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