Behind the Wheel: From Russia, with love

 West Bloomfield resident Julian Azariah was born in the former Soviet Union, and he wanted a car that connected him to his childhood. Last year, he purchased his 1985 Lada VAZ-2101 and had it shipped from Moscow to the United States. The Lada was an affordable, family-oriented car that made transportation more accessible in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

West Bloomfield resident Julian Azariah was born in the former Soviet Union, and he wanted a car that connected him to his childhood. Last year, he purchased his 1985 Lada VAZ-2101 and had it shipped from Moscow to the United States. The Lada was an affordable, family-oriented car that made transportation more accessible in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

Photos by Donna Agusti


By: Jennifer Sigouin | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 27, 2017

Plenty of classic car collectors seek out nostalgic vehicles from their childhoods, but not many go to the lengths that Julian Azariah did to purchase one. 

Azariah, of West Bloomfield, was born in the former Soviet Union in 1974. After moving to the U.S. in 1989 and working at Ford Motor Co., his interest in cars grew, but he didn’t have a personal connection to the classic American cars that appeal to the typical car buff. Instead, he wanted a car from his own past, which inspired him to purchase his 1985 Lada VAZ-2101, manufactured in Russia by the VAZ auto company. 

“I like the utilitarian feel of the whole car,” he said. “There’s no frills with this car. You just get in and want to drive it. … I just like how basic it is.”

The vehicle signified the first of its kind, he said, noting that it was based on the Fiat. The Soviet Union, he explained, licensed the design in the early 1970s and started making its own version, except with additional sturdiness for Soviet winters. It was an affordable, family-oriented car designed to be “a vehicle for the masses.”

“It really changed the mobility in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and beyond,” he said. 

The cars were never sold in the United States, making Azariah’s search more difficult. He contacted a friend in St. Petersburg, Russia, who was instrumental in helping him track down a Lada in Moscow. The owner, he said, was willing to sell the Lada and “give it a new life in the United States,” so Azariah’s friend flew to Moscow, inspected the car and then drove it to St. Petersburg. From there, it was shipped to the U.S. 

The car arrived at the Port of Baltimore in July 2016. Azariah rented a car, and he and his son went to the dock to pick it up, load it onto a trailer and drive it back to Michigan.

“Just seeing the car for the first time at the port was quite an experience,” he said, adding that he felt like he was “seeing a dream realized.”

Getting the Lada home to metro Detroit was just the beginning. Next came the process of getting the vehicle’s title, registration, plates and insurance — and all documentation had to be translated from Russian. Because very few Ladas exist in the U.S., the secretary of state branch even had to create a new vehicle listing in its system. 

Then there was mechanical work to attend to, as the Lada had been damaged in shipping and wouldn’t start. Azariah wanted to learn how to fix it himself, so he did research and watched YouTube videos on the car’s mechanics. Ten months later, it was ready to drive. 

“In July, I was able to get the car started and to get on the road,” he said. “It was just an exhilarating experience for me.”

Now, Azariah enjoys taking the car to local events and sharing his story. He said that people are “in awe to see a Lada in the United States,” and they love the simple design. 

“It’s not a sexy car,” he said. “It’s just a box on wheels, but people like that.”

He noted that his Lada is truly one of a kind, and his goal is to maintain it for a long time. 

“I feel like I’m giving this car a second chance,” he said.


Do you own a vehicle that has an interesting history or a special meaning to you? Contact Staff Writer Jennifer Sigouin at jsigouin@candgnews.com, and you could be featured in an upcoming edition of Behind the Wheel.