Unsung Heroes : Škoda Rapid Coupe and Cabriolet

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

Another look backwards through rose tinted driving glasses, this time we look at the Communist Porsche Carrera wannabe – The  Škoda Rapid Coupe.

Coupe looks for Cup of tea bucks – The Skoda Rapid Coupe

The rear engined Czech Mate

We have all sorts of Skoda cars on sale: the Octavia, Superb, Yeti and others, all offering a genuine experience of quality motoring. Think of it as being a Volkswagen without the snobbery or a Volkswagen for those who can’t afford a Volkswagen and you wont go wrong, apart from some wonky names, trust me, they’re not bad cars in the slightest. Every day, my job involves me passing a large Skoda agent near Guildford, and I smile each time I pass reading the massive signs in the window proudly announcing the all new Skoda Rapid.

I don’t know about you, but the Skoda Rapid I fondly choose to recall featured a buzzy little pushrod engine mounted deep beneath its rump and was built in Communist Czechoslovakia. From the same bloodline as the MB1100 and Estelle range, the Rapid was a happy little thing that simply oozed retro charm which was so refreshing compared to the bulky angular offerings from FSO and Lada. Nice touches like four pot brake calipers, independent suspension, alloy wheels and bloody good family run dealers ensured the Rapid sold in respectable numbers.

Skoda’s record breaking rally success ensured good showroom traffic.

Once Skoda revised the rather underwhelming swing arm rear suspension into something that reduced your chance of death during on the limit handling, the Rapid actually was quite entertaining to bob around in.

Later 1300cc examples could be made to punt along with zest by simply throwing away the Jikov-sourced carburettor and replacing with a Weber conversion. The pea shooter exhaust could also be changed for a performance system that included a full flow tubular manifold giving a sporting thrum rather than the sound of an old Hillman Imp with slack valve clearances.

Nor was it a bad looking car either, a slightly curvy coupe shape that looked even better once the later flush fitting headlamps were fitted, credible space on the inside and again, more palatable fixtures and fittings than other ‘Commie cars’ too. Well equipped with a five speed box, alloys, stereo and superb warranty, the Skoda range of old became a respected brand within the owner culture, the superb back up and aftercare ensured that UK customers came back for more. Clever no frills advertising making great play about their record breaking rally success, helped to keep sales buoyant.

Early versions featured an 1174cc pushrod four, unusually, featuring an alloy block with cast iron head, though later variants saw its size increase to 1289cc. Following the engine being notoriety for cylinder head failure either because of cracking or gasket problems, Skoda changed the cylinder head to an eight port design also cast in alloy which went some way towards helping reliability. Overheating remained a major bugbear and careful attention needed to be taken when working on the cooling system to avoid air locks. That said, well maintained models simply plodded on without fuss.

Ludgate of Tonbridge converted the Rapid into a stylish cabriolet sold through Skoda GB Ltd – This is one of the earliest examples.

For those who required the wind in their hair for little money, Skoda entrusted a UK engineering firm called Ludgate Developments based near Tonbridge in Kent, to design and convert the coupe Rapid into a stylish cabriolet version that featured a substantial roll over bar.

Skoda UK took full liability for the warranty, so your dealer could deliver the car brand new and ready converted. Even though the moniker ‘Rapid’ conjures up an image of sporty motoring, the standard 136 Rapid managed a sprint to 60 in just over 14 seconds going on to top out at around 95mph.

But power and performance was not what the Skoda Rapid delivered, the little coupe was nothing more than an affordable four seater car with Eastern Bloc pricing along with a little more European feel than its Communist rivals. Later facelifted models featured a much improved dashboard and uprated electrics.

All this value and pedigree shaped into a not too shabby looking two door fastback style. When Autocar & Motor described the Rapid as ‘handling like a Porsche 911’  Skoda enjoyed even better sales as a result, and the Rapid even today, remains a popular choice in amateur sporting events in Eastern Europe.

Yet another one of those dear little cars so once a common sight in the UK we now look back upon with a fond affectionate smirk Now a fading view on the landscape as less than 50 now survive on our roads.

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

40 Comments

  1. You really need to speak to David Lloyd McKinney of the Skoda Ownwers club about these motors. He has several 🙂

  2. And Mike, the Rapid was the first Skoda in the UK to feature fuel injection and a catalyst in the run out model 135 RiC

  3. I think the RiC was a 136.

    I went in one once & couldn’t get over the organ stop switchgear. I’ve seen this before on a BMW E30 but IIRC Skoda managed to make some “stops” perform one function if pulled & another if pushed.

    I guess the could be described as the application of mutually exclusive design to motoring!

  4. I’ve had 2 rapids a black 136 which i bought from a skoda dealership called Long & Small in cumbria, then i got a white rapid sport which was very nippy also fully colour coded, but rusting everywhere, sold that to a friend who banger raced it, we’ve both regretted that. A Skoda dealer in Morecambe has a 135 RiC sat in their showroom.

  5. Used to see one in my grandmother’s street, had a sun visor that said “Surprising Skoda”.
    I’m not sure if that was an instruction, fact, verb or what. Seemed to be a tagline to do with their rallying ventures.

  6. Looking at these photos of the Rapid Coupe now tends to make me think it wasnt a bad looking car – yes coupe looks at a bargain price. I can’t ever remember seeing the cabriolet though.

    My brother once owned a 1973 Skoda saloon that I was loaned when he went on hol. It went okay, was basic, perhaps noisy but did the job.

  7. You can see why Volkswagen were keen to take over Skoda, the Rapid was a far less expensive and almost as competent rival to the Golf GTI. Also it shows that Skoda were always the most desirable of the East European brands, though I would have loved to see an FSO GT for the comedy value.

    • I had two 130 s Webber carbs Ashley comp group a exhaust, mashed many bmw s in the wet with it great in the snow seen of golf gti s with them two loved to death sold and regretted ever since great family waving to fellow owners, 130 was cast iron head 135 alloy head with fuel injection and cat which ended up in the favorite much detuned and poor handling car I had one nearly rolled it first night could not corner like the rapid . 136 alloy head. Girlfriend had a convertible she loved it . I d buy another if only back in production . …….m.

  8. I cannot help but wonder how the original Skoda Rapid Coupe would have turned out had it not been built within the cash-strapped Iron Curtain as I quite like the look of it, despite the fact I do not have any positive experiences of my relative’s purple Skoda 120.

    Apparently a rather interesting one-off prototype was built with a 110kw / 148 bhp 1.5 engine called the Skoda Rapid Gunsch that also spawned a roadster.

  9. Occasionally, a few years back, I’d go looking to see if I could find a good example of these to buy- but even back then they were as rare as rocking horse poo.

    Wish I’d tried harder…

  10. It had come on a long way from the mid 70s Estelle. A Car Motor gave 1 star for handling and concluded that “it is potentially dangerous and not a car we can reccommend”!

  11. Shhhkodavka Rapid Coupe – I soooooooooo wanted one of these as my first car but couldn’t afford to get a late one at the time – I settled for a 1.3 Montego….

    I think what inspired me was Street Machine’s ‘Project Bottle Rocket’ created by Matt Howell using a 2.0 Fiat Twin Cam, and Nitrous Oxide… I think he used Koni shocks and springs for the suspension, VW Beetle aftermarket alloys (I think he said they were the only fittings that worked for this car), I can’t remember what brakes he used.. He used a fatter torque tube to mount the engine and a Frankenstein creation of an exhaust system. 175hp on tap.

    Interestingly Rapid had the same chassis layout not too dissimilar to a Porsche 911 (although obviously it was made a bit cheaper)- I was told that Estelle was actually based on the Renault Dauphine layout (ever seen one of these??). The Rapid had added semi-trailing arms for stability.

    Whilst the rag-top Skoda had appeal, I was more intrigued by the turbocharged model.. This must have been a UK dealer fitment because my Czech mate said that they never saw any of those on the road out there. – 93hp I think?

    I may have a photo somewhere when I went over to stay – We stopped out in the countryside at a petrol station to get food and fuel, and I spotted a feint sporty looking red object through what seemed to be cross between a showroom and a garage – a S110R Rally car.. I’ll try and get a picture up here.

    Always wanted one – The black one was best, I lived in Essex, I saw one around there and wanted one ever since..

    • Turbo was a Scottish mans engineering project for uni which became a kit. One lived in a 130 Estelle in stocks bridge Sheffield only Skoda I could not catch .

  12. One of my favourite drives was a 50 mile trip along the A5 in my fathers 130 Skoda about 20-25 years ago. Great steering, great rear-engined noise. So unfashionable then though.

  13. @ Ezeee – That was Forge Garage on the old Woodham Road sadly now empty.

    Compare a Rapide to the other Eastern European cars, bar the Tatra (coincedently also Czech!), were far more advanced and even palatable.

  14. AhAH! I remember CAR magazine’s GBU always kind of liked the Rapid, where other cars got a solid shoeing. THEREFORE, being about eight, I ALSO liked the Rapid… Oh boy, I’m having a moment.

  15. There is a bright yellow (!) example that lives near me. It is in really good condition and seems to be used regularly.
    There is also in the next street an F registration Estelle parked on someones drive. We have lived here for 22 years and it has not moved in all that time. It must not have been very old when it was last used. It has got plant pots all over it. I often wonder about the story behind that.

  16. I love the black coupe. Come to to think of it, I loved the 4 door too. I wish I’d snapped one up when they were 2 a penny!

  17. @22… hmm I wouldn’t have driven that one fast though. I remember four terrified Gurkha troopers’ faces whilst they were driving down a street in Colchester trying to control the bloody thing at high speed around a roundabout… and those guys are fearless!

    The Rapid had extra semi-trailing arms to help stabilise suspension and so it had much nicer (and a bit more of a predicitable) handling.

  18. Come to think of it, I actually remember an Estelle being used as a taxi.. being 4 years old, I found it odd that someone would put my mums shopping where the engine was supposed to be!!

  19. I remember noticing Estelles in the mid 1980s, & thought they seemed quite idosyncratic to most over cars around at the time.

    Almost the same as when I saw a Hilman Imp for the first time a few years before.

  20. Used to have a 120L and “upgraded” the engine to a 136 Rapide with mods. Was a real mover and even entered a few local road rallies and autotesting events. On one particular day I managed to empty a wall of spectators in 2 secs by heading towards it on top chat. They had obviously heard about this models poor handling but I learnt to live with it. That engine sounded awesome and this car rates in one of my top memories of life on 4 wheels. This car won 19 out of 20 RAC Rallies it entered for its class. The car got tarred with the same brush as those poor jibes about Ladas. Both of which are better than the tosh being thrown out of British Leyland at the time!!!

  21. I had loads of fun in mine. My brother had a cortina. I was at the time a vw mechanic the bonnet opened side ways and could swallow my tool box whole my brother cortina could only rake a few draws very practical car even with no hatch . and kept me safe in my Looney first years on the road. Nothing beat the feeling of driving past people stuck in the snow with it.

  22. I owned a white Skoda Cabriolet bought brand new in 1985, It could seat 4/5 people in total comfort, had a fantastic roof and the added benefit of a tonneau cover that covered the body of the car when you were driving alone (why do none of todays 4 seat convertibles offer this?). At other times I also had a black Rapid 136 coupe and a red Estelle.

    I have had various ‘quality’ cars such as Mercedes and Audis as well as lots of ‘run of the mill’ ones but the cabriolet Skoda was one of the very best cars that I have ever owned. I would dearly love to have it back again. It used to tow my boat to the seaside, we’d have a day out in the sunshine then come home again with the roof down. Marvellous memories.

    Tim R

  23. I had a black 136 rapid in 1994 regret ever getting rid of it. used to climb up the snowy derbyshire roads as all the other flash cars slid sideways. only ever had 1 problem when distributer disintegrated when out for a drive, scrappy £5.00 sorted.
    drove like a slow sports car lol loved it. surprisingly good family car.
    rock steady on the roads. gripped snow and ice like dog poo on your shoe,
    was pristine when i got rid of it not a blemish or a spot of rust anywhere

  24. Hi guys,
    I use the poor little ’85 Rapid 120 on daily basis until now here in Czech.

    It’s now converted into a 135 with Jikov carb and LPG. I wanted to quit using it and save it for later but unfortunately, I just can’t stop loving to drive it!

  25. I wish I’d bought one when they were common. Always the best looking and driving of the cheap eastern bloc imports

  26. Rapid Coupe looks great in black. Makes sense as a simple modern classic. What do nice ones sell for – have the prices gone silly yet?

    Convertible looks like the low-budget hacksaw job it was.

  27. I remember visiting the London Motor show back in 1986 when I was about 17. I sat inside a Skoda 130 Rapid at the Skoda stand (it was one of the few stands at the show that you could get anywhere near that day) Hardly anyone one was showing any interest. As it was one of the few cars I could actually get inside (also the FSO Polonez) I went back into work on Monday and was telling people that Skoda’s were actually nice cars (based on my experience of sitting in the Rapid for a few minutes) I was ribbed about it at that job for the remainder of the decade. Skoda’s were indeed unsung back then. Although I never owned one, its great to read about other people’s interest and experience of ownership. My youthful enthusiasm for the car was not in vain!

  28. I had a black 136 in 1990 and it was bloody good lovely to Drive and cruised quietly at indicated 85. Wish I’d never got rid of it real charm and quality miss her

  29. Hi I have a wine red 136 rapid 1990 G reg. Just had it out in the Swedish summer weather where i am mainly based, It is on GB plates as without a cat it could not be registerd on emission regs. V good conditon rust free and on around 48000 miles. Love the little beast but may decide to sell sometime in the future as i am not likely to move back to the UK.

  30. I had a 1987 ‘D’ reg 136 Rapid for a while and it was great fun! I bought it from a guy who used it as a doghouse for a German Shepherd. So it needed a really good clean and a dashboard when it was trailered home! Cut my hands to shreds putting the dash in and im sure i never really knew what all the knobs did. The rear cylinders exploded as I went to Salisbury one day so it was trailered to the local Skoda garage who then asked me if the rear suspension had been modified, dunno? Quick check on the recall list saw a whole new rear end (free)and then it really did go round corners until the head cracked with massive amounts of steam. Finding another head was impossible so a I bought a 120 head and had the chambers fettled with, it ticked like mad but with some oil in the petrol all was well again. Then the alternator went mad and boiled the inboard battery one Xmas, 3up windows open, midnight, cold as hell being gassed was not fun. I only spun it once due to dodgy UK porous alloy wheels as I hadn’t topped them up that day! It was fun though and the twin choke made a great sound. Overall it was a good car for £50 and had no rust (1997) compared with a 10 year old orion or montego. One of the few cars I wish I still had, that and the 1980 XR3 carb 4-speed!

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