The Carchive: The '82 Skoda Range

Today we sit at the cutting edge of motoring, but getting here has been an arduous journey. There have been many diversions, pitfalls and breakdowns on the way, and quite a few wrong turns. There were stretches of the trip which will be fondly remembered, and periods which will be spoken of only in hushed tones. Join me now as we revisit another footnote in the long story of Car. Welcome back to The Carchive.
Last week we were gasping at disbelief at how the ’98 Buick Riviera was marketed squarely at the grey dollar. Today we head back sixteen years to look at Skoda’s improved range for ’82, which held a very different appeal.

“You’re looking at Britain’s top value for money car. And now the new 1982 Skodas are better equipped than ever”
Rising from the ashes of an abortive alliance with Wartburg to replace the 353 model and Skoda’s old 100/110 series at a stroke, the new for ’76 Type 742 may have been bodily all new, but mechanically all was pretty damn similar to what had gone before. Around 1981 the range, known as Estelle, was promoted to Super status and enjoyed a raft of subtle improvements
The roster of juicy bits’n pieces that Skoda were justly proud of included “the latest” rack and pinion steering, British radial-ply tyres, Servo-assisted, dual-circuit brakes and suspension modifications, for reasons which will be mentioned in a minute.
“Rally proven reliability, you can’t beat it”
Skoda had a clear competitive edge in international rallying with the Estelle. The handling shortcomings of the swing-axle rear suspension which could be absolutely lethal in inexpert hands translated into a brilliantly mobile rear end when on loose surfaces. Oversteer was available on demand when it was needed. The trouble was that said oversteer was also somewhat dominant when it was least expected.
“You’ll find more space in a Skoda than some cars costing twice or three times the price”
Completely true, this. The Skoda Estelle had far more interior room than the Ferrari 308 of the same year. On the UK market the Ford Escort-sized Skoda wouldn’t even put put a Fiesta sized dent in your finances, and this was central to the appeal of the car in this country.
It was unfairly considered as a direct rival to the Lada 1200 series; unfairly because this was emphatically not a car based on cheapened second-hand Fiat engineering. No, though there was some Renault influence, this car was Czech from the ground up.
“This is the top of the Skoda range, the car that took the Class 1 win in the Lombard RAC rally, unmodified.”
In Communist Skoda terms the 120LSE truly was a sybaritic machine. The 1.2 litre engine was rated at the full 58hp thanks to a twin-choke carburettor. There was an oil cooler and a rev counter to monitor all that grunt, and stylish alloy wheels to roll on.
Inside you could recline on fabric trimmed seats while listening to the latest Ultravox release on cassette, or on AM radio. And you could be sure that envious onlookers knew of your expensive purchase thanks to the colour-matched (er, black) vinyl roof, and tinted glass sunroof.
“The first Skodas were built over 80 years ago in Czechoslovakia, a land of hard snowy winters and rough testing terrain.”
At the time of the release of this brochure the UK import operation of for Skoda was based in Kings Lynn on the Norfolk coast. Here, arriving cars went through a programme of optimization for the UK market, including the fitment of Kangol seatbelts and British tyres in place of the Barum originals.
Today it’s increasingly difficult to imagine Skoda as the nationalised company that was stifled by an unsupportive, indifferent communist government for all those years. Post War, despite the excellence of Czech engineering, restrictions in investment meant an entire list of “might have beens”.  There were endless prototypes, many of which would have been production ready, all abandoned because of a lack of support from on high.
That the 105 / 120 series that the Super Estelle was a part of was anything like competitive was some tribute to the success of the original design. Mechanically there was little fundamental change since the early ’60s.
Still. the mindlessly optimistic regard a good, well preserved rear-engined Skoda as being a cut-price alternative to a Porsche 911.
(All images are of original manufacturers publicity materials. Copyright remains property of, we assume, VW Group. Skodas today are excellent, reliable, respectable machines. I miss the old, ill-handling, quirky ones)

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  1. Vavon Avatar

    As a kid my Matchbox 205 Turbo 16 was often battling for first place with my Matchbox Skoda!

    1. PotbellyJoe★★★★★ Avatar

      My winner was typically the Alitalia Fiat$_58.JPG

        1. JayP Avatar

          That’s pretty awesome.

      1. JayP Avatar

        Sorry. The FIAT was second to the almighty quattro.

    2. Sjalabais Avatar

      I give you real battle scars on my favourite matchbox, and the two favourite cars of mine before Matchbox with the ™ and all were available to me: A Wartburg 353 and a generic Eastern-blockish-gem. Awful cell photos.

  2. mzszsm Avatar

    Wow they didn’t even swap over the wipers to the other side… Getting the luggage out at the side of the road probably killed someone at least once too. But most importantly, what was the brochure set upon when photographed?

    1. mzszsm Avatar

      Actually I seem to be extra stupid today about the wipers, carry on.

  3. Sjalabais Avatar

    You know I am a huge fan of your writing, but for this series you should invest in a scanner. It would actually be nice to read this kind of rare material! I’d be willing to spit in 10$ in a crowdfunding effort.
    The Czech are a very proud car nation, and what really hit me with these images is the pleasant, well-proportioned design of these. I am a bit unsure about the lead photo though: Is the hood uneven, or the paint, or is this up-and-down-line above the cooler plastic just an optical illusion?
    Also, me is biazed on Škoda – this is little Sjalabais getting a diaper change:

    1. mzszsm Avatar

      I love the photo Sj, but I also like guessing what Chris took the photos on, so I am not a fan of the scanner idea. Plus I think there is less copyright issue to have the text barely illegible like it is now.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Are brochures, whose whole point is maximum distribution, really covered by harsh copyright laws? Even 30+ years later? I don’t know enough about this issue, but it seems a bit self-defeating to me. Not that I couldn’t live with it either though…just a suggestion. 🙂

  4. longrooffan Avatar

    Was 1982 just 16 short years ago?

    1. JayP Avatar

      Man. There’s no joke in that.

  5. mseoul Avatar

    Great car and I too would like to be able to read the booklets better. Estelles had a kind of rattle free drive and feel that reminded of a nice Renault or big VW, except for non air-cooled engine sound.
    I had never heard about the Wartburg/Skoda link up opportunity. Thanks for that tip to look further. I always liked 353’s. They were an Audi 100 from the DDR. Actually the dash layout on the 353 was similar to Audi and contemporary Mercedes too.
    The babyhood pic in the Skoda is priceless too.

  6. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    Thanks chaps, re. Scanning, I genuinely would, but for the fact that so many brochures are bigger than A4 size. Scanning this one would have meant having to stitch the scans together to remain cohesive.
    You do know you can click the images to make them bigger, right? They’re 1400 px across.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Yes, but there is some shine and the text is harder to read than could be – a handheld or office scanner would do…but, really, I’d rather see these photos and enjoy your writing than whining on about photo quality.

      1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

        I’ll have a word with my management at work and see if they can do anything about the lighting. If they refuse they should damn well get their priorities right…

  7. Owl Avatar

    Still see this generation of Skoda running around in the more rural bits of Moravia but they are fewer and further between as the old generation die out and everyone under about 60 wants a new Fabia – or in my friend’s father’s case, has moved up to a ’96 Felicia…
    In my memory the Czechoslovaks didn’t get the chance to buy a ‘luxury’ edition: the sun roof, vinyl and the alloys were also added by the UK importer, they weren’t factory installed even for the export market. But I am happy to be corrected on that

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      I think you’re right. Such luxuries were deemed vital by ludicrous status hungry Englishers.