Friday May 10, 2019
If, six decades ago, you were in the market for a compact and robust small car, the sales copy of one particular model might have caught your eye - ‘Elegance of a fine taste. Dependable performance. Scrupulous economy. Safety construction. Comfort, luxury and speed’. And there was also an unfamiliar and faintly exotic sounding marque – Skoda.
When the Type 1U Octavia made its bow in 1996, a few motorists recalled another Skoda of the same name, one that debuted in January 1959. Its name denoted that it was the company’s eighth post-war product and power was from a 1.1 litre engine – decadent types were subsequently offered the 1.2-litre Super version. The four-speed transmission was controlled via a steering-column lever, the interior was simple but not unappealing and, as the PR film illustrates, the Octavia certainly did not lack for style -
As for the Felicia convertible – “chic” is the only word.
By 1960, Skoda offered the three-door Combi Estate and the TS (“Touring Sport”); the latter scored a trio of class victories in the 1961, 1962 and 1963 Monte Carlo Rallies. The Octavia was also sold in the USA and the UK – its 445/450 predecessor had been displayed at the 1957 London Motor Show. British import duties raised the Skoda’s price to £744, making it somewhat more expensive than a Minor 1000, an A40 “Farina” or an Anglia 105E De Luxe. What you did gain was a two-door saloon in which ‘Its elegance will grasp you, its performance will make you enthusiastic’. More practically, a heater, a radiator blind and adjustable front seat back rest were included in the specification and the top speed was a reasonable 76 mph.
According to a not overly enthusiast review from Autocar in 1960, the Octavia was a ‘rugged design’ and it provided ‘the essentials of cheap family motoring’. However, the proud driver was probably basking in the pride of owning a car that ‘gains admiration at the first glance, due to its classical, purposeful elegance, that has nothing in common with the different extravagances of fashion, that try to attract attention at all costs’. As the 1960s progressed, the price was also lowered and by 1963 a TS cost £598 13s 9 and even the Felicia cost a mere £638 11s 3d, which represented excellent value for money.
The Felicia and the Octavia saloon ceased production in 1964 but the Combi was made until 1971. They deserved the respect that is their due as a key Skoda product, the first examples of the famous marque to be seen in the UK – and for their sense of true individualism. Even if you ran the risk of your more paranoid neighbours dialling WHItehall 1212 and reporting you to Scotland Yard as an Eastern Bloc spy as soon they beheld that new Octavia Super on your driveway...