Automotive history

Ad Break: A Skoda wins you bread, and rallies

by Antony Ingram
26 January 2023 2 min read
Ad Break: A Skoda wins you bread, and rallies
Photos: Skoda

If you’re younger than about 30 then you may not remember all the Skoda jokes.

Most weren’t that clever, and most weren’t exclusive to Skoda either; you could swap out the car name for any car brand from the Eastern Bloc in a lazy and slightly xenophobic way.

“Why does a Skoda/FSO/Lada/Wartburg come with a heated rear window? To keep your hands warm when you’re pushing it”, etc. Hilarious, you’d chuckle to yourself, watching an Estelle happily drive past as the starter motor on your badly-built BL lump failed to wheeze its 1950s-derived engine into life for the umpteenth time that winter.

Some might have been rudimentary, or ugly, often a copy of a copy of a copy of something licensed from Italy or France back in the 1960s, but decades of slow development, and the need for these cars to keep trucking in much harsher conditions than suburban Surrey, generally made them stout.

It’s a factor that Skoda played upon in its ads. Take this one for the Estelle, with the slogan “Few things in life are as dependable”. If that sounds familiar, Volkswagen used a similar phrase, “If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen”, in its TV spots for the Golf. Coincidentally, both in the same year, 1988.

Skoda Estelle advert

What Volkswagen couldn’t boast in 1988 was a long string of rally victories, unlike Skoda’s fifteen RAC Rally class wins on the trot. Autocar once remarked that the Rapid coupé version of the rear-engined Skoda “handled like a Porsche”, and while in the 1980s that could be shorthand for “disappears backwards through hedges”, in the right hands the car’s unique rear-engined balance made the 120L a real rallying supremo.

And it was cheap. A base price of £2898 for a 105S in 1988 is £7400 inflation-adjusted at the time of writing. You won’t even find a Dacia (another Eastern Bloc punchline in the ‘80s) for that today. A Maestro might have been more modern, and had slightly safer handling, but it also cost more than twice as much. Even a basic Mini E was over a grand more than a 105S.

You’d only need to spend £3198 for the 120L (about £8200 today), and as the ad copy proudly proclaims, that got you reclining seats with headrests, carpets, halogen headlights, and yes, a heated rear window.

The joke still doesn’t make much sense though, because assuming you’d been able to start it in the first place, the bit at the back you’d be pushing – the engine cover – would do a nice job of warming your hands anyway.

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