What do you call a Lada at the top of a hill? A miracle! What is the use of the heated rear window on a Lada? To keep your hands warm as you are push it! How do you double a Lada's value? Fill it with fuel!

They are jokes that have helped shape a generation over the last decade, still producing a chuckle even today, despite the fact that the Russian manufacturer has not graced our shores with its presence for well over a decade.

Indeed, when children cannot point out a Lada in a car park yet still have a clear grasp of their reputation once their name is uttered, it is fair to say that you have an image problem - a big one!

However, it is very possible that the joke could soon be on us as Lada are making a comeback onto the global stage by surprisingly submitting an entry to compete in the World Touring Car Championship. On top of that, there is a sense of quiet confidence by those in the know as well that this will not be the disaster many are forecasting.

Far from being the financially starved relic of the former Soviet Union, Lada are far better positioned than many European manufacturers, having monopolised the Russian market, as well as maintained a foothold in the burgeoning Eastern Europe.

Now is the turn of Western Europe which, with the distant help of General Motors, could see Lada back on our roads quicker than you may care to believe with cars that have indeed taken an upturn in quality the past couple of years.

The WTCC fits perfectly with this strategy - a global showcase for a new Lada and their parent company AutoVaz. This is the chance for the manufacturer to demand that they be taken seriously and to show the world that they are no longer a joke.

While the idea of a Lada tussling with a BMW or an Alfa Romeo may take a significant amount of imagination, Lada have genuine confidence that they will have the ability to embarrass their more established and respected rivals.

Their expectations make for compelling reading - "It is probably not worth kidding ourselves that we will win immediately. But nonetheless, we have a realistic chance, even a very good chance (of winning)," Alexander Nikonenko, AutoVaz's head of sports competition told Reuters.

Behind the PR talk though, there is a surprising amount of influence behind Lada's desire to become a sporting heavyweight, with interest going all the way to the top.

A recent influx of foreign manufacturers like Hyundai and Nissan is threatening Lada's position as the best selling brand in their home country and has prompted President Vladimir Putin to promote national pride. Infamous Russian trademark Lada is key to that restructuring.

Furthermore, a recent deal with the country's second largest bank has injected a mammoth $5 billion into the Lada cash flow, indicating just how serious they are at enhancing their reputation within the next few years.

It remains an ambitious move though and there are a number of issues that need to be resolved before Lada make it onto the WTCC grid, reportedly before the end of the season.

Firstly, beyond national class rallying and touring cars in the former Soviet Bloc, Lada have yet to make an impact on the world of motorsport, while the team that will be overseeing the project, MTEC Sport, is also a novice when compared to the likes of AutoDelta, Schnitzer and Ray Mallock Ltd that currently lead the way in the WTCC.

No drivers have yet to be announced either and while an American driver has been mooted to enhance marketing potential, no names have yet filled the frame.

On top of that the car they are to use this year, the 21106 saloon, is not in its first flush of youth. In fact, it can trace its roots back to a car launched back in 1994. Indeed, a prototype launched at the Moscow Motorshow last year looked the part with its obligatory spoilers, fins and bulges but its boxy styling is a far cry from the sleek design of the SEAT Leon or BMW 3-Series - in short it looks terribly dated and this has done nothing to silence the critics that continue to doubt their sincerity.

Then again, the MG ZS is nearing a decade old and can still hold its head high in the British Touring Car Championship and at least the 21106 is due to make way for its more modern replacement, something West Surrey Racing certainly cannot expect in the British series following the collapse of the MG Rover group. Expected to be named Priora, it is with this car that Lada hope will spearhead their charge onto the world stage and make them desirable.

However, whatever Lada say, their intentions bear striking similarities to the no-show from Brilliance, the Chinese manufacturer having made the trip to Monaco when the WTCC was launched at the beginning of 2005 and then failing to appear again.

Another brand looking to establish themselves to a broader market, the project was continuously delayed from a second round appearance to a mid-season appearance and finally to a 2006 entry. Of course, no such car emerged at the opening round in Monza and many believe the concept, that was to be led by John Batchelor and reportedly had Anthony Reid interested in a drive, has been canned.

Furthermore, Lada have yet to hit the track either and the project has been delayed repeatedly but while there are disturbing comparisons that can be made with Brilliance, the Russian manufacturer has made continuous claims that they are the genuine article.

Indeed, a manufacturer transforming themselves from a joke to a class leader is nothing new in the car industry, with the likes of Skoda and SEAT making a name in motorsport once they had significant backing behind them, something which Lada is looking to repeat.

After all, those 'classic' Skoda jokes just aren't funny any more and if Lada has its way we will have to look for a new scapegoat to ridicule. What do you call a Rover at the top of a hill...?