THE SKODA OCTAVIA
A Fully-Equipped, l,089-c.c. All-Independently-Sprung Saloon for £629, Inclusive
WHEN I was persuaded to try the Czechoslovakian Skoda 44o in October 1958, I found it pretty dreadful, although I have always had a suspicion that the example tested was an ill-used demonstrator. Recently, several readers have written to us praising their new Skoda Octavia and Felicia cars, so I decided the time had come to investigate whether MOTOR SPowr’s readership is trending down the years to less discerning drivers or whether, in fact, the Octavia is an appreciable improvement over the earlier Skoda.* I am glad to report that the latter is the explanation.
In order to come to this conclusion I first located the premises of Motor Imports Co. Ltd. in Gresham Road, Brixton, and, descending stone stairs and negotiating a long passage in this rather forbidding building, I signed a note releasing one Skoda automobile. I then drove up Brixton Hill, where centuries ago trailer trams would sometimes break away from their parent cars, to go grinding down out of control, and through some unprepossessing back streets to an enormous shed wherein Skodas are received from Prague and made ready for English motorists.
Here I bid goodbye sadly E0 the Mini Minor and soon afterwards Comrade Boddy could have been heard crunching his gears and seen executing jerky starts and stops as he strove to control a vivid blue Octavia, for the car had been handed over without an instruction book and it takes even an experienced driver by surprise until the fierceness of clutch and brakes and the peculiarities of the gear-lever have been mastered. This was no immaculate Press car; it was one of the scruffiest test cars ever handed over to me, with 15,500 miles on its odometer.
However, as I proceeded self-consciously down wide Streets that had once been the domain of great houses hidden behind tall fences beyond grass verges, each with its gravelled carriage drive, but where the workers’ flats now tower into the sky, and made for the poorer quarters of Tootingski en route for the Kingston autoput, I became acclimatised and found that the Octavia accelerated well through traffic and steered accurately.
There is a deeply upholstered bench front seat with separate, deep squabs, which hinge at an angle for easy access to the rear scat, these squabs being fully-reclining and adjustable for angle by means of handwheels at their base. The car is not particularly wide but three people can be carried on the front seat without undue cramping. The instrumentation consists of Pal dials90-m.p.h. speedometer with total, non-decimal distance recorder, temperature gauge and fuel gauge. The speedometer incorporates various warning lights, that for ignition remaining on while this circuit is in use. The fuel gauge was accurate at zero but its needle flickered wildly and it had the disconcerting habit of indicating double the amount of fuel when the ignition was off that it did when the ignition was switched on. A radiator blind is provided but normally water temperature did not exceed 8O’ C.
• Nor should our manufacturers under-rate competition from Iron Curtain countries. This was emphasised in a different field from automobiles when ladies at an afternoon tea-party began to praise the strawberry tam they were eating, remarking chat by its excellent flavour and fruit content it must be a tip-top British brand. When the jar front whence it came was examined it Was seen to bear the inscription ” Roumanian Product, Prodexport Bucuresti,” and its price to be about half that of our best iarns. Another much-liked plum jam had been exported from Poland by Rolimpex and costs about (id. less per pound than equivalent British jam. Non-communists may feel that the attention of another political party beginning with ” C ” should be drawn to this writing on the jars—and cars.
with this fully extended. There is a lidded but unlined and unlockable cubby-hole and provision for radio behind a fabriccovered aperture while push-buttons control a fresh-air fan, spotlamps when fitted, wipers and rear-mounted interior lamp, each identified by an International code symbol. The pull-out starter button needs some effort, there is a pull-out choke, and equipment includes a fairly effective heater with openable doors, cold-air ventilation by fan, which sounds like an air-raid siren, good coathooks, electric-razor socket, headlamps flasher, screen-washer, two sun vizors, ash-tray and a comprehensive set of tools.
The gears are changed by a 1.11. steering-column lever that is spring-loaded to the upper (3rd and top) locations, so that it has to be pressed down firmly and moved over a considerable distance to select ist (non-synchromesh but quite reasonable) and and gears. It then springs up and forward into 3rd, any attempt to guide the lever by hand resulting in loud graunching noises—I can see why reader Hart broke the lever off. But once the action is appreciated this is quite a quick, effective gear-change, and reverse, beyond top, is easily engaged. The clutch can be very ” sudden ” unless engaged with care, but it appears able to withstand abuse. The foot, however, has to be parked under the pedal, which is too close to the gearbox cover.
The brakes need fairly firm pressure and the pedal goes down rather far but they work well and give powerful retardation. The fly-off umbrella handle handbrake is under the facia on the left but is not nearly so diflicult to reach as I had been led to expect. It is rather close to the passenger’s knees and unless restrained releases very viciously. Operation is by a cable running over a big under-bonnet pulley and the action is smooth.
The Skoda goes quite well, remembering that it is an averagesize small car with the now-rare engine size of t,too c.c. It started easily after a night under snow and was soon ready to pull. An indicated 60 will come up in 3rd but the engine has by then become fussy and so m.p.h. is a better change-up speed. In fact, in the gears the speedometer will go to 25, 43 and 68 m.p.h., and once the considerable gap between 3rd and top has been bridged the Octavia bowls along at 65-70 m.p.h. in commendable quietness, nor is wind noise evident. The top speed claim of 77 m.p.h. is not optimistic.
The suspension, independent all round, by coil-springs and wishbones at the front, swing axles and transverse leaf-spring at the back, is definitely hard, although actual road-shock is well absorbed, so that the body rattles and vibrations travel up the steering on rough roads, when the ride becomes distinctly choppy.
The swing-axle i.r.s. induces oversteer and the camber of the wheels must contribute to final instability but for normal cornering the road-holding and steering is a marked improvement over that of the 440 I tried. Sometimes the steering, with a small single-spoke wheel having under-rim finger serrations, stiffens up unaccountably and is anyway heavy towards full lock, but normally it is fairly light and precise and the action is positive and pleasant. There is virtually no castor-return action. It is geared 2 turns, lock-to-lock, plus a little sponge. Over rough ground the Skoda excells and no doubt the designers gave it a backbone chassis and all-round independent suspension with this in mind, rather than for high-speed cornering stability. (Menlo.: I must remember to ask Horace Gould why he regards this as a rally car. Continued on page 237
-in. carburetter engine. The Morris-Oxford and Austin use a higher axle ratio than the others when endowed with the manual gearbox, the M.G. and Riley gain in performance by having the more powerful engine with this axle ratio, and the Wolseley achieves effortless running by retaining the 4.3 axle with either transmission. The Farina-fins have been considerably reduced on all except the M.G. and Riley, which I prefer; if I were cornmitted to one of these cars, I think the Wolseley x6/6o would suit me best.
The first impression on driving this latest M.G. Magnette is the high seating position, redolent of the old ZB Magnette, with which the leather-cum-leathercloth upholstery and wood facia and fillets are in keeping, and this is followed by the realisation that the enlarged engine is just what the Magnette needed. Previously it was too staid for the” quick “model of the range but now it goes easily to an indicated 60 m.p.h. in 3rd gear and is noticeably more accelerative in this gear and the 4.3 to i top ratio. The absolute speedometer readings in the gears arc 30, 5o and 75 m.p.h.
The steering wheel is thick-rimmed and too high, so that the otherwise good forward visibility is impaired, while it is a pity that the plating on the half horn-ring reflects in the glass of the neat rigidly-hooded speedometer, especially as this instrument is mounted in a new matt-finish anti-dazzle panel, also accommodating separate oil-pressure gauge, temperature indicator, ammeter and fuel gauge. A separate Smiths clock (which gains) is located centrally, there is an under-facia shelf and a compact but commendably deep lockable cubby-hole, and flick switches look after wipers, lamps and panel lighting, the last two switches difficult to identify after dark. The heater/demister rotary controls are as on the Wolseley but the panel lighting fails to illuminate them. I liked the two-position panel lighting, for speedometer only, for all gauges and the clock and mileage indicators also, augmented by luminous figures on the speedometer dial.
The engine makes a good deal of noise at its task, tended to run-on, and was irritatingly slow to start on cold mornings, seeming to prefer no choke—which is cruel to the battery. The suspension is comfortable without being outstanding and roadholding has improved, with an understeer tendency but roll held in check on fast corners. The stubby central gear-lever is a delight to use, controlling a gear-change that is an outstanding feature of the car, the r.h. brake-lever of the Wolseley is fitted, and the brakes are adequate, although it would be nice to have at least a pair of discs on this fast model of the B.M.C. r.6-litre range. The steering could well be lighter, pulling as it does against castor action, there is little lost motion, but some sponge about the straight-ahead position detracts from accuracy ot control. Vibration rather than reaction is transmitted, and with the new gearing just under three turns, lock-to-lock, are required.
I found the separate bucket front seat satisfactory, for it holds the driver securely and has a firm but not uncomfortable cushion, but passengers were less enthusiastic. The rear seat has separate squabs divided by a wide folding arm-rest, and there are arm-rests on the back doors. There are openable quarter-windows front and back (the driver’s prone to air leaks when shut), the interior door handles move upwards to open the doors in contrast to those on the big Wolseley, and if the huge tail-fins with their enormous rear lamps are ugly they provide useful ” markers “when reversing. A reversing light is fitted. The screen-washers are of the delay.. action sort and the wiper blades proved inefficient.
The absolute full range was 226 miles, suggesting that the maker’s tank capacity figure of to gallons is optimistic. I do not enthuse over the filler flap that has to be unlocked for refuelling. Fuel consumption, checked over a considerable mileage, embracing a great deal of local running and cold starting but probably aided by the return of winter which kept down speed on longer journeys, come out at 25 m.p.g., so this engine is thirsty for its size. No oil was consumed in 685 miles and no troubles of any kind were experienced. The spare wheel is carried under the roomy luggage boot. The heater gave sufficient warmth for me but would seem insipid in colder climes or to chilly mortals; heat is reflected away from the driver’s feet, which made me feel that perhaps that family in the advertisement, the members of which all want to drive the M.G.’ might not be so competitive had they to take it out on a winter day! The throttle linkage and clutch pedal travel made negotiation of slippery surfaces difficult and wheel spin was very easily provoked on snow and ice.
This M.G. Magnette Mk. IV is a nicely finished family car that feels durable, the test-car being finished in a nice shade of red and having front-seat, safety-belts and a ,Radiomobile 5-push button radio. At Lx,o58 xos. 7d. inclusive of pt., I rate it an attractive purchase for “sporting” family motorists.—W. B. THE SKODA OCTA VIA—continued from page 234 He might well retort that they finished first and second in their class in the 1961 Monte Carlo Rally.)
I have already commented on the comparatively quiet running, mild rumble being the most intrusive sound, apart from some engine chatter, and road-noise very mild, no doubt because the Skoda is, if anything, over-tyred. Overnight, one of the Barum 5.90 x 15 tyres deflated; the side jacking functioned effectively but in attacking tight wheel-nuts the brace and tommy bars bent all too easily. The spare wheel is kept above the luggage in the roomy boot and is very easy to remove.
With car thefts on the increase the locking arrangements of the Skoda Octavia should be appreciated. The fuel filler is beneath a flap opened by pulling a release-ring behind the driver’s right shoulder and the boot is opened by pulling out a lever hidden in the near-side door pillar. The front quarter-lights have locking catches. The interior door handles move upwards to open the doors, down to lock them, with a very good lock in the off-side door.
From the driving seat only the off-side front wing is seen. There is courtesy action for the interior lamp as well as the facia control, the rear parcels’ shelf is usefully deep, a MI horn-ring sounds a sensibly subdued horn, the bonnet is self-propping and releasing, the boot-lid stays up automatically but its strut has to be ” broken ” before closing it, there are well-contrived rod controls to the Jikov carburetter, which has an air-cleaner and cool-air intake by hose from behind the grille, a treadle accelerator, Pal electries with a very accessible under-bonnet 12-volt Akuma battery, while the small hooded Autopal headlamps give a good driving light but are cut off fairly sharply by the foot-dipper. A roo”h, convenient long ” wand ” protruding from the facia to the right of the steering column goes up and down to actuate the (manuallycancelled) flashers and, moved sideways provides daylight fullbeam headlamps flashing, which is a refinement lacking on most British cars. On the Skoda it is possible to flash a warning and signal at turn at one and the same time. A convenient knob under the facia enables the driver to obtain rheostat control of panel lighting with his right hand, but in feeling for this knob he is reminded of the sharp undcredge of the scuttle and other parts of the car.
The little 68 X75 mm. (1,089 c.c.) engine, developing 43 gross b.h.p. at 4,700 r.p.m., is fan and pump cooled. It gives effective acceleration in 3rd gear and very flexible running in the 4.27-to-x top gear. I was told to use premium fuel, but there was no pinking on commercial grade. The consumption in everyday cold-weather motoring was 29 m.p.g.
The two trailing doors have convenient exterior handles but shut tinnily (but appear well sealed), there is Thorax safetyglass all round, and rubber flooring. The plastic-edged cloth upholstery holds the occupants almost too firmly.
Comrade Boddy covered 516 miles altogether in this Skoda Octavia, during which distance no oil was needed. Apart from failure of the main bonnet catch (the safety catch proving adequate) nothing fell off or went wrong. For those family motorists whose pre-1955 cars have been rendered redundant by Marpleism and those who want something “different ” at a very modest price, the Skoda Octavia, made by Motokov of Prague, cannot fail to be of interest. It is the cheapest car on the British market with a heater outside the Mini class, at £629 95. 911. inclusive of purchase tax and export duty. Pride and Clarke in the Stockwell Road or any of the many other agents will no doubt be delighted to demonstrate it to you, brothers.—W. B.
Sir, Concerning the Skoda, may I refer you to page 40 of Mr. Harry Welton’s book “The Third World War.” From this book I get the information that this car is produced and sold under Soviet control and the price at which it is sold need bear no relation to its cost of production as we understand the term. I quote : “This explains why the Skoda car costs £1,372 in Prague
and . . . in Egypt the same car is sold for less than k400. A Jawa motorcycle is priced at £625 in Czechoslovakia. This is four times its price in Cairo.” The price which is asked for the car depends upon the degree
of importance the communists place upon the disruption by competition of the home market in the country of sale.
May I recommend the above book to the Editor, and to anyone else who wonders why there are so many strikes in the Car Industry. Usual disclaimer.
Bristol. J. F. DUNCAN.