The Unbearable Lightness Of Being A Skoda Driver: Cold Start


Jason’s out driving the new Toyota Crown today so I’m stepping in to do Cold Start and my choice is appropriately me. If you didn’t already know, Skoda is the Czech Republic’s leading automaker (formerly Czechoslovakia’s leading automaker) and I’ve been writing about how much I love these things for years.


I’m not even sure where the joke began. Volkswagen has owned Skoda partially since the 1990s and outright since the early 2000s and has slowly transitioned the brand into another series of vehicles based on their basic platforms. They have their Polo (Fabia) and their Golf (Octavia) and on and on and on.

Maybe it started as a joke? I’m not sure. But I went to the Czech Republic and borrowed an Octavia vRS and, you know what? They are actually fantastic. It’s my sincere belief that almost every Skoda is the best looking version of any VW platform, which is probably a prove-me-wrong in the making.

Skoda 120 75

But the Skoda 120? Despite its rear-mounted engine it is not at all a Volkswagen. Instead it’s a home-grown vehicle, based on the earlier Skoda 100/110 and, though much improved, not exactly a world-beating car. It may be apocryphal, but is alleged that Skoda wanted to design a new front-engine, front-wheel drive car but the Soviets wouldn’t let them because they didn’t want a non Russian country to have a more advanced car.

Still, there’s something charming about the Skoda 120. It debuted in 1976 and carried on until 1990 under various names. I saw a Skoda 125 in Budapest and I thought it looked great, having modernized some of the earlier car’s styling.

The old one still has its charm, too.

All photos Skoda via Wheelsage

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32 Responses

  1. Grew up with an exact Skoda 120 like the green one in pics, but ours was red. Not the most dependable car in the world, but very fixable by yourself in most cases. Engine only had 3 main bearings on a 4 cylinder. My best breakdown memory, is when the rubber gas supply line (between tank and fuel pump) rotted while sitting on a hill and a neighbor came by announcing that there’s a little stream of gas going from our car all the way down the hill.

  2. My understanding was that Skoda was co-designing a new car with the East German IFA group, which would use Skoda’s 4-stroke engine and the Trabant and Wartburg’s front drive inherited from prewar DKW, basically what Audi had been building in the West since 1965. That ate up most of the ’70s at which point the East German Politburo opted not to fund their auto industry.

    That left Skoda to develop the Favorit which was slated to go into production in 1985 but was delayed two years due to arguments between them and Bertone which was hired to do the styling. By that time the Lada Samara was in production, which probably was what led to the rumors regarding the Soviets not wanting their satellites to pass them by.

  3. Unfortunately for us Americans Skodas and Seats are forbidden fruit. I’ve spent enough time in Europe to appreciate Skodas – the hatch/trunk arrangement on some of the Octavias is genius, and I’ve never really been able to see how they are a “step down” from Volkswagens.

  4. As a Czech now living in the US (but all of my family is back home), it’s awesome to read a little about Skoda. We had many within our family, but for me the person and main reason for my passion for cars was my grandpa’s 1960 Skoda Octavia. I spent my childhood summers working on that car with grandpa.

    I do wish we could have some Skodas here in the US, but VW of course doesn’t want to cannibalize their fleet.

    Just an FYI, in your article, you state that the VW’s Golf (168″ long) is Octavia (185″ long), which isn’t the case. The Octavia is more like the Jetta, the Skoda Superb is the Passat, etc.
    Recently there was a model announced that is kind of on its way out, the Scala. That’s more like the Golf proportion-wise.

    1. You’re right, but you’re also wrong: While it’s true that the Octavia is longer than the Golf, it’s still based on the Golf platform, albeit with a different rear axle (less complex setup for more trunk space). Also based on the Golf is the Jetta, it’s nothing more than a Golf with a separate trunk, a Golf sedan if you will. That’s why it’s also longer than the Golf.
      I think the Superb is based on the Passat, but it’s supposed to be more luxurious, with considerably more rear legroom. I suppose the idea was to offer a larger sedan that doesn’t directly compete with the Passat.

  5. I wonder how long the line was for them to buy their shoes. When they got to the front did the sales clerk give them two left or two right shoes three sizes too large or two sizes too small?

    Perhaps the shoes were graciously provided (temporarily) by The People, for the glory of The People, before being repossessed by The People?

  6. A guy I knew in university had a Skoda. It’s most impressive feature was the Random Start. It would randomly agree to start, but often would not. The owner had it’s trade value checked, and KBB said it was $75.

    He called it the Scrotum.

  7. So many good memories. I (almost) grew up in one. In two. So back in East Germany my grandpa got his hands on a white 105 and later another green 105. Or maybe he just painted it, I don’t know. But, compared to the two-stroke Wartburg my parents had (until they finally stepped up the Lada way), this was riding on a carpet.

  8. Rear-engined it is, air-cooled it is not so the vents are indeed very subtle. One of the most entertaining cheap, everyday cars you can drive, poor man’s 911. I have had three of them. They used to be great in rally sport as well.

  9. My aunt/uncle in Slovakia had a yellow one of those for about 20 years, so I have many memories of driving in this thing every summer we went back to visit (we escaped in 89, but were a Lada/Zhiguli family prior).

    Best memory of it was when 6 of us (yes 6) did a road trip through Italy in one of these. Me being the youngest/smallest one, sat on someones lap the entire trip. My ass did not touch the seats the entire trip, and the engine seemed to overhead almost daily, but man…what memories!

  10. Škodas of this era are no fun at all to drive (I would go as far as saying lethal) with their swing rear axles. From 1984 starting with the Rapid they upgraded to semi-trailing arms which in the words of Autocar & Motor was ‘a beginner’s course to the [Porsche] 911’ (read that as a positive comment…).

  11. “It may be apocryphal, but is alleged that Skoda wanted to design a new front-engine, front-wheel drive car but the Soviets wouldn’t let them because they didn’t want a non Russian country to have a more advanced car.”

    and, yet further to the east there were building front engine front wheel drive cars since 1969

  12. Disagree on the best looking of the VW group family view . . . at least partially. I think the Polo looks better than the Fabia, and I’m partial to the Leon, but I do love the Superb. I used to own a 2010 Superb with the 2.0L TDI and it was a fantastic car.

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