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05 Feb 2014
Rob Griffin Rob Griffin

The best & worst East European cars


From Lada to Skoda, motoring journalist Rob Griffin looks at some of the best and worst cars to come out of Eastern Europe.

The best and worst of the Eastern European cars

Cars built in Eastern Europe had the reputation for being basic with a capital B, devoid of anything even remotely resembling a creature comfort.

However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Not only were many of them built to withstand tough conditions, they also cost a lot less than their western equivalents.

The best East European cars ever made: Skoda Favorit

Skoda Favorit

The Czechoslovakian manufacturer was the butt of many jokes in the 1980s and for good reason as the cars it produced were pretty woeful.

Then it came up with the Skoda Favorit and suddenly everyone saw it in a new light.

In particular, it was the first Skoda to have a transverse front engine, which brought it up to contemporary standards of handling.

"It was a revolution," says Giles Chapman, author of Cars We Loved In The 1970s.

"For years it had produced these terrible cars and then came up with something that was pretty competitive with western cars.

"It was never going to get you a girlfriend but it wasn’t bad."

The best East European cars ever made: Trabant


The dear old Trabant is the pantomime villain of the automotive world – and even I have labelled it one of the worst cars to emerge from Germany.

However, on reflection, I think that was pretty harsh because it served a purpose very well for many years.

It was put together on a shoestring – the body was made out of compressed cotton waste pressed into shape with resin, don’t forget – and had a pretty grim two stroke engine.

However, the Trabant continued to shuffle off the production line for almost 30 years so it must have been doing something right.

The best East European cars ever made: Lada Riva

Lada riva

What an amazing little car the Lada Riva has been.

Based on the Fiat 124, it was introduced in the late 1970s and was still being produced in Russia up to a couple of years ago.

In fact, a version of it is still being made in Egypt today.

Fans of the durable machine point out that it was very easy to work on and very reliable.

The fact that it also had four doors made it practical for those with families and the budget price put it well within their reach.

The worst East European cars ever made: Polski Fiat 125 P

Polski Fiat 125

Where do we start? The Polski Fiat 125 P was a basic version of the Fiat 125 made under licence by the Polish manufacturer FSO between the late 1960s and the very early 1990s.

"The problem is the deal required them to use all the mechanical bits from the previous model – the Fiat 1500," points out Chapman.

"It actually had disc brakes but overall it was a dreadful car because it was built with all the redundant old rubbish."

The worst East European cars ever made: Wartburg Knight

Wartburg Knight

There simply isn’t anything to love about this car – aside from the price perhaps.

Manufactured in East Germany for about two decades from the late 1960s, the Wartburg Knight prided itself on being affordable for those with tight budgets that wanted a new car.

Marketed as a medium-sized family car, it was the epitome of basic, the build quality was suspect, and it certainly wasn’t blessed in the looks department.

Okay, it got people from A to B, but you can say the same thing about a horse and cart.

The worst East European cars ever made: Skoda Estelle

Skoda Estelle

This one harks back to the bad old days of Skoda.

Introduced back in the mid-1970s, the Estelle got panned by consumer groups who claimed its rear weight bias made it dangerous in the wet.

"If you drove it like a road tester on Autocar magazine you’d end up in a hedge but there was very little evidence that most owners drove them like loonies," says Chapman.

"Okay, it was a bit shoddy but it was cheaper than its rivals."


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