Thursday March 2, 2017
1989, a year when Bros would boom out from every branch of HMV and Our Price and when people actually thought it was a good idea to go shopping in a purple shell suit. There was some good news, in the form of the latest Skoda import that might halt the tedious jokes about the marque that had inflicted television light entertainment for much of the 1980s. The Favorit is one of a select group of cars that genuinely deserves to be referred to as ‘a watershed model’; not only was it the first front engine Skoda since the demise of the old Octavia in 1971 but the company’s first ever FWD product and its last independent design before the VW takeover.
The Favorit made its debut in July 1987, after over four years of development that had to satisfy the government and the company’s need for a car that would earn hard Western currency. For such a crucial model, Skoda commissioned one of the greatest PR films in advertising history. No true enthusiast could fail to be impressed by the winning combination of hair gel, synthesiser music and copious amounts of dry ice.
British sales commenced two years later and by that time the 130 Series Estelle and the Rapid Coupe had already gone some way towards alerting the marque’s image. Dealers could boast of the new car’s Porsche-designed front suspension and when Car tested a 136LX opposite a third-generation Ford Fiesta they noted that:
“The Favorit has an indefinable appeal, perhaps born of its characterful shape and low cost, which makes you prepared to forgive some of its faults. And none of its shortcomings are so bad as to be unacceptable.”
The Skoda did indeed have its shortcomings, some found the construction felt exceedingly lightweight and the plastic interior seemed almost biodegradable, but for anyone who wanted a considerable bargain the Favorit was the ideal choice. Advertising campaigns asked ‘who else offers 5 doors and 5 gears for under five grand’, a reminder that in 1989 the Metro still had four-speed transmission. Better still for just £5,246, £200 less than the price of a bottom of the range Fiesta, the proud Skoda owner could have a top of the range Favorit with alloy wheels, a radio cassette player and, most hip of all, a glass sunroof as standard.
By 1989 standards, the Bertone styling already looked slightly dated, with its overtones of the Fiat Ritmo/Strada but, crucially, the Favorit did not look nearly as archaic as a contemporary FSO or Lada. It was also very easy to service at home, this was still a useful sales point in the late 1980s, reliable and very spacious. The hatchback was supplanted by the ‘Forman’ estate in 1990 and a pick-up truck in 1991.
In that same year, Skoda entered a ‘joint-venture’ partnership agreement with Volkswagen and in 1993 Favorit gained the Bosch fuel injected engines from the Polo Mk.2 and the Golf Mk.3, a somewhat more refined interior, and greatly enhanced build quality. In 1994 the Favorit was replaced by the VW-developed Felicia, with the estate continuing in production until 1995. By then the Skoda was as common a sight in any high street as groups of students under the delusion that they were the next Newman and Baddiel.
22 years on, the numbers of surviving UK-market Favorits are now down to a mere three figures, all reminders of the days of small car motoring sans ABS, airbags CD players and air conditioning. Its success was largely because, to use an old-fashioned phrase, it provided honest transport. As a further testament to the Favorit’s impact, by the late 1990s ‘Skoda jokes’ were rarely heard outside of the holiday camp circuit. Today, a blue 1991 Favorit Forum Plus occupies a pride of place in the company’s heritage fleet, and rightly so; this innocuous-looking hatchback was instrumental in changing the image of one of Europe’s oldest car manufacturers.