Mikko Holopainen releases the clutch and slams his foot to the floor, sending his orange car’s tires spinning on an icy track.
Unlike compatriots Kimi Räikkönen and Tommi Mäkinen known for impressive race and rally car driving on international circuits, this 28-year-old Finn is just happy to show friends that his vintage Soviet-made Lada still has power.
The box-shaped Lada, the Finnish everyman’s car of the 1970s, is enjoying a cult revival in the country.
Holopainen and dozens of other aficionados gathered this weekend in Kangasala, some 160 km northwest of Helsinki, to race, admire each other’s Ladas and share a nostalgia for simpler days.
The Lada was once the most popular car in Finland because of its low price and consistently appeared in the top 10 list of new car registrations between 1972 and 1996.
Lada enthusiasts also swear the cars are still great in cold weather, an asset for a car whose mid-century looks were modelled on the Fiat 124.
“I think it looks appealing,” Holopainen said, while his partner Johanna Pasanen showed off her pink and black model with plastic eyelashes fixed to its headlights. “And it starts in all weather conditions.”
Sales dropped off after a peak in 1988 as Finland’s economy turned increasingly westward following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Imports ended last year, and the once-ubiquitous cars are now rarely seen on Finnish streets.
Juha Laaksonen said his favourite Lada models were those with round headlights, including his cherished green 1985 Lada Combi station wagon.
He estimated it would fetch more than €2,000 ($2,600), but said his love for the car was about more than money or rational thinking.
“There is no sensible reason for this hobby. They burn a lot of petrol, driving posture is bad,” Laaksonen said. “Lada is a part of Finland’s motoring history. They were cheap and durable cars... and I would like people to remember them.”
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