Late last July we packed our bags into a small Fiat and headed for a tour of Eastern Europe. Our route took us through the Baltics and Poland, but the main attractions for us were Ukraine and Romania, for their mountain roads, good beer and cooking and especially the weird cars.
I’ve enjoyed car spotting posts on various car sites and social media as long as I can remember, so it feels like it’s only my duty to try and document the automotive oddities either still doing daily driver duty or spending their retirement years hidden in a bush somewhere by the side of the road. Luckily, our drive through these countries proved them to be a veritable treasure trove of strange cars, or regular cars in strange places.
After we woke up on our first day in in the city of Lviv, western Ukraine, it was time to find some breakfast. A stroll in a new city is fantastic for me as it feels like an unopened book, full of unexpected weirdness just waiting for me to find out about it. And what better to start that off than a really badly beaten Alfa Romeo 75, missing large parts of its front end and its hood the wrong colour.
I bet there’s a story here, how an Alfa like this ended up in Ukraine and how it got into this condition, but it might take as long to piece the story together as it takes to fix the car.
Old, rear-engined Skodas are all kinds of neat and I was happy to spot at least one on this trip. The ochre paint job on this one seemed to fit it well.
There are some Chinese-built cars on the roads of Ukraine, and it might be the westernmost country where you could spot a Chery Amulet.
Amulets use the bodyshell of the first generation Seat Toledo, but the engine is the Ford CVH four-cylinder found in Escorts and Focuses. They seemed to be surprisingly common, too. I think Blake Z. Rong told me he learned to drive in one of these. I shot this clean one in front of a coffee roastery in Lviv.
The ZAZ Tavria is a weird little hatch that perhaps resembles an ‘80s Mitsubishi or Daihatsu, but it’s all Soviet. These things were made in Ukraine, and this one has been modified a little. The wheels are original, however, and those really are some enormous hubs.
The AZLK-2141 or Moskvich Aleko is certainly one of the cars I set out to find on this trip, and I was really happy to spot this one as they weren’t exactly a common sight any more.
A lot of the dimensions and measurements on the Aleko match the late-1970s Chrysler Alpine / Talbot 1307, but nothing is interchangeable.
Another car I definitely wanted to spot on the trip was a Volga, and out of the ones I saw I picked this GAZ-31105 to represent them. It’s a modernised version of the original GAZ-24 dating back to the late ‘60s - early ‘70s, but this one can be as new as a 2004. We saw this 31105 near the Tsipa brewery in Kvasy, not far from the Romanian border. It’s worth visiting if you’re ever in the region.
Here’s one of the more surprising sights of our trip. I didn’t expect to see an Iranian-made IKCO Samand in Ukraine, but here it is. These cars are heavily based on the Peugeot 405 running gear, as those are also made in Iran. I don’t think the Samand was sold in many countries other than Iran, but this is actually one of two Samands I saw in Ukraine.
There are a lot of right-hand-drive Japanese second-hand cars on Russian roads, but I was also able to see some in Ukraine. This turbocharged ‘80s Mitsubishi Galant E15 was a surprise, as it’s weathered the years fairly well despite a couple of bumps and bruises. The “ELECTRO JET” sticker probably means something noteworthy on these.
Nivas usually rule, and this one was no exception. The bolted on arch extensions, the big wheels and offroad tires, the improvised bumper and winch, the DIY snorkel - there’s so much to appreciate here.
If I’m being perfectly honest with you, I didn’t expect to see a Mercury Topaz in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. But after seeing so many slightly strange cars among all the Skodas and Dacias, the Topaz seemed to make sense in a really off-beat way.
Same goes for this really quite tired looking Citroën BX, sitting just a few meters from the Tempo. When these cars were new, you would have been hard pressed to see them almost next to each other anywhere in the world. But some 35 years on, here they were in southern Ukraine. And so was I.