Know Any Skoda Jokes?
Back in the 1980's Skoda, along with its fellow Eastern Bloc car, the Lada, was the butt of many a joke. With its 1960's design, the rear engined Estelle and Rapid were cheap and nasty. Similar cars such as the German VW Beetle and the French Citroen 2CV, both utilitarian with a design that hadn't advanced much since the war, had iconic status, especially amongst the youngsters looking for their first ride.
Despite the fact that they sold extremely well, only the die-hard Skoda lovers would actually admit to owning one. As the joke goes (one of many) the Skoda owner's most ardent dream is to own a real car.
So why is it that this much maligned car had such a bad reputation?
Skoda first started producing cars in the early 1900s, with the Voiturette A. They were very successful both in Bohemia (Austria-Hungary) where they originated and all the way across Europe. After the first World War and the Great Depression of the early 30s, Skoda introduced a new range to suit all needs and budgets. The Popular was a small, affordable family car, which sold well and laid the foundation for Skoda's reputation for producing cars for the people. Add to this the fact that these cars performed particularly well in rallies, you can see why they became much sought after.
So where did it all go wrong?
For 40 years after World War II, Czechoslovakia was a Socialist State and Skoda was a state owned company. As such, it lacked investment and innovation. All the decent designers were working for Volkswagen or BMW and the close proximity to Germany meant that anybody with money who wanted something with a bit more class would cross over the border into Austria where these cars were readily available.
During this time there were reliability issues too. The Felicia was a complete flop in the United States damaging Skoda's reputation. In the UK, they continued to sell well but only at the low end of the market, where style was sacrificed for price. Yes, they looked awful but they were cheap.
Was the Skoda really that bad?
As one of the few car manufacturers that has web pages dedicated to jokes about it, you would expect there to be some substance to them. There are lots of anecdotes about them breaking down all the time, not lasting very long, being over-taken by kids on Mopeds, and so on, but if you were to ask those who owned one and maybe traded it in for a used Austin Allegro or a Fiat 128, I wouldn't mind betting they would say the Skoda wasn't that bad after all.