Willing worker

I used to think of Skodas as little shop stewards’ cars. All that has changed! It would be a journalistic overstatement to describe the Rapid 136 Coupe as the peasants’ 911, for Porsche folk would not relish a 0-60 time of 15 seconds and a top speed of 92 mph — but the two do have some features in common, and you cannot buy a new Porsche for £4395.

At this modest price the five-speed Skoda in good-looking two-door four-seater Coupe form is a very reasonable fun-car, and refreshingly different from the little frontwheel drive hatchbacks. I had never thought to return to driving a rear-engined car after my days with VW Beetle, Fiat 500, 600 and 126, Renault 750 and Dauphine, especially as we are now well into the 4WD age. But even a Panda 4 x 4 costs £6399.

The Rapid offers an over-square, all-alloy, eight-port five-bearing 75.5mm x 72mm (1289cc) engine, in-line at the back, with frontal radiator. This runs smoothly at 3349 rpm at 70 mph in fifth gear, which must spell longevity. The rest of the car is equally sturdy, and the makers remind us that Skoda has had 16 class-wins in the RAC Rally in the last 16 years. Any hazards promoted by the old swing-axle rear suspension have vanished with the new coil-spring trailing-arm transaxle, aided by rack-and-pinion steering (3.8 turns, lock-to-lock) and British-made Goodyear GT80 tubeless 165/70 x 13 tyres. So cornering is fun, with mild understeer changing to oversteer only under sudden lift-off or excessive braking. On slippery surfaces the rear engine has traction merits. Ride is slightly pitchy but generally very good, and untroubled by bad roads.

The gearbox needs tube used to hurry the Rapid along, when the engine emits a sporting rasp; the shift is pleasant in the upper ratios, but first and second can be baulky. The front seats are comfortable but rear-seat headroom is limited. The front boot (with a side-hinged lid which opens up like a sail) is roomy, and there is more stowage behind the back seats, via folding squabs.

Four fascia knobs and another (for the lamps) beside the driver look after the usual services, together with two good stalk-controls (turn-indicators on the left). The servo disc/drum brakes are equal to the car’s performance and can be locked up.

Equipment includes alloy wheels, lockable screw-type fuel-tank cap and cabby, console and door stowage bins, removable and tilting glass roof, three-speed heater-fan, intermittent wiper action, external mirrors, rear seat-belts, maid-flaps, inspection-lamp socket, a comprehensive set of tools, substantial bumpers and a Philips radio/cassette player.

At the price, shortcomings such as the lack of a clock, an interior trim that in places resembles tacky tar, and the lever-release for thereat boot being on the nearside can be excused. The needles of the fuel gauge (very vague, but with low-level warning light), heat-gauge, speedometer and tachometer are easily seen, and the offset pedals are no real disadvantage. This inexpensive Skoda has a 24-month unlimited-mileage warranty, and another advantage is its economy, which came out at 37.2 mpg. The tank holds 7.9 gallons, and pussyfooters would get over 40 mpg. The engine pinked somewhat on leaded fourstar, and asked for quite a lot of (manual) choke for starting up, in spite of the water-heated Jikov carburettor, even on shot day. Power output is only 62 bhp at 5000 rpm, but the Rapid is a willing little car for all that, far from a joke, and with plenty of character. No wonder sales here are increasing, for the prices of Skoda saloons start at £3361. WB