Classics Corner: Skoda Favorit
Gav takes a look back at the car that began Skoda's image transformation.
Today, Skoda is the darling of the automotive world. It's a brand that can do no wrong and tends to pick up awards left, right, and center. Best dealer this. Best service that. Best just about every car on the planet. And quite right, too: the Skoda range is one of the most relevant and sensible line-ups you'll ever find. Everyone loves Skoda. You get the impression that it could take photos of Kate Middleton's private bits and not run into trouble. In fact, Skoda would probably win an award for it.
But it wasn't always like this for Skoda. Wind back the clock a couple of decades and Skoda was the butt of all jokes. Comedians would light up the end of the pier with "hilarious" japes about Skoda cars. Heated windows that were there to keep your hands warm when pushing it. Or how about doubling the value of a Skoda by filling it up with fuel? Oh, how we laughed.
It's not that Skoda made particularly bad cars. Heavens, much of what was coming out of Britain was a great deal worse. But Skoda's Czech origins combined with a robust and utilitarian approach to styling meant that it was an easy target. However, the last laugh went to Skoda, who, under the ownership of Volkswagen, went on to manage a multimillion pound marketing campaign on the back of "It's a Skoda, honest." Everyone in the country knew the Skoda name, giving the company a level of brand awareness most manufacturers could only dream of.
The Skoda Favorit was the very last car to be built before the company was swallowed by the mighty Volkswagen empire. It was also significant for the fact that it was the first front-wheel-drive car Skoda had ever produced, replacing the rear-wheel-drive Estelle. The Favorit instantly felt more mainstream, more modern, and more practical.
It was styled by Bertone, so the Favorit joined a back catalog including the likes of the Lancia Stratos and Fiat X1/9, as well as the Lamborghini Countach and Miura. It's fair to say it doesn't share too much in common with these iconic cars, but as far as bloodlines go, there are few better than Bertone.
Skoda also pulled in assistance from Porsche, which helped develop the Favorit's suspension. Not that you'd suspect any Favorit owners would actually have noticed. But they would have noticed a decent amount of pace from the Ricardo-tweaked 1.3-liter engine and a surprisingly good ride. Skoda had made a genuinely good car, but such was the image problem in the UK, the Favorit was always going to face an uphill struggle.
Which is why Skoda immediately played the price card. Full-page ads confidently asked the question "who else offers 5 doors and 5 gears for under 5,000 pounds?" The question was obviously rhetorical as nobody could match the 4,997 pounds Skoda asked for the entry-level model. The message clearly got through, as at one point there were as many as 50,000 Favorits on the roads of Britain.
The Favorit soldiered on until 1994 when it was replaced by the Felicia, which still used the Skoda platform but benefited from significant input from Volkswagen. The styling was instantly more mainstream, but in doing the makeover, VW had stripped away the Favorit's unique charm and character. Old Skoda was dead, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There are still a healthy number of Favorits enjoying active service in Britain, and it's rare that they come up for sale. This suggests owners rather like their no-nonsense practical nature. A genuine last of a breed car that should provide years of good service for the the price of a cheap television. What's not to like?