The history of this brand is radically different from other Eastern makes. The Skoda, until few years ago, was still synonym of very cheap cars; now, instead, these Czech cars are well-reputed for the modern solutions and the accuracy of the assembling. During the past, the Skoda suffered the comparison with the Western cars, nevertheless it was, before the Second Worldwide War, even a producer of luxury cars! Only since the '60s, the Communist industrial plan humiliated the prestigious Czech automotive tradition, that featured several beautiful cars (see also Tatra). The models produced before the '60s -especially the early models with the "Laurin & Klement" brand -are very numerous, and it's impossible to describe all on this page: therefore, if you want additional infos about the Skoda, you can visit the Skoda Official Site, http://www.skoda-auto.com/company/index.htm ; there is also a very rich historical archive.
The roots of the Skoda are in another brand, the "Laurin & Klement", born in the far 1895 in the city of Mladà Boleslav. After some revolutionary motorcycle and three-wheeler, the first Laurin & Klement car was the "Type A" (above, first pic), equipped with a V-twin engine, 1000 cc, 7 hp, 45 km/h, produced during the 1905-1911. Six years after, the Czech factory launchs the "Faeton" (second pic), with a 4-cylinders 1800 cc, 16 hp, 75 km/h. All these cars had a very high level of construction and a good reliability, when many cars of the same period leaves liters of hot oil on the road and...on the driver.
The Laurin & Klement grows up, and reachs outstanding industrial dimensions. In the 1925, it was united with the Skoda (at the time, the Skoda was engaged in other industrial activities: the weapons, for example) and, in the 1929, the first Skoda-branded car was produced: the "422" (up, first pic), with 1200 cc.engine, 22 hp. But a more important car was the "Popular" (second pic), produced since 1934. This car features the first "transaxle" layout in the car's history (front engine and gearbox on the rear axle: this system was used, for example, on the Alfa Romeo "Alfetta" and "75").
In the 1936, the first "Favorit" (first pic, above) enter in production. It had a 1800 cc. engine, with 38 hp, followed by a 2000 cc, 55 hp. As known, the "Favorit" denomination was reprised in the 1987 for the first front-wheel drive Skoda. During the same period, the "Superb" (second and third pics, two different versions) was launched. This beautiful luxury-car was equipped with several engines: 2700 (or 3100) cc. 6-cylinders, or 4000 cc, 8-cylinders, with power between 60 and 96 hp.
After the war, the Skoda was nationalized, and a new model, the "1101", or also "Tudor", was launched (first and second pics above, normal and cabrio versions), with a 1100 cc, 32 hp. The same engine equipped also an off-road military version (1948, third pic). The "Tudor" was produced in over 80.000 units. In the 1952, the "1200" was launched (fourth pic). It had a 1200 cc. engine, 36 hp, 102 km/h of max speed; after some time this engine was boosted up to 45 hp, and the car was renamed "1201" (fifth pic).
In the 1954, the "440" or "Spartak" (first pic above), subsequently called "Octavia" (second pic; the car had the same name of the well-known sedan currently produced), was launched. It was a pleasant and classic sedan with front engine and rear wheel drive; the engine was 4-in line, 1100 cc, 40 hp (subsquently 1200 cc, 45 hp); also a 1500 cc. unit was available. In the third and fourth pics, the "Octavia TS" coupè, with a 1100 cc boosted up to 54 hp, and, in the fifth pic, the station-wagon, called "Kombi". The "Octavia" was the last front-engine car by Skoda; like the "Tudor" and "1200", it was quite accurated, and not different from similar mid-class cars produced in the Western countries.
The cabrio version of the "Octavia" was called "Felicia" (first and second pics; also this name was used for a recent model). The total production of the "Spartak/Octavia" was, till the 1968 (end of production), of 450.000 units: a not very high number, considering the usual volume of production in the Eastern countries. The "Octavia" engine equipped also a prototype of 4x4 vehicle, the Skoda "Babeta" (third and fourth pics), realized in the mid-'50s, and equipped with 1.2/1.5 engines (the gearbox is 4 speed+reduced gears), and also equpped a minibus/truck, called "1203" (fifth pic). The "1203" is still today in production, with another brand: in the sixth pic, the TAZ "1500", with a slightly updated look, but with the same engine (1500 cc, 55 hp) of the old "Octavia" of the years '50!
With the "Octavia", the first period of the Czech factory ends. It was replaced by the rear-engine sedans, less pleasant. However, in the 1969, the Skoda launched a new front-engine model in order to replace the "Octavia" in the category of the middle-class cars. This prototype, called "720" (first and second pics above), was realized in the 1969 in collaboration with Italdesign. It had a new 1498 cc. engine, single overhead camshaft, 87 hp (or 1300 cc. with 67 hp), 152 km/h. The collaboration with Italdesign continued in the 1971 with the "720" (third and fourth pics, equipped with a 1100 cc), and in the period 1972-1979 with the "760" (fifth and sixth pics, with a range of engines from 1100 to 1700 cc.). A wide range of versions was realized: coupè, sedan, station-wagon, etc. The "760" was realized also in collaboration with the Wartburg (that made a similar prototype: see page), in a plan of collaboration between Czechoslovakia and DDR. Unfortunately, all these very interesting cars, demonstration of the potential of the Czechoslovakian factory, remained as prototypes, and the production lines were occuped, till the late '80s, by the rear engine models.
The rear-engine models
Now, we will talk about the rear-engine models, that characterized the Czech brand during the last 30 years. The well-know rear engine models were precedeed by several prototypes, realized between 1956 and 1962 in order to decide the best layout for the new car. Above, from the left to the right, the prototypes Skoda "976", "977", "978", "989" and "Favorit 990". All were powered by a four-cylinder engine, 988 cc. (placed front on the "976" and "978", rear on the others), water cooled, with approximately 40 hp. The "Favorit 990" was named like the luxury car of the years '30s (and also like the well-know "Favorit" of the years '80s), and was, among these cars, the more similar to the definitive car: the "MB-1000".
In the first and second pics above, the "MB 1000" (produced since 1964), the first of all the rear-engine Skoda cars produced till the '80s. Ok, in the common opinion, the rear-engine Skoda are quite funny...but they were similar to other European cars with the same technical layout (Simca 1000, NSU Prinz, Fiat 850, ZAZ 966, Renault 8, ecc.), with the specific role of low-cost popular car. This car had a rear 4 cylinders in-line engine (with a strange feature: the block was aluminium alloy but the cylinder head was cast iron), liquid cooled, 1000 cc. with 48 hp, the max speed was 125 km/h. Unfortunately, on the early versions, there were serious problems in the lubrication of the main bearings and the oil pressure was too low. Also the location of the engine caused overheating problems, and the heating unit was not too effective, because it was under the back seat! The "MB-1000" was realized also in the coupè (called "MBX 1000", third pic), station wagon (fourth pic) and cabriolet version (fifth and sixth pics), and even with a Wankel engine (seventh pic), single-rotor, 400 cc. with 40 hp; of these four versions, only the "MBX 1000" was effectively produced, the others remained as prototypes.
After some time, the "MB 1000" was evolved in a new versions: the "S-100"/"S-110" (first pic above), respectively 1000 and 1100 cc., produced since 1970, with a new front part and other little mechanical features (front disk brakes instead of the drum brakes, for example). The "S-110" was available in two version, with 52 or 62 hp. From the "S-100", also a coupè version was obtained: the "S-110" coupè (second and third pics), equipped with the 1100 cc engine with 62 hp. The rear engine was ideal for the car in the fourth pic: a dune buggy realized by Skoda in the 1970, with a 1000 cc. engine, not bad in comparison with the traditional VW-powered buggies! With the start of the production of the rear-engine models, the factory was restructured to increase the production (fifth pic): it was quite modern at that time, and it was, effectively, the pride of the Communist government; but the dimensions of a factory are not enough to make competitive cars...
In the 1976, the new series of Skoda 105-120-130 was launched (the numbers identifies the displacements: 1050, 1200 and 1300 cc). The engines were the sames of the previous versions, but slightly increased in the displacement, and the coachwork was totally new (although with a similar compact-sedan layout). This series was imported in Italy with a certain success, because of the very low price (the "105" model had the same price of a Fiat "126"!). These Skodas, with their simple and anonym design, were the real symbol of the real socialism; however, although the modest look and the usual problems of quality, they were enough reliable cars, better in comparison with many Russian models (and not very different from the Fiat 126...); moreover, they had things like multi-speed windscreen wipers, adjustable seats and a really powerful heater, that would not appear on many British or Italian cars until many years later. These models were slightly modified during the time: above, some variant of the front part, with single-round, double-round or (during the '80s) square headlights. Unfortunately, these models, already not beautiful, were "modified" by Skoda with rear spoiler and plastic wheel covers, very "kitsch"!
The car in the first, second and third pics above can be a sort of little "collector item" for the Skoda's enthusiasts. It's the "Rapid 136" of the 1988 (in the fourth pic there is the dashboard of the 1983 version), evolution of the coupè version already present in the previous range of rear-engine models. I remember that it had alloy wheels, spoiler and special seats; the engine was the 1300 with 63 hp. Also a nice cabriolet version was realized (fifth pic)! A foreign magazine described the Skoda "Rapid" as "a little Porsche, with a tenth of the price of a Porsche" :-)) An excessive comparison, of course, but it has a strange fashion, of the "old-style" rear-wheel drive! Moreover, the engine was capable of much more high performances...
...because, even from the cheap and poor rear-engine models, interesting racing cars were obtained! Above, some exemplar of "S-130 coupè" in rally and road-racing versions, with the 1.3 engine boosted up to 120 cv. The drive is surely hard (the engine is very "scorbutic" at the low regimes), but 120 hp with a light weight and the rear wheel drive are a warranty for the fun!
But the highest level for the developement of the cheap rear-engine models, was reached with two cars: the beautiful "200 RS" of the 1974 (first, second and third pics above), with a 1997 cc. engine, DOHC, two Weber carburettors, 163 hp, and the very powerful "2000 MI" of the 1975 (fourth and fifth pics), with a 1800 cc. engine capable of 270 hp!! These cars are not less worthy than an Abarth, and they have a great fashion, besides an high level of performances.
In the three pics above, the last racing evolution of the Skoda with rear engine: the "130 LR" of the 1984, strictly derived from the normal sedan, but boosted up to 130 hp/8000 rpm, for a max speed (according to the gearbox) of 220 km/h! It seems a quite humble in comparison with "monsters" as Lancia Delta "S4" and others...but it's only appearance: in fact, for many years, the rear-engine Skoda cars won the rally class up to 1300 cc., beating Opel, Fiat, Peugeot and many other Western cars. In Italy there is a proverb: "l'abito non fa il monaco", the dress doesn't make the priest...this means that the appearance is not all!
END OF PART ONE - Click here for the second page about the Skoda