of Germans were dutifully filling the KdF coffers and the Nazis had a hit on their hands.
The whole scheme was rather brilliant.
A car, a radio, a holiday.
What innocent German citizen, remembering all the hyper-inflation of the 1920s, wouldn't have bought into it? I'd have bought into it.
There was only one tiny problem.
The whole Beetle savings scheme was a giant con trick.
Hitler was secretly saving up for something else entirely.
The war changed everything.
The Prora holiday camp never opened.
If there'd been a KdF customer complaints line, it would have had a longer queue than Virgin Broadband's.
No-one received a Beetle - none of the families who'd funded that massive Volkswagenwerk factory with all their scrimping and saving.
If the Germans had actually eaten kippers, you could say they'd been stitched up like one.
The great factory became an engine room of the war effort.
The Beetle's versatile, innovative chassis was adapted to create two German war vehicles - the rugged all-terrain Kubelwagen and the amphibious Schwimmwagen.
But it didn't stop at vehicles.
Russian and Jewish slave labour were also forced to make Hitler's secret weapon - the V-1 flying bomb.
So, unwittingly, those honest hard-working German Volk of the mid 1930s, with their brightly coloured cash tins and their saving stamps, helped to demolish a row of houses about a mile from where I now live in London.
But, let's be positive, at least it wasn't the chip shop.
The Allies soon identified the factory as the home to Hitler's flying bomb and blew the place to bits.
And when the advancing Allied ground forces took the factory in April 1945, the Nazi dream of the people's car seemed well and truly buried.
So, when Major Ivan Hirst of the British Army arrived at the ruins of Volkswagenwerk in 1945, charged with putting a car into production for the occupying forces, the place was a bit of a mess.
But amongst the rubble, or so the story goes, he found the battered remains of an odd beetle-shaped car.
He and his German colleagues repaired it and sent it off to the Army for evaluation.
The message that came back was an order for 20,000.
The qualities that Hitler had demanded of his people's car - ruggedness, simplicity, ease of maintenance - were just what the Army wanted.
But just when the British had done the difficult bit and got the Beetle back on track, they and their American Allies made the costliest blunder in the history of car making.
The Beetle, the designs and the factory itself were offered to Western car companies as a free war reparation.
But no-one wanted to know.
The chairman of Ford said it wasn't worth a damn.
Britain's Lord Rootes also turned it down.
20 years later, the Rootes Group, his great automotive concern, would produce its own small rear-engined car in the form of the Hillman Imp, but that was liquid cooled and plagued by overheating.
In the end, only around half a million were made, around 3% of the total Beetle output.
Meanwhile, all of this, the hub of Europe's greatest and most profitable car-making business, all of this, it's all here because of the Beetle.
Epic British fail.
Eventually, unable to offer the factory as a free gift if you bought 20 litres of petrol, the Allies gave it back to the government of Saxony.
Soon, the Beetle was appearing where it was always meant to - on the driveways of German families.
Abroad, too, although now, like many of its contemporaries, it had a new name - The Volkswagen, the people's car.
But here's the real irony - it's rumoured that when Major Hirst arrived at Volkswagenwerk, he found the remains of only a few Kraft durch Freude Wagen.
And if that's true, I'm forced to conclude that had the Allied bombing campaign had been just a little bit more thorough, the second half of the 20th century would have been spared the shameless re-emergence of Hitler's flatulent people's car.
And more to the point, we might have been spared one of the most annoying counter-cultural movements in history.
But sadly not.
Listen to what the flower people say And that's why I've never really liked the Beetle.
It's not the car, it's the baggage.
It is, tragically, impossible to separate the gormless face of the VW Beetle from a lot of soppy hippy nonsense.
Quite how the Beetle came to be the symbol of the flower people is a mystery, but it was in blissed-out California that this fascist fugitive created a brand-new, loved-up identity.
Flower people, walk on by Did none of these people ever stop to think where this car had come from? Nope.
The ex-Nazi party runabout was cool.
And that's all that mattered.
But the Beetle couldn't hide its KdF past entirely.
The hippies may have been responsible for many questionable things like flower power, Woodstock, The Incredible String Band, sit-ins, wigwams, the acceptance of yoghurt and all the rest of it, but they were also the innocent victims of a dubious 1930s German practice that followed the Beetle around like a bad smell.
Nudism was something our old mates from Kraft durch Freude were very keen on indeed, although we don't know exactly why.
But it's clear that the Beetle helped this provocative pastime spread to West Coast America.
This is '50s America, a simpler time, when the height of family entertainment was the car door mechanism of a Chevrolet.
But at around the time the Beetle scuttled onto Yankee shores the country became a free-love infested, swinging hotbed of carefree psychedelic exhibitionism.
And, no, I don't know why she's chasing a heron.
But everywhere one of these vicious outbreaks of nudity occurred, you were sure to spot a lurking Volkswagen.
It even looks a bit like a buttock.
Part of my problem with the Beetle apart from all the Nazi baggage, obviously, is that, rather like the hippies themselves, it's a bit falsely humble.
It's perceived as being cute so it comes across as a sort of smug, ironic apology on the part of its owner.
But, actually, it isn't cute and it definitely isn't ironic.
This shape, the engine, the chassis - they were the manifestations of some very radical engineering thinking of the 1930s.
But it's that adaptable chassis that's allowed me to find in all this a small sunlit upland.
Or, rather, sand dune.
I used to say you weren't a proper car enthusiast if you hadn't owned a Mini, but now I think that's actually a beach buggy.
This is brilliant, cos it turns any slightly dreary English seaside into a bit of California.
And round we go.
Yes, please.
Oh, sorry! I think that might have been Edinburgh.
The original beach buggy was built in 1963 by a bloke called Bruce Meyers and it was actually a shortened Beetle chassis, engine, suspension and then just a bolt-on fibreglass body.
This Beetle-based buggy is the GP2 - the British version of Meyer's Californian marvel.
It weighs a mere 600kg.
That means its 1600cc twin port Beetle engine can kick a lot of sand in a wimp's face.
Famous beach buggy advocates include Elvis Presley, proving it's OK to drive one even if you're a slightly bloated, middle-aged family entertainer.
HE LAUGHS It's absolutely fabulous.
There isn't an easier car in the world to slide around.
It's weird, isn't it, to think that what we're talking about here is Hitler's vision of a car for his people that would run on a dead straight motorway from Berlin to Moscow and it's ended up amusing surf Nazis in California.
California uber alles Thank you, Adolf Hitler! So, a happy ending worthy of Herbie himself.
But not quite.
Remember the betrayed German workers, the ones who saved up for all those little green stamps so they could have a KdF-Wagen? Well, in the 1960s, after a great deal of legal wrangling, Volkswagen eventually agreed to pay them compensation.
Or at least, they did if they were West Germans.
If you'd ended up in East Germany, you were scheisse out of luck.
In 1945, 16 million defeated Germans staggered from their flattened homes to find themselves once again under a dictatorship, and the communists weren't about to compensate anyone for the great Nazi rip-off.
But no matter.
You simply had to save up for another ten years or so and you could have one of these.
Now, you don't need me to tell you that this is a Trabant.
A Trabi.
And, hang on, some of you are saying, aren't Trabants supposed to be light blue? Yes, a lot of them were, but it was also available in white and in this baby diarrhoea brown.
And because this is a deluxe model, it came in two tone baby diarrhoea brown.
Now, in recent years, the Trabant has enjoyed something of a renaissance as a fashion accessory.
It's been driven "ironically", it's been used as a comedy taxi, it's been used as a state limousine by a Bulgarian foreign minister, and it's formed the basis of a number of contemporary artworks.
But, please, let's not get emotional about it, because I'm here to tell you that no amount of cheapskate commie customising could disguise the basic fact that the Trabant was a travesty.
Let's be balanced about this.
There were several good things about the Trabant.
For a start, it was very light, at 615kg, and that's always a good thing in a car.
Makes it lively.
Trabants were also exceptionally long-lived, with an average life expectancy of 28 years.
That's better than a Volvo.
The secret of the Trabant's immortality was a material that the communists were very, very proud of indeed.
If the old Tomorrow's World had been an East German production, then, somebody like Kieran Prendiville would have said, it looks like glass fibre, it feels like glass fibre, but it's made from Duroplast.
Duroplast.
It was a crude mix of waste cotton scraps and phenol resin that was shaped in moulds to give a rust-proof car that, in theory, could last for ever.
And that was the problem.
Duroplast was also toxic if burned and didn't biodegrade.
So, when your Germanic Wundercar finally gave up the ghost, you were stuck with its non-disposable corpse.
Some managed to saw their Trabis up and find new uses for them, but the majority would simply end up as overgrown eyesores blotting the landscape like the automotive undead.
Meanwhile, if you were one of the three million East Germans who had been fooled by the Trabi's advertising campaigns, with its hi-tech, scientific looking men in white jump suits, everyday life with the car was a load of old pants.
It produced just 26 horsepower and took 21 seconds to reach 60mph, which, incidentally, was its official top speed.
Whatever that meant.
It also smells funny.
Terrible, in fact.
It smells like an old hospital or something.
The culprit is the ancient 600cc two-stroke engine that runs on premixed petrol and oil.
That is roughly what you'd put in a cheap '70s moped.
If you've ever owned a '70s two-stroke moped, you will know that they produce more smoke than a whole history of papal successions.
The tailpipe emissions of this car were around 30 times as bad as those from a '90s Mercedes saloon.
If ever an industrial paradigm was needed to illustrate the folly of central planning, then surely the Trabant is it.
A terrible car made out of old pants and foisted upon people who had no real choice.
For the second time in two decades, the hapless German working family had been fobbed off with a duff people's car.
The addition of brown boot carpet in 1976 was about as interesting as it got.
But it wasn't all bad.
If you were a well-connected East German with a devil-may-care side-parting, you could afford one of these.
This is a Wartburg and you're right, it doesn't look at all shabby.
But that wasn't going to last.
This shape was launched in 1956, but within a decade, it had been restyled to look like this.
Now known as the model 353.
The same basic car underneath, but with new and improved, ie, uglier, Eastern Bloc bodywork.
In its defence, the Wartburg was fitted with a one-litre engine with three cylinders, developing something like 48 horsepower.
Top speed - 80mph.
And it was made from a proper car-making material - steel.
How about that? I know it doesn't sound particularly impressive, but you have to remember, East Germany was a country where a really fabulous Christmas present was a beige cardigan MAN SPEAKS GERMAN .
.
or a deformed cuddly toy.
It's pretty terrible, really.
The engine is still a two-stroke stinker, which is why this car was known as Farty Hans.
Imagine that - the nicest car you could hope to own is called Farty Hans.
It's like the new Jaguar being known as Guffy Nigel.
But the Communist Party bosses didn't give a toot about that.
With no competition to worry about, they simply kept churning out the same model for over 25 soul-destroying years.
There was no stopping these Eastern Bloc boys .
.
except, ironically, with a wall.
Life behind the wall was supposed to be a Utopian and classless worker's paradise.
But a class division did exist and was perfectly exposed by our two commie cars.
The cheapo Trabant, the car of the oppressed versus the faster, sleeker Wartburg, the favoured car of the oppressors - the Volks Police.
The Volks Police Wartburgs had been slightly breathed upon.
They produced about seven horsepower more.
The Trabi, meanwhile, had the advantage of small size.
Keeping a low profile was key if you wanted to avoid attention from the secret division of the Volks Police, better known as the Stasi.
The Stasi liked to collect files on its citizens.
They reckon there were so many files that if you stacked them all on a shelf, it would be 180km long.
The Stasi oversaw the most invasive campaign of psychological intimidation ever conducted by a state on its own citizens.
They would break into people's houses simply to leave signs that they had been there, move the furniture around, interfere with personal effects.
They used dogs to track people who they thought would be trying to escape and to make sure the dogs had your scent, they'd go into your laundry basket and steal your pants.
They'd then keep these at HQ in a pickle jar and if you got away, give the pants to the dog and then they knew your smell.
Even driving a car made from other people's pants wouldn't help much, as the Stasi were absolutely everywhere.
By the late '80s, there was one Stasi officer for every 63 citizens, and that's not even counting all the informants.
Some people reckoned it was as high as one in five.
But the East German Government and the Stasi or the paid informers, they'd all reckoned without one thing - East Germany's humble people's car would be the means of symbolic escape.
November 1989, the East Germans have finally had enough.
It began with confusion Mass protests erupt in Berlin and thousands, accompanied by convoys of smoke-belching Trabis, flock to the wall demanding to pass to the West.
Open up, they chanted, open up.
The border guards, demoralized and overcome by the old hospital fumes of 100 Trabis, let them through, convinced that their first taste of Western culture would see them streaming right back.
I've been looking for freedom But it was no good.
Even the Hoff couldn't put them off.
# I've been looking for freedom Still the search goes on The Cold War was over.
Sanity had reasserted itself.
The cardboard comrades' car had led the charge, and Farty Hans had farted his last.
A people's car indeed.
So, the Trabi - for the first 30 years of its life, it simply plodded around East Germany in a fug of its own making, helping to cement the people's misery.
But, really, it was just waiting to make its one significant journey, this brief but glorious lunge for freedom across the bridge here, after which its usefulness was completely exhausted.
So, as a symbol of liberty, which is what a car should be, it remains very poignant.
But as a car per se, it is quite literally rubbish.
So far, the people's car has been a litany of repression and disaster.
But to show that it was possible to create a small, affordable four-seater, we need only come to sunny, capitalist Italy and try this.
This is a Fiat Cinquecento, or Fiat 500 in a less romantic Germanic language.
It was called the 500 because it had a 500cc engine.
Although, strictly speaking, the early cars had a 479cc engine, but Fiat Quattrocentosettantanove was going to be a bit of a flamboyant name, even for the Italians.
And at the time, the little Fiat 500 was the height of zippy carefree Italian cool.
The adverts of the time proudly showing how you too could drive like a maniac, traumatise by-standing cattle, and store unwanted gas bills, but, crucially, still have enough room in the back for your favourite luxury picnic hamper or an adulterous weekend getaway playing doctors and nurses.
In recent years, we've lost sight of what "small car" really means.
The Fiat 500 is absolutely chuffing piccolo.
It's just 275mm, or less than your school ruler, longer than a Smart car, but this has four seats.
It weighs just 470kg - around two-thirds of the original Mini.
It really is very, very simple.
The engine is an air-cooled two-cylinder job, mounted here in the back, same as the Beetle's was, and for similar reasons.
The earliest cars developed a widow-making 13 horsepower.
But don't worry, because this one is a bit later and has 17.
Maintenance was intended to be very simple.
In the more rural areas of Italy, corner shops would stock essential Cinquecento spares - spark plugs, belts, and what have you.
Rather in the way that these days you can buy a sat nav from Sainsbury's.
And we think of it as being incredibly cute, but Dante Giacosa did not design it to be this shape so that we would go oochy-coochy-coo, he did it this way to use as little sheet metal as possible, because in 1950s Italy, steel was expensive.
And that brings us to this fabric sunroof, which was not an extravagance, and it wasn't an option - you had to have it.
And it was there because fabric is lighter and cheaper than steel.
Avanti.
The 500 was launched in 1957 with the aim of the being the Italian people's car.
A four-wheeled version of a Vespa scooter.
And while the KdF-Wagen and the Trabi were cheap, they were, it has to be said, about as cheerful as your average Sean Penn film.
The 500was fun.
In the way that the Trabant reminded you of you and your ideology's failings, the Fiat Cinquecento seemed to confirm that a simple life could be one of unalloyed joy.
But it's in the narrow, cobbled streets of the city that this proto-Smart car really comes in to its own.
And you can see why.
I mean, this is an ancient city, this is part of the Italian renaissance.
Some of the roads are tiny.
But look, here we go, room for two.
The Fiat 500 is a potent symbol of Italian utilitarian chic, the Latin driving temperament, and creative solutions to everyday parking problems.
Stuck for a space? No matter.
Thanks to the 500, you can squeeze expertly into any gap without a care in the world.
Between 1957 and 1975, Fiat built around 3.
6 million Cinquecenti.
Not bad.
But it isn't Italy's most successful people's car, not by a long way.
That's coming up now.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
CHORAL MUSIC PLAYS Fiat's next bash at a people's car was launched, literally, in 1966.
Fiat spared no expense on the 124's arrival.
It even had those white jump-suited guys from the Trabi ad who were clearly looking for work.
Despite that, no-one could have predicted that this unassuming little car would go on to be the vehicle of choice for one of the greatest tyrannies on Earth.
Cars like this were around when I was a boy, and when I was a boy, Italian cars were famous for two things - firstly, for dissolving like a soluble aspirin as soon as it rained, secondly, for being great fun to drive.
Now, the difficulty we had in finding this mint example suggests, rather tragically, that the first of those is perfectly true.
Now let's see about the other one.
Now, this looks a bit like a car I designed when I was six, and I'm sure lots of six-year-olds still design like this - three basic boxes with some wheels added.
Indeed, one of Fiat's official histories describes this as "a rather conventional car".
But hang on a minute - beneath this depiction-of-a-car-on-a-signpost exterior, the 124 is a bit more sofisticato than you might think.
For a start, it came with a range of typically Italian fizzy four-pot engines.
This 1968 car has a 1.
2-litre developing 60 horsepower.
Now that's not a lot, I know, but what it does have it gives willingly, enthusiastically.
Underneath, there were coil springs, anti-roll bars and disc brakes.
Now that gave you very good bar room bragging rights in the 1960s, especially in a family car.
What basic Italian cars always gave - still give, in fact - is the sensation of performance without the expense and inconvenience of actually achieving it.
So you get an exciting engine, you get a nice gear change, nicely weighted pedals, nicely weighted steering .
.
a car you can sort of fling around a bit.
The 124 may be as bouncy and fun as Tigger's honeymoon night, but there is one area in which it's sadly lacking - air-con.
It's got nice big glass, it makes a nice noise, it's happy, it's hot.
I'm sweaty.
I'm literally the hottest person in the world.
MUFFLED RADIO MESSAGE Bah! But what's all this got to do with the greatest tyranny on Earth? To explain, I'm having to take the 124 back home.
I'm now driving up the ramps of Fiat's historic Lingotto car factory deep in the heart of Turin.
It opened in 1923 - an Art Deco masterpiece for manufacturing.
Sadly, now a shopping centre like so many other of these things, but one little bit of it, one very significant bit, survives pretty much as it was - the rooftop test track.
What a view! Much better than our Dunsfold test track.
On to the banking and whoo-hoo! HE LAUGHS Ho-ho! From up here, Fiat executives could survey their empire, which was, let's be frank, Italy, because Fiat was such an enormous force in Italian commerce and politics and culture.
And that empire was about to grow enormously.
Well, let me rephrase that, actually.
The Fiat 124's empire was about to grow enormously.
Over here, we have another one, apparently identical apart from the colour.
But, actually, there are something like 900 subtle changes under the skin, and one very significant change on it, which is this .
.
the badge.
It does not say "Fiat".
It shows the outline of a historic, fast-sailing boat from the River Volga, and the Russian name for one of those is Lada.
RUSSIAN NATIONAL ANTHEM PLAYS In the 1960s, the Cold War was at its most precarious, but what bothered the Soviet Union most of all was this - in the USA, there was one car for every 2.
7 people, in the Soviet Union, one for every 238.
In 1965, Americans produced 9.
3 million passenger vehicles, Russians produced under 250,000.
Something had to be done.
Now, it might seem odd that the Soviet Union looked to outside help in order to bring cars to its people.
The Soviets were already experts at producing tractors, trucks and especially tanks in truly astonishing numbers, but they didn't know much about making a typical small passenger car.
So if you were lucky enough to have one, you were unlucky enough for it to be something like a Zaporozhet.
So, approaches were made by the Soviets to the West, even, ironically, to our old friends at VW.
Nothing came of that, which was a lucky escape for Ivan.
There were flirtations with Britain as well and with France, but, finally, in 1966, the Soviet minister of automobile production signed a deal with the managing director of Fiat, that charged Fiat with building a brand-new factory, capable of producing 2,000 passenger cars a day, and the car would be a Sovietised version of the Fiat 124.
And this is the result - the AvtoVAZ factory at Tolyatti, known to everybody else in the world as the home of Lada, and it still is.
But why pick Fiat? Well, the Italian car company already had a relationship with the USSR, having supplied trucks to them in kit form 40 years earlier.
Also, the Fiat 124, it has been suggested, was the ideal car for a Communist regime, as it was predominantly functional and exhibited little in the way of pesky bourgeois decadence.
But was there something more shady at the heart of the deal? Let's not forget, there was a Cold War on.
Outside of the actual Communist nations, the biggest Communists of the 1960s were the Italians.
The notorious Red Brigade was born in the metal pressing shops of Fiat.
It quickly spread to other parts of the Italian car industry - the Pirelli tyre factory, the Magneti Marelli auto-electrics work.
And by the '70s, over in Italy, Communist Red Brigade members with jobs at Fiat were not only getting funds and support from the KGB, they were also murdering their own executives.
30 Fiat workers were jailed for terrorist offences.
There was arson in the factories, strikes, mass walkouts.
And the Agnelli family, the effective owners of Fiat, became the most guarded family in the world.
Allegedly, Gianni Agnelli carried a cyanide pill in case he was kidnapped.
Now as somebody once said, "When Fiat trembles, Italy trembles.
" So, was the deal done to keep the Soviets sweet in case Communism eventually triumphed, or even simply to placate Fiat's Communist workers even if it didn't? It's just a thought.
Anyway, in April 1970, the first car rolled off the glorious new production line, just in time for the centenary of Lenin's birth.
Nice.
And this is what those first cars looked like.
Yes, exactly like a Fiat 124, but thanks to the famously sterling condition of Russian roads, under the skin, the Lada was given a Marxist make-over to deal with these sort of mildly adverse conditions.
It had an all new engine, a blistering 1cc bigger than before.
The steel bodywork was thickened all over.
Over time, a big radiator was added, the floor was strengthened, square headlights went on, new bumpers, different wheels - this no-nonsense Communist approach extended to their Finnish advertising campaign.
ADVERT IN FINNISH Now here we are in 2013 and I'm driving something of a rarity.
It's an original stock, low mileage, under 3,000 Lada Riva.
But that shouldn't be a rarity, should it? I mean, few things in life are less rare than a Lada Riva.
It is in very good condition, by which I mean it's in quite poor condition, because that's how they were made.
This is a 1999 car, but, even so, you can tell it's an ancient design, made with very tired tooling in a very old factory, mainly because of the massive gaps everywhere, such as these ones on the radiator, round the lights, down the edge of the bonnet.
It has plain pressed steel wheels in 1999! Look at this gap here on the door - a cat could escape through that.
And let's remember that this car is a very low mileage example, it's never been touched or repaired or anything like that, so you can only assume that this orange peel effect on the paint and this nasty run down here - well, that's how it came out of the factory.
I don't think Honda were having any emergency board meetings, let's put it that way.
That said, a lot of developing countries around the world were very keen on it and so Russia began licensing and exporting Ladas to a whole slew of Third World countries, including India, Egypt, and Thatcher's Britain.
Strangely enough, in Britain, this car, the Riva, enjoyed a brief renaissance as the car of the oppressed and immobile people, because in the Thatcher era, the industrial North and parts of the Midlands were wracked by redundancies and people were very hard up.
This was the cheapest car you could buy.
This was the easiest way to stay mobile.
And briefly, this was the tenth bestselling car in Britain.
Some people risk buying a used car when they could quite easily afford a brand-new Lada.
The UK Lada ads were a cornucopia of extravagance compared with what had come before.
You either had the luxury of Cannon and Ball I thought you said "risque", Tommy, I thought you said "risque.
" .
.
or this action-packed spectacular, which presented the Lada as some kind of gravity-defying super car, perfect for a typical Sunday afternoon's African safari Each Lada is built to survive .
.
while you listen to your mix tape of the Airwolf theme song.
AIRWOLF THEME SONG PLAYS .
.
the roughest of roads.
So, in order to test that claim, I've come here - the old ZiL automobile factory .
.
275 hectares of industrial complex right in the centre of Moscow .
.
now all but abandoned.
Interestingly, they used to make those old pre-Lada Fiat kit trucks here.
It's now home to the odd rabid stray dog and the most distressed surfaces this side of Jeremy Clarkson's face.
Sorry about the weaving around - there are some quite big holes in this bit of road.
Ow! Good God! Hole! TYRES SCREECH I can see some very concerned faces in my rear-view mirror.
OVER RADIO: 'Sorry, James.
'I'll be with you in a moment.
' 'We'd barely started and the ancient Communist potholes have 'given our decadent Western crew car a flat tyre.
'This is a top of the line, modern day Range Rover.
'I think that's one-nil to the '70s levitating safari wagon.
' LADA BEEPS HORN So, while the beefed up Soviet Lada could handle anything that could be thrown at it, the same couldn't be said for the Soviet regime.
By the 1980s, everything was falling apart.
The great social experiment had yielded a result which was, "No, it doesn't really work.
Sorry.
" So, a lot of people did what any reasonable person would do under the circumstances .
.
they got drunk.
RUSSIAN FOLK SONG PLAYS Even the President decided to put the "pub" back into Soviet Republic.
HE SPEAKS RUSSIAN Back at the Togliatti factory, things weren't any better.
They actually changed the speed of the production line throughout the day.
It could go a bit faster in the afternoon TYRES RUMBLE .
.
because everyone's hangover had worn off a bit.
There was widespread theft - components were being catapulted over the perimeter fence of the factory by groups of workers building cars and supplying spares on the black market.
Pirelli Tyres brought in for the export models - they were stolen from the factory because obviously the Russians would want them.
Their tyres were terrible.
And they were taken out of the factory on an elaborate rubber boat that left via the sewers and then sailed off down the River Volga, rather like the fast pirate boat the car was named after in the first place - an irony the Russians would have surely appreciated, were they not completely Sputnik-ed.
Lada was falling apart.
Your Lada Riva was falling apart.
If you were lucky enough to have a Lada Riva, it was being gradually reduced by rust, by the potholes LADA THUDS .
.
like that, and by your neighbours nicking vital parts during the night.
Spares were very, very scarce and very, very expensive.
Fortunately, enterprising Soviets would set up guerrilla roadside repair stations with ingenious DIY solutions.
Leaky radiator, comrade? The answer is .
.
Russian mustard powder.
You pour a bit of that in, forms a very, very effective seal.
Another common problem was that the bottom of the fuel tank would be holed on the rough roads.
Well, the answer to that was a bar of Soviet soap.
You rub that against the hole, it forms a small plug, which becomes rock hard - very effective.
What else have we got? Oh, yes, here's a very good story we heard.
There was a man, an old man we've been talking to, driving in a very remote area and the return spring on his clutch pedal failed.
Not to worry, though, because he had at his disposal what the Soviets refer to simply as "rubber product number two" - here's a copy of the packaging.
You can probably guess what it is from the picture of the smoking factory at the top.
It's a condom.
"Rubber product number one" was a gas mask.
And to pay for this DIY MOT, all you needed were some luxury Western goods to trade.
Have a fish, mate.
It was the comradeship of the road.
And so, like a cockroach after a nuclear blast, the Lada just kept going as society crumbled around it.
As the Soviets kept on churning them out, Lada gained a reputation, not as a maker of people's cars, or even a robust survivor, but as a long obsolete fossil - a global punch line.
There are more specific Lada jokes, I think, than there are about any other car.
What do you call a Lada at the top of a hill? A miracle.
A Lada with the window open is a bottle bank.
A man buys a Lada and takes it back to the dealership.
"This car is useless," he says.
"It'll only get to 75 up that hill.
" "Well, that's not bad," says the dealer.
"It's useless," says the man, "I live at number 93.
" A man goes to a scrap yard.
"Have you got a hub cap for a Lada?" he asks.
"Yes," says the scrap merchant, "that sounds like a fair swap.
" Ho-ho-ho.
Laugh, possibly, but like the Beetle before it, the Lada was a survivor.
I have here an extract from an article that appeared in Financial Times in 1967 talking all about the Fiat/Soviet deal.
And it says, "Soviet planners have made it clear they do not intend "to emulate Detroit's practice of planned obsolescence, "and so the Soviet versions of the Fiat 124 may well "continue in production until the late 1970s.
" Well, I bet he wishes he'd been better informed, because the last one rolled out of this factory in 2012.
This, then, will be the legacy of the Lada - not that it was one of the oldest cars still being produced, nor that it was one of the few survivors of the collapsed Communist regime.
No, the Lada will for ever be remembered as the worldwide punch line of Christmas-cracker-level comedy crap.
It does distress me that a story that begins with the gorgeous, almost feminine, Fiat 124, is going to end with the world's most derided car - a car with a face that only a Russian's shot-putter's mother could love.
It's going to go out with a pathetic whimper.
The poor old Lada - yet another victim of state tyranny.
There's always an issue with a dictator's car.
The Beetle - it was brilliant, but the people who paid for it never actually took delivery.
The Trabi and the Wartburg - they were awful, but the people were forced to have them.
The Lada - it started off quite well, but totalitarianism slowly ruined it.
It does seem that if you actually want to mess up your motoring, you need a dictator.
But let's not forget the Lada's long journey began in a joyful flourish of Italian style.
It fell from the sun-drenched sky.
We thought it should bow out the same way.
RUSSIAN NATIONAL ANTHEM PLAYS It's what the designer, Oscar Montabone, would have wanted.
The Lada - hated by purists, mocked by the people, and disowned by Fiat.
But there's a twist - I wonder if the people signing that original deal realised it would go on for so long and I wonder if Fiat's executives ever imagined this.
Now, no-one knows for sure quite how many 124-derived cars have been built, but if we combine Fiat's original output with the Togliatti cars and all the ones built in India, Spain, Bulgaria, Turkey, Egypt and Korea, it comes to something like 20 million, which means that the largely forgotten Fiat 124 is, in fact, the second bestselling car in history.
MUSIC PLAYS: "Brindisi" from La Traviata