In 1964 the Skoda 1000MB went on sale, replacing the first Octavia of 1959 (which stayed in production anyway). It had a 1.0 litre four-cylinder engine.
And it started a long series of rear-engined Skodas. It’s not a car I know a lot about. The Wikipedia web-page reeks of fandom: “Apart from the use of cooling vents in the rear wings and rear panel, everything else about the 1000 MB’s styling was normal, which was undoubtedly in an attempt to appeal to all the conservative-minded buyers in export countries like the UK. This car was highly successful both for Škoda and the Czech economy”.
The brochure itself has strongly geometric, Modernist styling. The model name is repeated on the cover to become a pattern, set over an abstract shape that might be a road. The Skoda badge playfully stands in for a zero. The car is placed on a black background and stands out. I’m not a big fan of rear-engined cars; the 1000 MB is more appealing because it’s a saloon and has pleasingly odd proportions though they are based on some science: the engine is in the back. Science aside, another 20 cm at the front would have helped hugely. The 700 kg target was commendable but it did leave the car looking peculiarly truncated at the front. Aft of the A-pillar it’s quite appealing.
The claims made are that the car has flexibility, pace and climbing ability. While many people still have faint recollections of the eventually tedious routine of jokes, for me Skoda has always been about toughness. It is easy to imagine this softly sprung, light car gliding up muddy Czech hill lanes in winter quite without difficulty. A Morris Minor, I suspect, would not have lasted long in 1960s Czechoslovakia.
Which leads me to the counterfactual of what would have happened if the Czech Republic had not fallen behind the Iron Curtain. Like Tatra, Skoda might have emerged from the second world war and enjoyed a vibrant 1960s just like the rest of Europe. I am not sure they would have made this car though. In the 1950s the firm considered fwd and rejected it on cost grounds but in a healthier economy they might very well have gone down that path as Peugeot, Fiat, Renault and others did.
This summer I saw a nicely preserved Wartburg 312 and its quality left a good impression on me. Unless someone writes in to tell me otherwise I will assume this car was quite as well made.
We have here another car that has no grille at the front and manages to look correct. The oval chrome frame around the magnificent Skoda badge provides enough substance to avoid the impression of something missing. Why did Tesla have to make such a meal of this particular problem?
Things have come a long way since then. Dacia have taken the position of the cheapest cars you can get and Skoda now sells what might be the most luxurious family car on sale for the money, the Skoda Superb Lauren & Klement edition. I have seen a few of these and it is interesting how they give off a marked aura of cosy quality missing in other much more expensive cars. It is also worth noting that people are loading their Skodas with features which are driving the price into the point where you think they might otherwise opt for a more “prestigious” brand but they are not. That tells you the customers are anchored in the brand and might, conceivably, view a low-end Audi or BMW as a something of a come down. Ford and Opel should think hard about this as much as BMW and Audi. Or even Mercedes.
[Text amended 15.23 Feb 4, 2017. The car had a water cooled engine not air-cooled as first stated.]