As birthday presents go, Skoda did well for itself when its vRS sub-brand turned 10 in 2011. Rather than releasing a Fabia vRS with some stickers plastered to the side, or an Octavia vRS with a tiny dollop of extra power, Skoda decided to break a world record. It wanted to take an as-close-to-standard-as-possible Octavia vRS to Speed Week in Bonneville and come away with a world record.
The car it took isn't exactly showroom fresh -- the parachute attached to the back isn't on any options list I've ever seen. The engine has been fiddled with beyond almost all recognition. Where there used to be a dinky turbo now sits a Garrett unit about the size of Ron Jeremy, and about as potent, too. Inside the cabin there's no seating to speak of, mostly roll cages, harnesses, fire extinguishers, and a rather distended gear lever. It's as though the Octavia had mated with a Transformer.
For the record attempt, Skoda wanted the car to hit 200 mph. If it managed it, the team would aim to break the world record (216 mph). The car, at the hands of Evo Magazine's Richard Meaden, hit 227.080 mph. Fast, then.
But that was 2011. Since its triumphant victory, the car has returned to U.K. soil and Skoda's skunkworks. Not being the types to leave it to gather dust, we were asked if we'd like to give the old girl a whirl.
The thing is, the showroom Octavia is a really good car. It's not pretentious -- it's a car that does the whole "transport" thing very well indeed. Anyone can buy one, and while a few narrow-minded people may judge them for owning a Skoda, they'll end up with an incredible product.
The vRS is pleasingly quick -- and the cops love them. If you ever get the opportunity, drive one in metallic blue down the overtaking lane of the M1. Not since Moses have things parted that quickly. I do believe it's a classless car, too. So it's not as iconic as a Mini, or as ingrained as a VW Golf, but drive one and you'll realize that your preconceptions about the Skoda brand are wrong. Don't rubbish it before you've tried it.
Anyway, the Bonneville car. It's noisy, raw, tricky to change gears, slow to get to speed, and starts to weave alarmingly at about 85 mph. But when you get going, and I mean really get going, she flies. I wanted to hit 150 mph, and after my third run I managed it; 151 mph, actually. I wasn't expecting to ever sit in a 150 mph Skoda, let alone one that's already done the double ton (and a bit).
I was allowed to pull the parachute (for the cameras, dahhhhling) but on the (many) attempts we made, it didn't want to coax itself free. In fact, the lever you tug to unleash it broke on the first attempt and on the second it took a chunk out of my hand. I was bitten by a land-speed record car. Not many people have been able to say that without terrible injuries, have they?
Still, well done to Skoda for eschewing the norm and creating something truly awesome simply because it can. I'm genuinely looking forward to the 20th anniversary of vRS. I'm hoping for either big speed or some kind of flight. Or cake. Cake is good.