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Why young Russians enjoy racing with faulty, Cold War-era cars

On the streets of Moscow, young Russians are participating in a highly symbolic race: they’re scooping up Ladas, an old-school emblem of the Cold War era, and racing them against fancier sports cars. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Nick Schifrin talks to them about the nostalgia and patriotism behind the races.

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    On the mean streets of Moscow, there's a geopolitical battle royale. Proud Russia in the aqua Lada. Evil West in the grey and blue BMW. Winner gets a plastic trophy. Welcome to Moscow drift. Two laps around a figure-8 race track. Must screech tires and drift. Here's how it works. You race around a corner and intentionally oversteer. The back tires lose traction and the car slides, or drifts around the corner. That's a Lada Riva, and its driver, as the saying goes, lives his life a-quarter mile at a time.


    It's like everywhere else. Some do sports. Others party. Everyone has a hobby. Mine is drifting.


    20-year-old Vasiliy Muravlev is a mechanic with a passion for drifting. He's been racing since he was 16 and suped up his own Riva.


    I had a car, started preparing it for this, tried it, and saw I was good at it. And I enjoy it.


    For these 20-something drivers, this is like racing time machines. Most of the cars are older than they are. But for many here, Ladas bring out their pride in their wheels and country. Because Ladas stand for Russia. Maksim Grishin, in the blue hood, works at the treasury department.


    We've just seen a guy in a simple carburetor Lada with a few parts stripped to decrease the weight, and it drove better than imported cars.


    Stanislav Tarasov switched from Toyotas to Ladas.


    I think the boys are expressing their patriotism. And another thing, domestic cars are more accessible. The more you drive, the better you get.


    Ladas are old school emblems of the Cold War. Across the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, they were the everyman car. They were based on a FIAT design, made more sturdy for cold Russian winters, and cheaper for thin Russian wallets. At one point, the main plant was so busy, it produced a Lada every 23 seconds. Soviet commercials portrayed them as family friendly and unquestionably solid. Advertisements for the four wheel drive Niva model included the Soviet national anthem and sent a Lada into space. Ladas are still in production, and some sport new designs. At the track, most don't look like much. But they're still sturdy and race-worthy, even if some young Russians don't see the Soviet past with nostalgia.


    Maybe there is some patriotism because our cars are so bad, they're not valued anywhere, driving them is a sort of challenge to the world that we can drive like the Japanese even if we drive such trash.


    These are horrible cars. They break all the time. There are no high-quality parts. But they're cheap.


    Dima Nekrasov says he's constantly afraid his Lada will break down.


    Very afraid. It falls apart while I'm driving, and I have to put it back together often.


    On YouTube, you can find dozens of videos of Lada racing gone bad. Apparently, the tires have a tendency to fall off, mid-drift. But it's not only the little guy whose Ladas fail. In 2011, then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited the Lada Factory and was shown the new Lada Granta. It was billed as Europe's most inexpensive car. It took Putin four attempts to start the engine. He had more luck in 2010 with the Lada Kalina, driving it on a 1300-mile road trip. Putin said the car looks like a chicken but flies like a swallow. Putin is believed to still own his customized Lada Niva. He showed it off in 2009. The camouflage paint was local, but he'd later admit the tires were American and the engine, German. Which brings us back to Lada racer Vasiliy Muravlev.


    "Today, it looks like we've got a Lada festival, Lada versus everyone. Vasya Muravlev, first place, well done."


    It turns out, he won the day, and that promised plastic trophy. But he told us if he had the money, he'd buy a BMW.

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